“I’m going to do it. It’s done. The second I decided it’s done it’s already done. Now we just gotta wait for y’all to see.” – Will Smith I love that Will Smith quote because it taps into the power of choice. In Charles Duhigg’s new book, Smarter Faster Better, he writes that the most important factor to feeling motivated is feeling in control, and the easiest way to feel in control is to make decisions. Duhigg quotes researches from Columbia University saying, “Each choice, no matter how small, reinforcers the perception of control and self-efficacy.” I know it sounds simple, but this is an important step. By making a choice, we feel like were in control, which psychologists say is the key to sparking motivating. Make the choice that you’re going to go to the gym today. Make a choice that you’re going to sit down and grind out that project. Consciously decide that you’re going to make that dentist appointment. Once you decide, move on to Step #2.
2. Set a Day & Time
Write it down on a notecard, type it into your iPhone notes, or tattoo it on your tongue, I don’t care. When will you do your task and where will you be? What time? What date? What day of the week? Where will you be? Which chair will you sit in? The more details you put down on your notecard or tattoo the better. In Be Excellent at Anything Tony Schwartz quotes a study on procrastination saying, “Those who wrote down exactly where and when they would complete the task were 8X as likely to complete the task” Eight times! If there was a 30 second tactic that could increase your chance of success in life by 8x, wouldn’t you do it? Spoiler alert: This is that tactic. In another study, researchers asked people to exercise one time over the next week for a mere 20 minutes. Only three-out-of-ten people did it. A whopping 29%. When people were asked to give specific days, times, and locations they were going to exercise, nine out of ten made moves and exercised. Last night, I wrote down that I would be at Starbucks at 8:30am, and write like a mad man until 9:30am. And what do you know, I’m at Starbucks, pounding coffee, and dropping bombs on procrastination.
3. Win the “fight thrus”
I’ve written about this philosophy by Jason Selk and Tom Bartow, authors of Organize Tomorrow Today before, but it’s essential to beating procrastinating. When we do (or don’t do) activities, we build momentum in that direction. That’s why Gary V has a Hustle Habit and I have a Rules of Engagement Habit. Every time we push through and go to the gym , we’re more likely to go the next time. Everytime I say “I’ll write that blog tomorrow,” I’m more likely to say the same thing again… tomorrow. In these moments of “I’ll do it tomorrow” we must fight thru and do the task today. When we succumb to Do-it-tomorrow syndrome, it builds momentum for procrastination. Every time we fight thru and do it today, we build momentum for beating procrastination and developing a Hustle Habit. This 3-Step Formula is real. It works in research studies, and it’s worked for me. The problem is that it’s not easy to implement all the time. I’d much rather go grab mimosas with Kels than workout. I’d much rather watch #MarchMadness than write a blog post. Doing the easier thing is in our DNA. We are wired to choose the path of least resistance. But by using this formula, and winning the fight thrus over and over, we can develop the habits and tendencies to stop procrastinating forever.
Carly Snyder, MD is a reproductive and perinatal psychiatrist who combines traditional psychiatry with integrative medicine-based treatments.
Wondering how to stop procrastination? Many people are. Most of us have found ourselves putting things off and just watching ourselves do it, as if from the perspective of an outsider looking in, at least at one time or another. While we may tackle certain projects with gusto, some tasks leave us feeling paralyzed with inertia, watching our deadlines approach (or pass us by) as we wonder how to force ourselves to move forward. If this sounds dreadfully familiar, I have help! The next time you find yourself battling procrastination, you will have more tools on your side. Read on for 9 tips on how to stop procrastination.
Keep Perfectionism In Check
While not all procrastination comes from perfectionism, this can definitely be a factor.
Think about it: when you’re letting perfectionism take hold, you may let projects become so large that you’re intimidated to start. You may then be at the mercy of procrastination.
If you find yourself procrastinating out of perfectionism, you can help yourself by relaxing your standards. Shoot for “good enough” and work your way up to “great” if you have the time and energy. Don’t let the goal of perfection keep you from starting!
