Sometimes we have tasks at work that we do not like. In my job as a frontend software developer sometimes it is reading through obscure documentation trying to figure out how to consume a certain endpoint, fixing a bug that is hard to reproduce, or working on a piece of code that I know is a total mess.
Those mandatory boring activities in our jobs are very likely to be triggers for procrastination, responding to these unpleasant situations by engaging in more fun activities, but the paradoxical aspect here is that we do not enjoy them because we are still thinking about our pending work. Then hours (sometimes days or even weeks) go by until the mandatory work needs to be completed to avoid bad things to happen (missing deadlines, delaying the project, giving a bad image to your boss or coworkers, etc.).
So, to avoid disaster, after having mediocre fun along with increasing stress, being all tired, you end up tackling the feared task, sleeping late, turning down invitations to socialize, and working your ass off to finally deliver a working piece of code at the price of great exhaustion.
This can become a vicious circle that makes you feel your job is demanding and exhausting. Of course, one of the best approaches to this problem is having a schedule that allows us to focus on work during certain hours while other chunks of the day are devoted to family, friends, fun, and personal growth.
If you can pull that off, stop reading. I want to be like you. But a lot of us have trouble with that well-structured daily schedule model. And working from home just makes discipline even harder to follow because distractions and work now overlap in space and possibly in time.
But that does not mean that you should live in constant stress between unsatisfying procrastination and overworking. Let’s think about how we procrastinate along with guilt: we do fun stuff while thinking about pending work, this takes away our mental energy, it does not allow us to recharge ourselves emotionally and also we do not advance even a tiny bit in that task that torments us.
I recommend a very simple mental health habit: Try not to think about your work and your to-dos when you take a break, talk with your friends, go out to lunch, organize your socks or do your home shopping. Be aware that during that time you cannot advance in your work, but you can rest your mind and obtain other pleasant experiences if you are focused on taking advantage of the present.
Don’t cultivate a bad attitude to your work by saying it is the only thing you think about all day, have in mind that if you were not working, you would still do those things. Don’t magnify the influence work has on your life. Perhaps there are other aspects that you unconsciously avoid, and occupying your mind with pending work problems is an excuse for not seeing that your life outside of work could be more satisfying if you paid some attention to it.
Of course, there are positions and periods that can be very demanding professionally, but if you procrastinate, probably you have some flexibility in your responsibilities. So if you can and need to do something fun in the middle of the day, enjoy it without the guilt (active procrastination), be aware that you are not working, that those moments are part of your life outside of work (even if they happen during typical work hours). Embrace those activities that raise your spirit as part of your free time and be aware that thinking about work during them is not only useless but also harmful.
For example, what if instead of feeling guilty about matching your socks when you should be fixing that bug that has been around for months (without the world ending), you think of the pleasure it will bring you to see them very well organized (who doesn’t like to have a drawer full of aligned padded colorful spheres), you can also consider that it is a task that you have to do anyway (if you don’t want to go around with unmatched socks), and then accompany it with good music. After doing so, you may have more desire to fight with that crazy bug. Or at least, the deadline will be closer and, like it or not, panic will put you to work, but you will do it with the peace of mind of knowing that you are not working too much, and that you took advantage of your free time with a good sock organization session along with nice music, which relaxed you quite a bit.
Maybe your job is not as demanding as you think it is (after all, you have been doing it for some time despite procrastination), maybe the problem is that you are working twice (for the same salary). First, you get mentally tired while procrastinating thinking about all your pending tasks, and then you have to really work. Why not do the opposite? While you are not in front of your desk and in a position in which you can really advance in your tasks, thinking about your to-dos is one of the worst ways to occupy your precious free time.
In other words: Thinking about work is not working, but it is as tiring as if it were. Don’t overwork!