In the time between first sitting down to write this piece and starting to type, I achieved myriad things. I created a wish list of Lisbon apartments on airbnb. I fed the dog ice cubes to stop him overheating. I looked up the Glastonbury weather forecast – even though I won’t be anywhere near Worthy Farm this weekend. I checked the news. And again. I went out into the garden three times to see if it was still “too bloody hot” (it was), then texted a friend to say, “It’s just too bloody hot, isn’t it?”
Because it is bloody hot – with temperatures hitting 33 degrees, tarmac melting, railway lines buckling and the Met Office issuing its second-highest heatwave warning. And trying to stay focused on work right now is, frankly, a struggle.
As a freelance writer with an increasingly feeble attention span, I battle distraction on a daily basis. Come summertime, though, and procrastination segues into sheer idleness. As the mercury soars, my mind is anywhere but on the task in front of me – it’s lying in the park with a plastic cup of prosecco, it’s in a beer garden, it’s dipping its toes into the sea.
It’s not just me. In offices across the country right now, people are staring wistfully out the window at the pub across the road, messaging friends with impromptu barbecue plans and trawling ASOS for bikinis.
We’ve entered the season of peak procrastination, where every day feels like a Friday and focusing on spreadsheets when the sun is shining and there’s a bottle of rosé in the fridge feels torturous. Not to mention the struggle of a sweaty schlep into work when your mind has already checked in for your easyJet flight to Palma. Even out-of-office replies (10 a penny right now) feel like a provocation to slack off – if they’re not working, why should I?
Except, of course, there are still deadlines to keep and bills to pay. Oh, to be one of those gilded people who can afford a month off to “summer” in Cornwall or Provence. The truth is, as much as we might want to sack off work and spend the day at the lido, most of us have no choice but to knuckle down.
So, how do you make yourself work when you’d really rather be doing anything else?
Last week, Melissa Dahl, a writer for New York magazine’s Science Of Us, shared three tricks. Two of them I already knew about – like structured procrastination, where you tackle the easiest stuff first, so you at least get something done.
Then there’s the Pomodoro Technique. Yes, like the tomatoes – don’t ask me why. It works on the premise that our brains can only pay attention for short periods of time. You start a timer, work solidly for 25 minutes, have a five-minute break and then repeat.
In offices across the country right now, people are staring wistfully out the window at the pub across the road, messaging friends with impromptu barbecue plans and trawling ASOS for bikinis
I’ve used it to kickstart me into action when I’ve got a big project on – short bursts of work don’t feel so daunting and you speed through more than you realise (I double down with internet-blocking software Freedom to prevent Twitter diversions). The hour I spent googling “best Pomodoro app” and comparing ratings in the iTunes store might still be the nadir of my procrastinating life, though (I settled on one called Be Focused).
But it was the last nugget of advice that Dahl proposed – from psychology writer Oliver Burkeman – that was the real revelation.
In his book The Antidote: Happiness For People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking, Burkeman says simply that you don’t have to feel like working to actually do it.
It’s a blindingly obvious statement – of course we still have to graft even when we don’t want to.
Still, the time I’ve spent berating myself for my lack of motivation, coming back to projects later in the hope I’ll be more inspired, feeling guilty that – while I love what I do for a living – I can often feel unenthused about the daily grind of it, especially at this time of year.
But as Burke writes: “Who says you need to wait until you ‘feel like’ doing something in order to start doing it? The problem, from this perspective, isn’t that you don’t feel motivated; it’s that you imagine you need to feel motivated.
“Your reluctance about working isn’t something that needs to be eradicated or transformed into positivity. You can co-exist with it. You can note the procrastinatory feelings and work anyway.”
In other words, waiting for motivation to strike is just another form of procrastination. Don’t dwell on the fact you don’t want to work – just accept it and move on. It’s an idea rooted in mindfulness – that we shouldn’t waste energy fighting negative thoughts and emotions but just let them be.
So, I’ve decided to make peace with my lack of motivation. My name is Clare and I’m a summer sloth. It’s like the saying goes: feel the fear and do it anyway – or in my case, feel the overwhelming “really can’t be arsed with this today”-ness, and plod on regardless.