Get Quick Things Out of the Way
Sometimes a too-long to-do list can intimidate you into procrastination; all those items that need your attention can sap you of the energy you need to get started. One helpful “how to stop procrastination” tip is to make a list of the things you need to get done and note how long each item should take to complete. As you review the list, take any item that can be completed in 5 minutes or less, and do it immediately. This can not only shorten your to-do list quickly but can energize you as you mark off the items. It also sets you started in the right direction to finish the rest.
Take Small Steps
Breaking procrastination-worthy projects down into smaller steps is a well-known and effective procrastination-busting technique. It can be much easier to begin tackling a project that you know you can complete quickly, and once you’ve taken a few initial steps in the right direction, you can keep moving more easily and continue until you’re finished. (As you complete each step, you’ll likely feel more energized and motivated to complete more.)
One important key is to make the steps short, concrete, and set in your schedule. Small steps lead to big gains!
As you complete each of these smaller steps, the sense of satisfaction and accomplishment you feel can be its own reward and can create its own motivation to move on to the next step. However, sometimes you can benefit from an extra reward. In these cases, you can propel yourself forward by attaching small rewards to each of your small steps, or a bigger reward when you complete several. Go to a movie, celebrate milestones with friends, do things you enjoy when you complete your tasks. You may be dreading the task itself, but the treat on the other side can motivate you to get started!
Do the Easy Things First
When a task feels overwhelming, it’s often because we doubt our ability to tackle it. One way to build self-confidence is to tackle the easier parts of the job first.
As you complete the easier tasks, the job may feel less daunting, and it’ll be easier to stop procrastination as you complete it.
Once the easy parts of the job are completed, you’ll be left with less overall work to do, so the rest of the job is smaller and may seem easier to take on. In both ways, your confidence can grow by taking on the easy parts of the job first.
Or Do the Hard Things First
If you know you can do the task at hand, but you just cringe when you think of the work that’s involved, save yourself some stress and tackle the unpleasant or difficult parts of the job first. Like quickly pulling off a bandage, you’ll get the most uncomfortable part of the job out of the way, and save yourself all the discomfort that comes from dreading and avoiding it before you finally stop procrastination and do it anyway. Don’t prolong all that stress! Get the hard parts out of the way, and the rest of the job will be much easier to do.
Be an Optimist
Another way to combat the self-doubt that often leads to procrastination is to start thinking more like a classic optimist: highlight the positive and minimize the negative parts of the job and of yourself. Look more closely at why you may feel you can’t do this task and challenge those views by actively looking at reasons you can: your strengths, your resources, and your successes—similar tasks you’ve successfully completed in the past.
Focus more heavily on why you can do this, and less on why you think you can’t.
Let Your Temptations Fuel You
Never has a television show seemed so inviting to me as when I’m procrastinating and avoiding a big project. T.V. shows, conversations with friends, snacking—suddenly these activities can feel irresistible! I’m sure you can relate. When you’re wondering how to stop procrastination, part of the solution is staring you in the face: look at these things that come up as tempting distractions, and use them as rewards instead! Just tell yourself that whatever it is you’d rather be doing, can be your reward for a job well done once you complete part of your work.
Use Your Energy Wisely
Have you ever noticed that you have more energy at certain times of the day? (For me it’s usually late morning.) Tackling those things that usually fall prey to procrastination during these “high energy windows” can help you to be much more productive, can make the job itself feel easier, and can help you stop procrastination much more easily. For the next few days, notice when these higher-energy times of day are for you. Then leave the easier tasks for when you’re frazzled at the end of the day, and use your energy on your more challenging tasks when you have higher amounts of it.
Do you recognize yourself in any of these scientific explanations for procrastination?
By Anne Buzzell, Hillsdale College
College x July 25, 2017
Everything You Need to Know About Procrastination and How to Beat It
Do you recognize yourself in any of these scientific explanations for procrastination?
