Money pro tips: A Q&A with procrastination expert Petr Ludwig

Myelle Lansat


Myelle Lansat

Myelle Lansat

News Editor

Myelle Lansat is a news editor at Policygenius, where she writes the Easy Money newsletter and covers insurance and personal finance. Previously, she was a personal finance writer at CNBC and Acorns, and a reporter for Business Insider.

Published March 25, 2020 | 7 min read

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Each week, we ask a pro for their money tips. This week, we talked to Petr Ludwig, author of “The End of Procrastination” and founder and CEO of Want more expert advice? Sign up for our Easy Money newsletter, sent to your inbox each Friday.

Many Americans are working from home due to the coronavirus outbreak. How can they fight procrastination with so many distractions?

I use a plan of the day — it's a white piece of paper where you draw a map of your priorities for the upcoming day. Then you set the exact times of those tasks and you connect those tasks together, so, at the end, you have a visual map of the whole day — and you know what to do first and second. This plan can decrease what I call ‘decision-paralysis’, the feeling of not knowing where to start. If we have that feeling, we procrastinate, and, if you're at home, it's easier to procrastinate with social media or something else. If you have a map and plan for the day, you have a better chance at completing tasks.

The second way to fight procrastination is blocking your internet connection. I use an app called Forest to do this. It plants a virtual tree and you set a time for how long you want to go without distractions. Let’s say you choose 30 minutes. If you exit the app, the tree dies. So it works on your empathy for your imaginary tree.

It’s also important not to multitask, because we are very bad at multitasking. Try to just do one thing and not be distracted by others.

Why are people prone to procrastinating while working at home even though it’s a more comfortable setting?

It's a difficult environment to adjust to because you are not used to working at home. For example, some people can accomplish things during their commute or while traveling, capitalizing on that extra time. But, if you're home, you’re not working in those spaces, so you have to shift your environment and mindset.

My rule is to start my first task at 9 a.m. If you postpone things, you're going to realize you started watching your second favorite Netflix series or scrolling on social media, and, in the end, you don't accomplish anything. Your surrounding environment and having a set start time is important — as is knowing when to end the workday.

If you’re a workaholic, you can work for 12 hours and be incapable of stopping. I try to stop all work by 8 p.m., including checking my emails. It’s important to get out of a work mindset and realize you are at home and it’s time to relax.

How can we get back on track if we feel ourselves starting to procrastinate while working from home?

It's very important to forgive yourself. If you are unable to forgive yourself for procrastinating and have feelings of failure, you actually increase the chances of procrastinating. That’s what makes self-forgiveness so important — it will help you get back on track with a positive start.

It’s also important to rest. We all need enough sleep and exercise, like going outside for a short walk if you’re able to. Then you can start working again. Having that time mapped out will also help if you feel yourself procrastinating. For example, if you’re distracted, you can set a time — let’s say in 30 minutes — to get back to work. You can go for a little walk, and start working again. This process is called ‘pushing the imaginary restart button’, where you start from the beginning without regretting that you procrastinated.

What is the difference between taking breaks and procrastination?

Resting will give you energy and procrastinating will take energy. When you rest, your energy levels go up, which is key for productivity. Without rest, you’ll be exhausted and won’t have the energy to work on tasks.

You can combat low energy by scheduling breaks. For example, work for one hour, then have a 20-minute break. You can meditate or do nothing, as long as you’re not working during that time. Basically, procrastination comes before work and having a rest comes after work and that's the little difference.

Do you have any tips to help people stay on track throughout the day?

I really like two apps for mindfulness meditation: Meditation for Busy People and Headspace. Their five-to-ten minute meditation exercises can help you stay on track throughout the day.

Research also shows that if you eat fruit or vegetables throughout the day you’ll have more energy, which can lead to less procrastinating. Having simple sugars in your blood can give you stronger will power, so the ideal plan of the day is work one hour, have a break, go for a walk and then work for another hour and have a fruit or vegetable and then work another hour.

What’s the biggest procrastination mistake you see people make?

People procrastinate resting breaks. It’s important to actually take those. Another common mistake is wanting to accomplish a huge task all at once. That’s when those negative feelings arise and you have a greater chance of procrastinating. You should divide big tasks into smaller ones. For example, it would be an easier task to write a couple paragraphs rather than a whole chapter in one sitting.

What’s one thing you're working on right now that you're proud of?

These days, I'm working on a new book and I’m still working on my first book, because it was published in the U.S. a year ago.I’m still doing a lot of talks and online sessions about procrastination and love the work because procrastination is a growing global phenomenon.

What’s the worst financial advice you ever received?

I have only good people around me, so I’ll talk about where I lost a lot of money. I bought some Bitcoin the day before it crashed and I lost 80% of my investment. We will see. I don’t have a great experience with cryptocurrency and it could have been a coincidence. But it was funny — I have a screenshot that I had just purchased some bitcoins and, just a few hours later, their value dropped. But you know, those things happen.

What’s the best financial advice you ever got?

I heard this once, somewhere online: A guy was talking about wine and the idea of postponing the enjoyment of great wine for later in life, because you just don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. So I’m thinking, OK, I have my present self that's living now and my future self and I'm trying to have a balance between those two. I want a great life now and also a great life in the future. I wanted to drink the best wine today and I want to save money for future great wine — finding that balance is key.

Tell me about your new book

My apartment in New York is a few blocks away from Wall Street, and I see people there that have gone to the best universities and they rate highly in the corporate hierarchy. But, in the end, you feel like a lot of people are really disconnected and unfulfilled and don't believe in the projects they are doing. I feel like that's the definition of the modern workplace: People are disconnected.

On the other hand, there is a lot of science that says if you have passion at work, if you do things you truly believe in, you see a positive impact in society and the communities that you are a part of. You are much more fulfilled. I think the future of work will be driven by the ability to build purpose within an organization. I gave a talk about the purpose of leadership and everything starts with yourself and, if you want to be a good leader, you need to have your own purpose and then you will be able to help find other people’s purposes. The first part of the book is about finding your own purpose and the second half is about helping others do the same.

This interview was lightly edited for style and clarity. It is intended for informational purposes and should not be considered legal advice.

Image: Nastia Kobzarenko