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I'm not a standard procrastinator; I don't think I've ever missed an important deadline, not because I'm super organized but because the stress of making sure it's done is usually worse that the actual work.

My kind of procrastination is just as common, but less talked about: prioritizing easy tasks over ones that look 1) time consuming, 2) stressful, or 3) just not fun to deal with.

When I'm working on a flow or tackling content bugs, it's easy to focus on the easy wins first. Why keep a typo or confusing sentence when I can fix it in a few sentences? Why not fix empty states when they all follow the same logic? It's tempting to climb only a few stairs when other journeys require climbing multiple flights.

In general, I've found this to be good practice. I work better when I feel like I don't have a lot on my plate, since I'm able to focus on the bigger issues without distraction. When I see a Slack message come in, it's easier for me to fix it real quick instead of adding it to my to-do list.

But the problem with this approach is that the backlog, and more systemic issues, tend to get put on the back burner. I can't adequately focus on an issue if I'm abandoning it every time my computer pings; that's just not sustainable. And if I work top-down, always focusing on the smaller issues first, it's rare to reach the bottom; small issues will always crop up. It's like those veggies I bought last week that are wilting in my fridge because I choose to eat things that were bought more recently. It's wasteful.

Besides that, I feel more accomplished fixing a large or systemic issue that I do knocking out five or six bugs. UX writing is a strange career in that it doesn't always offer a concrete result from your effort; it's not like being an architect and seeing your building spring up several years later. Even though I can see my efforts reflected in new changes, statistics, and feedback, I don't have something tactical I can point to and say "Look: I did that."

Dealing with bigger challenges - completely restructuring an existing flow, creating new guidelines, changing product culture - provides more reward because it takes more effort. It's not just about one less bug sitting in the backlog; it's the knowledge that less bugs will crop up because of my choice.

This isn't to say that the "small" tasks aren't important. They are, as are those "hey can you look at this real quick?" pings in the middle of the afternoon. The danger comes in prioritizing easy wins over the longer battles. To keep myself accountable, I've found a few tricks that work for me:

  • Set focus time - I want to always be available, but some problems need prolonged attention. Even blocking off just a couple hours, guaranteeing focus, can make a huge difference.

  • Set goals - When I first started, I wanted to tackle 6 bugs a week. What I eventually realized is that I was subconsciously choosing bugs that I knew would be easy to knock out. Instead, I've now set qualitative goals, not just quantitative.

  • Set boundaries - I love when someone asks for my input. I like feeling useful. But being available 24/7 isn't healthy, and sets up unrealistic expectations that will ultimately result in burnout. I turn off notifications in the evenings, and give realistic time frames on when I'll be able to take a proper look at a problem.

As with most of the things I write here, this is all pretty common sense advice. But being aware my default work habits is half the battle towards being not only productive, but effective.


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