By Anne Buzzell, Hillsdale College
Procrastination makes no sense. Why would a rational person, deciding an assignment is unpleasant or too hard, choose to ignore it and set himself up for a greater chance of failure? Starting immediately would be the logical decision. But, as every college student who’s ever tried and failed to resist the inexorable tug of social media or a good book (my own Achilles’ heel) knows, the logical decision rarely wins out in this scenario.
An activity doesn’t even have to be fun to be tempting. Almost anything—staring at the wall, walking to the water fountain—will do, as long as it’s not the project you’re procrastinating on. The senseless nature of procrastination is captured perfectly by an article defining it as “willingly deferring something even though you expect the delay to make you worse off.”
Perhaps it’s this irrationality that draws scientists to it. A good deal of psychological research has focused on the reasons why people procrastinate, and if there’s one thing that can be learned from surveying the results, it’s that procrastination is exceptionally complex. Studies’ findings overlap to some degree, but each one focuses on a different motive that seems to succeed as well as the next one at explaining procrastinators’ behavior. It’s worth examining these studies, though, because once you know your motives, you can attack your procrastination more effectively. Here are the explanations I found most interesting—which I’ve freed from the academic jargon that turns time-wasting into “quintessential self-regulatory failure” (you’re welcome).
A simple explanation is that people simply fail to value the benefits of acting rationally. One study, reported by an article in the “New Yorker,” discovered that people who were likely to procrastinate were also likely to be impulsive, which suggested that both traits stem from trouble with consistently exercising self-control. Perhaps “self-regulatory failure” isn’t such a bad synonym after all.
Of course, most procrastinators already know they have difficulty disciplining themselves. Another study argues there’s a specific sort of self-control in question here—the sort that deals with delayed gratification. Its research found that, when people consider a situation well in the future, they tend to choose the rational course of action and delay a small pleasure in order to secure a greater pleasure later. This is what would happen if, when you’re faced with a term paper, you denied yourself the small pleasure of procrastinating in favor of the greater pleasure of satisfaction and stress-free relaxation later.
So much for the simplest explanation. Dr. Joseph Ferrari, a major procrastination scholar, cited a more complicated one in an interview with the American Psychological Association: procrastination comes from indecision. While this can be the simple indecision caused by having too many options, Ferrari says it often takes a subtler appearance. Chronic procrastinators—people who procrastinate not just at work but in all areas of their lives—may put off a decision because they’re waiting for other people to take action and decide for them. By their logic, the procrastinator can’t be held responsible for the decision or its outcome since he or she didn’t make the decision. Procrastination, in this view, is a symptom of unwillingness to take responsibility.
Ferrari’s hypothesis dovetails with one of the most common explanations of procrastination, namely that it stems from insecurity. Another article in the “New Yorker,” for example, describes procrastination as a combination of perfectionism, low confidence and fear of failing that leads the procrastinator to conclude it’s better never to start his project. This escalates into a self-fulfilling prophecy if the procrastinator’s delays cause him to fail.
Logical as that sounds, I actually couldn’t find any scientific studies that tested it. A similar thesis exists, though, that also traces procrastination to the procrastinator’s emotional state. An article in “The Wall Street Journal” summarizing the research of Dr. Timothy Pychyl gives several anecdotes from people who said procrastination was a way to make themselves feel better or to avoid unpleasant emotions (like stress over a project). This may sound impossible, given the multitude of studies that have shown a connection between procrastination and greater stress and guilt.
But, in the short run, the interviewees are correct: Procrastinating can make you feel better. It’s been shown to trigger a short elevation in your brain’s levels of a chemical called dopamine that makes you feel happier. Dopamine is best known for its role in drug addiction; in addition to addicts’ physical dependence on a drug, their mental or emotional reliance on the dopamine surge most of them cause makes it harder to stop using the drug.
This doesn’t mean procrastination is addictive in the same way a drug is. It just means that the quick boost of dopamine both makes procrastination immediately rewarding and encourages you to procrastinate again in order to get the temporary emotional benefit. Once it’s impossible to procrastinate any longer, though, the guilt and stress will hit you with greater force. Both Pychyl and “The Wall Street Journal” interviewees agreed that longer-lasting emotional benefit comes from doing the task you’re avoiding. If you face up to it and accomplish at least a little bit, you won’t have to be guilty, there’s less to be stressed about and you’ll have more confidence in your ability to tackle it.
Greater confidence is really the best reason to learn about all these theories. Pure scientific knowledge is excellent, but for laymen, the point of studying procrastination is usually learning how not to do it. Hopefully, as you were reading, you recognized yourself or part of your reasons for procrastinating. I certainly did while I was researching. Now that you know more about why you might procrastinate, you can filter the abundance of anti-procrastination tips the internet offers to find the strategies that will be most effective for you. Good luck!
January 28, 2020
The deadline is coming… But instead of doing your work, you choose to be busy with your phone, checking your social media, and watching video. Deep inside, you know that you feel guilty to be not productive, but you’re just feel lazy to do anything. This phenomenon is what we called by procrastinating. If you’re struggling to stop procrastinating, this article is for you!
Most of the procrastinator will blame that they are unable to finish the task just because they’re too busy. Apparently, the procrastinator is just waste most of their free time to do something not productive.
Delaying, run away from task is a really bad habit than can ruin your goals. It can affect you to achieve a better result of your life.
Don’t let procrastinate take away your goals and future. I was a procrastinator previously until I found these tricks that really helped me to get rid of this habit. So here are the 10 guides to stop procrastinating that will change your life entirely:
1. Reward & Consequence
There are two ways to motivate a person, through consequences or reward.
If you choose consequence:
Spend a moment to deeply think of what is the consequence of procrastinating. By procrastinating, you will tend to do the job last minute which result in not satisfying or good outcome. If the real consequence is not scared you enough, you can set your own consequence of what punishment you will get if you can’t finish it on time.
If you choose reward:
If there is a good reward for your hardworking, you won’t be procrastinating. However, I know that mostly the possible reward that you can get is not enough to motivate you. Here is where you need to set your self-reward once you finished with your job.
2. Change Environment
When you feel that you always procrastinate when doing work from home, try to change your workplace and you will be shocked of how the environment can strongly affect your productivity.
However, every human has their own preferred environment to stimulate their productivity.
Type A: For some people, they need to work in an environment that everyone else also work in order to stimulate their brain productivity. If they work at home, they tend to be sleepy or procrastinate a lot. Perfect place for type A to work could be library, co-working space, or a cafe.
Type B: This is the people that are actually already have a high self discipline. They prefer a silent place to be fully productive. Perfect place for type B will be their own room while nobody can disturb them.
3. Hang Out With Productive People
If your circle friend is a group of lazy people who loves to procrastinate or waste most of their time on unproductive things, you might wanna find a new friends. You don’t have to unfriend these “lazy” people, but you can spend less time with them and hang out with a new friend that you know has a good and hardworking spirit.
The people you hang out with can affect your spirit and mindset. If you hang out with friends that have a good discipline and spirit, soon you will get the same spirit too!
4. Stop Over Complicated Things
“I will start do it tomorrow because of A,B,…. Z”. If you have this habit, you need to stop it right away. If you keep delaying things, you won’t accomplish anything at all.
When you really want to stop procrastinating, what you need to think is “Just do it”. Most of the people out there is just complaining about their life but still have not take action on anything!
5. Set a Detailed Deadline of Every Goal
When you have a project or assignment to do, break it down to several parts and set a deadline for every parts.
For example when you’re doing a thesis, set a deadline for every sub-chapter and of course, you need to do a research on how long does it take to complete each chapter. Set the deadline few days earlier so that you have time to fix if there is any error.
6. Make a Bet With Your Friend
Tell your buddy if you can’t finish your task or achieve your goal by certain deadline, you will pay him some money. The higher the money you set, the lower chance you will procrastinate as you don’t want to lose your money.
7. Set a Timer and Commit For a Few Hours
For instance, if you decided to spend 4 hours a day on your assignment, set a timer for 1-2 hours and within this duration, you must commit to don’t touch your phone at all. You can have a 15 minutes break every 1 or 2 hours with your phone.
8. Use Your Greatest Fear and Imagine It
I’ve got this idea when I woke up from a terrible dream. That time, I was in the middle of doing one of the assignment. In my dream, one of my friend remind me that the due date is by tomorrow morning. I was so shocked because I just started to do my assignment and it really impossible to finish it within a day. I couldn’t think anything else other than doing my assignment. After woke up from that dream, I felt so grateful that it was just a dream and it boosted my motivation.
Afterwards, I got the idea of applying this trick to reach my own goals. I try to trick my mind that tomorrow is the deadline. In a critical situation like this, nothing can distract me from being focus to do my work.
9. Eliminate All Possible Distraction
Get rid all the gadgets that can possibly distract you from your task, such as phone, tablet, etc.
Ask your friends or family member to help you. Tell this idea to them to keep your phone within 1 or 2 hours and don’t give it to you within that period.
10. Make a Good Habit
All the tricks above is just for temporary. If you want to stop procrastinating forever, all you need to do is make it as your routine. By doing it as your routine, it will soon become a habit that will change your life. Try to be consistent of doing this for a month and you will shock that your old habit of procrastinating is just gone!
In order to stop procrastinating, you also need a strong determination from yourself.
When you gather the courage and determination to really examine your procrastination habits, you’ll find that you do have the motivation to overcome them, get to work, and relieve your stress in a healthy way.
0:00 – Intro
1:02 – What *is* Procrastination?
6:44 – Final Thoughts…
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We’ve heard all of your excuses and we know what they really are: ADHD procrastination incarnate. Learn how to create deadlines, play music, and even conjure incentives to get the job done.
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Why Do I Procrastinate?
Maybe you procrastinate because you don’t enjoy a task or you find a job too challenging. Or you may not know how to get things started.
Procrastination, of course, has many causes. The roots of procrastination can be especially difficult for people with ADHD to overcome. Here’s my list of some of the top reasons that prevent you from getting things done, along with solutions to stop procrastinating.
1. Procrastination Cause: “I dislike doing the task”
- Look for ways to increase the task’s appeal.
- Make it into a game and keep score, or compete with others doing similar tasks.
- Listen to upbeat music while working.
- Give yourself a reward after you complete the task.
2. Procrastination Cause: “I am overwhelmed”
Use a “divide and conquer” approach:
- Break a large task into separate, short-term, easy-to-achieve segments.
- Check off each segment as you accomplish it.
3. Procrastination Cause: “I have difficulty starting a task”
- Create something to react to. Reactive tasks are easier to begin than those that you must initiate yourself.
- Work on the task with others. Answering their questions or responding to e-mails is a good way to get – and keep – you moving forward.
- Establish a deadline with your supervisor.
4. Procrastination Cause: “I’m not organized enough to start the task”
If you don’t know where to start, try the following:
- Think through the task.
- Talk through the steps with your supervisor.
- Break the task into do-able segments.
- Create a list of resources and supplies needed to accomplish the task.
- Create a timeline for the task; do the first segment.
- Set e-mail or text reminders for each segment.
5. Procrastination Cause: “I find the job too difficult”
- Ask yourself why the task seems so hard – is more training, more practice, or more assistance from others needed? – then get the help to succeed.
Apply a Solution
Select a task that you keep putting off. Then look at the list of solutions above and choose one that you think is helpful. Your new solutions will soon become habits.
Procrastination is a long word for this quick idea: later. It’s telling yourself you’ll do things “tomorrow” or “when I feel more like it.”
When is putting things off a problem?
Everyone delays or puts things off sometimes, and that’s fine, says Timothy Pychyl, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. You might postpone a meeting because of a schedule conflict, or to give yourself time to prepare. Procrastinating becomes a problem only when it hinders your relationships or getting your work done.
For about one in five adults, procrastination is a real, long-lasting problem.
Why we delay
The things people put off tend to be boring, hard, time-consuming, or maybe they lack meaning to us. Or we worry that the results won’t be perfect. When you avoid doing what seems less than pleasant, you get a little mood boost. But this bump doesn’t last. The avoided thing still hangs over you, causing guilt and stress.
The real reasons we procrastinate lie deep within human behavior. We tend to view things in the future as less real or concrete. The later risks of not doing something (or the rewards of getting it done) seem less real, too.
Putting things off is a habit. We’re wired to do what’s easy — in this case, delaying doing something we donвЂ™t find pleasant. And habits are hard to break.
How to get a move on
- Be concrete. Don’t say, “I’ll start the report in the morning.” Say, “I’ll outline just the three main points of the report while I drink my morning coffee, before I look at mail.”
- Be realistic about your time. We tend to be optimists about the future and think we’ll get more done than we do. Try jotting down all the things you have to do into your datebook. Include tasks like shopping for food, doing laundry, working out. That way when you make a plan to do something, you can get a true sense of what time you’ll have.
- “Pre-empt that which tempts,” Pychyl says. Shut off all the things that are a click away from distracting you. Social media and texting require little effort, give you a lot of mood reward, and suck time. Make them a reward after you finish.
- Know and accept that when the time comes to do the task, you won’t want to — and get past that. Just starting, even in the smallest way, creates progress. Then a sense of progress fuels well-being. “It’s an upward spiral,” Pychyl says.
- Start with the hardest tasks.Willpower is a muscle. You’ll better resist things that distract when you first get started.
- “Time travel” in your mind’s eye to when the task at hand is done. Think about how good you’ll feel.
- Pace yourself. Set aside time to make a little progress every day. College students who had to complete small amounts of work before they could go to the next level did better on tests than those who were given all the study material at once, a 2011 University of Kansas study found.
- Be kind to yourself. Praise yourself for taking the first steps. Assure yourself that a “good enough” effort is great, and better than putting things off.
Perrin, C. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, fall 2011.
Sirois, F. Personality and Individual Differences, July 2007.
Sirois, F. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, February 2013.
Timothy Pychyl, PhD, associate professor of psychology, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada; procrastination researcher.
Association for Psychological Science: “Why Wait? The Science Behind Procrastination.”
Bishop’s University: “Can Procrastination Be Bad for Your Health?”
California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo Academic Skills Center: “Procrastination.”
You’ve got a frightening deadline tomorrow. Yet you’re checking out memes on social media, chatting with friends, commenting on forums instead doing what you should do. You are completely aware about what you are doing right now will not get anything done but you are still doing it.
That sounds like a perfect Saturday! But when the deadline arrived you were completely frustrated and probably ended up with unsatisfied work.
A study found out that 88% of students procrastinate on some work for at least one hour every day.
Procrastination is the major reason why people can’t seem to get work done or meet deadlines. Instead of doing your project or assignment, you engage in miscellaneous activities like checking email, social media, watching videos, surfing blogs and forums. Procrastination go off when you know you should be working, but you don’t feel like doing anything. So, the guilt of not doing anything will haunt you at the end.
Plus, procrastination is usually the misery of every student’s existence as you misuse your free time and put off important tasks you should be doing until it is too late. When it then indeed too late, you start to panic and forced to pull a stress-induced all-nighter.
You shouldn’t let procrastination take over your life. Here are three essential steps to crush procrastination and start meeting deadlines without stress and panic.
Break Your Task into Little Achievable Bits
One of the reasons why students procrastinate is because they find the work too overwhelming. Therefore, to avoid procrastinating, it would be a better idea to break your task into little parts. After breaking the tasks, you need to focus on one part of the task at a time. This helps you to avoid unnecessary free times that will probably lead you into an ineffective day. If you still find yourself procrastinating after breaking the task, then you need to break it down even further. Take small breaks when you are working on a task. Treat yourself!
The goal is to get each part of the task to be as simple as possible, up to the point you start to think “gee, this is actually simple let me just do it now.” Additionally, with each part of the task, there should be a corresponding deadline. Having just one deadline for the whole task is a great way to invite procrastination.
Therefore, you need to create an overall timeline with specific deadlines for each small task. This will help you finish each task by a certain date and allow you to finish the entire project before the deadline.
Reward your Results
Humans are basically pleasure-seeking species, with the driving force to do what needs to be done to get a reward they desire. Therefore, you can use your natural drive to get rewarded to stop procrastination. To do this, you need to write down the parts of the task you are expected to do and assign a reward to the completion of each part.
For each task, you need to describe a reward that is meaningful to you. No matter how small the reward is, it could be “I will watch an episode of a show when I finish the task” or “if I finish the project before the deadline, I will treat myself to an expensive dinner.” You get motivated to complete your task if there is something at stake.
The point is that we should not make our life a living prison. We should enjoy ourselves. After all , that is why we do what we do.
Tell Your Goals to Someone else
When you only hold yourself accountable to achieving your goals, it will be easy for you to forget them or put them off. So, if you really want to achieve your goal, it would be better to tell a friend or a family member. By doing this, you now have someone else holding you responsible for your goals. Also, it makes you kind of guilty if you do not reach into that goal. So, you can use it to your advantage.
With this, you will not be able to back out or slough it off, as they are bound to ask you about your status on those goals whenever they see you. Other than having someone to remind you of your goals, you also have someone to celebrate your victories. Whether it is turning in a paper early or preparing for a test, the person will be there to support you.
Procrastination is not the worst thing that can happen to you. But it is not the best thing either! We can easily drag ourselves away from procrastinating by taking simple actions. It will take some time to master them and move your way into being completely productive. You just need to start today and be consistence with the actions you take.
Outsmart your brain’s tendency to put off big goals.
Procrastination is a part of human nature. While we love crossing off the easy tasks on our to-do lists, the more challenging ones languish there indefinitely. Why? Because it’s much easier for our brains to process concrete (now) versus abstract (future) benefits. The key to tackling those unwanted tasks is making the action itself feel more significant and real, while making the costs of performing the action feel smaller. For example, telling a colleague that you’re going to finish a task at a certain point in time may be the nudge you need to get something done. To make the task feel smaller, break it down into easy steps—that will keep you motivated as you achieve each goal. You’ll notice how much more work you can get done when you’re less short sighted.
Outsmart your brain’s tendency to put off big goals.
Procrastination comes in many disguises. We might resolve to tackle a task, but find endless reasons to defer it. We might prioritize things we can readily tick off our to-do list—answering emails, say—while leaving the big, complex stuff untouched for another day. We can look and feel busy, while artfully avoiding the tasks that really matter. And when we look at those rolling, long-untouched items at the bottom of our to-do list, we can’t help but feel a little disappointed in ourselves.
The problem is our brains are programmed to procrastinate. In general, we all tend to struggle with tasks that promise future upside in return for efforts we take now. That’s because it’s easier for our brains to process concrete rather than abstract things, and the immediate hassle is very tangible compared with those unknowable, uncertain future benefits. So the short-term effort easily dominates the long-term upside in our minds—an example of something that behavioral scientists call present bias.
How can you become less myopic about your elusive tasks? It’s all about rebalancing the cost-benefit analysis: make the benefits of action feel bigger, and the costs of action feel smaller. The reward for doing a pestering task needs to feel larger than the immediate pain of tackling it.
To make the benefits of action feel bigger and more real:
Visualize how great it will be to get it done. Researchers have discovered that people are more likely to save for their future retirement if they’re shown digitally aged photographs of themselves. Why? Because it makes their future self feel more real—making the future benefits of saving also feel more weighty. When we apply a lo-fi version of this technique to any task we’ve been avoiding, by taking a moment to paint ourselves a vivid mental picture of the benefits of getting it done, it can sometimes be just enough to get us unstuck. So if there’s a call you’re avoiding or an email you’re putting off, give your brain a helping hand by imagining the virtuous sense of satisfaction you’ll have once it’s done—and perhaps also the look of relief on someone’s face as they get from you what they needed.
Pre-commit, publicly. Telling people that we’re going to get something done can powerfully amplify the appeal of actually taking action, because our brain’s reward system is so highly responsive to our social standing. Research has found that it matters greatly to us whether we’re respected by others—even by strangers. Most of us don’t want to look foolish or lazy to other people. So by daring to say “I’ll send you the report by the end of the day” we add social benefits to following through on our promise—which can be just enough to nudge us to bite the bullet.
This article also appears in:
HBR Guide to Being More Productive
Confront the downside of inaction. Research has found that we’re strangely averse to properly evaluating the status quo. While we might weigh the pros and cons of doing something new, we far less often consider the pros and cons of not doing that thing. Known as omission bias, this often leads us to ignore some obvious benefits of getting stuff done. Suppose you’re repeatedly putting off the preparation you need to do for an upcoming meeting. You’re tempted by more exciting tasks, so you tell yourself you can do it tomorrow (or the day after). But force yourself to think about the downside of putting it off, and you realize that tomorrow will be too late to get hold of the input you really need from colleagues. If you get moving now, you have half a chance of reaching them in time—so finally, your gears creak into action.
To make the costs of action feel smaller:
Identify the first step. Sometimes we’re just daunted by the task we’re avoiding. We might have “learn French” on our to-do list, but who can slot that into the average afternoon? The trick here is to break down big, amorphous tasks into baby steps that don’t feel as effortful. Even better: identify the very smallest first step, something that’s so easy that even your present-biased brain can see that the benefits outweigh the costs of effort. So instead of “learn French” you might decide to “email Nicole to ask advice on learning French.” Achieve that small goal, and you’ll feel more motivated to take the next small step than if you’d continued to beat yourself up about your lack of language skills.
Tie the first step to a treat. We can make the cost of effort feel even smaller if we link that small step to something we’re actually looking forward to doing. In other words, tie the task that we’re avoiding to something that we’re not avoiding. For example, you might allow yourself to read lowbrow magazines or books when you’re at the gym, because the guilty pleasure helps dilute your brain’s perception of the short-term “cost” of exercising. Likewise, you might muster the self-discipline to complete a slippery task if you promise yourself you’ll do it in a nice café with a favorite drink in hand.
Remove the hidden blockage. Sometimes we find ourselves returning to a task repeatedly, still unwilling to take the first step. We hear a little voice in our head saying, “Yeah, good idea, but . . . no.” At this point, we need to ask that voice some questions, to figure out what’s really making it unappealing to take action. This doesn’t necessarily require psychotherapy. Patiently ask yourself a few “why” questions—“why does it feel tough to do this?” and “why’s that?”—and the blockage can surface quite quickly. Often, the issue is that a perfectly noble competing commitment is undermining your motivation. For example, suppose you were finding it hard to stick to an early morning goal-setting routine. A few “whys” might highlight that the challenge stems from your equally strong desire to eat breakfast with your family. Once you’ve made that conflict more explicit, it’s far more likely you’ll find a way to overcome it—perhaps by setting your daily goals the night before, or on your commute into work.
So the next time you find yourself mystified by your inability to get important tasks done, be kind to yourself. Recognize that your brain needs help if it’s going to be less short-sighted. Try taking at least one step to make the benefits of action loom larger, and one to make the costs of action feel smaller. Your languishing to-do list will thank you.