Procrastination: something we are all guilty of and battle on an almost daily basis.
We know we have to get something done by a certain time, yet we put it off until the very last minute, hoping to finish it quicker than you would expect.
Or starting the task feels so hard as though you’re about to climb Mount Everest. What makes matters worse is that the human brain is trained to tackle the “now” rather than the future.
It’s trained to make us happy right now rather than happy 20 minutes later.
That’s why immediate gratification such as snacking or watching a show on Netflix feels like a much better option than doing the work that demands our actual attention.
Perhaps before looking at how we can beat procrastination, it’s best to see why we procrastinate so we can understand how we can kick it to the side and get sh*t done.
For many of us, procrastination happens because we are unsure where to start the task that lies ahead of us or how to do so.
It simply looks vague and gargantuan like “write a blog post that’s 1200 words long”. This is in turn makes us feel like the task will demand a lot of our effort, that it is exhausting and simply too hard to tackle.
If we put it off long enough and we start to wonder if it’s something we are actually capable of doing or the possibility that we might fail. Of course, this makes us procrastinate even more.
Before you know it, the day is ending in an hour, and you have a task in front of you that would take a minimum of four hours and you are staring at it in full panic mode wondering “Why do I procrastinate?”
If any of this sounds familiar, here are 4 ways you can stop procrastinating and actually get some work done.
Break down the task
As I mentioned before, sometimes we procrastinate because the task that lies ahead of us is too vague and too huge that we don’t know where and how to start.
Take for example “write a blog post that’s 1200 words long”. This makes it seem like you have to open up a word document and hammer out 1200 words.
Which feels impossible to tackle – where are we going to get 1200 words from? What are we going to talk about?
But in fact, we don’t write a 1200-word blog post by loading up a word processor, pulling words from nowhere and arranging them in a way that flows.
Writing a blog post usually entails the following subtasks:
- Find a topic to write on
- Research on topic
- Compile findings and arguments
- Write the first draft
- Edit draft
Now you have a clearer view of what you need to do and where you can start.
By really breaking down the daunting task into more manageable tasks, you are more likely to be less intimidated by it.
You now know the 1200 words are not going to come from nowhere, you know how to approach the task, and most importantly, you know where to start.
If this is still daunting, you can even break it down further:
- Open a word document
- Type the title of the blog post
- Name the document and save
And so on. The point is to trick your brain into thinking the task really simple to start.
Once something is easy to start, it becomes easy to build a momentum in doing the task.
Before you know it, you have not only opened a document and typed out the title, you are compiling all the information you have researched on!
Plan times and deadlines
One of the reasons we procrastinate is because we don’t plan and estimate how long the task will take us.
This is why we put consistently put things off to do it “later” until
it’s almost too late and we get mad at ourselves for having wasted so much time.
Again, in the example of “write a 1200-word long blog post”, it’s so easy to procrastinate because there’s no plan or indication of how long the task would take us.
We just know we have to write 1200 words, but we don’t plan how long it’s going to take us.
By setting time limits and deadlines, we can improve our efficiency in tackling the task.
For example, you can set yourself one hour to research for materials for your blog post, one hour to compile information, one hour to write the first draft, and one hour to proofread.
This way, you are less likely to put off your task until the stroke of midnight because you know how long it will take you.
Another way to stop procrastinating is to give yourself mini-deadlines. If your post has to go up at 5 pm, you can give yourself mini-deadlines
such as you will finish your research by 11 am and then you will check your phone.
Or that you will finish writing the first draft by 3 pm before watching a show on Netflix.
Yet another way to stop procrastinating is by removing distractions.
The notifications from our phone are extremely hard to ignore. This is because our brains are wired to respond to the “now”. The least you can do is put it on silent.
If the pull of your phone is still too strong, try putting it away altogether.
Organize the desk and your workplace in a way that flows, and things make sense. It doesn’t have to look like it went through a complete makeover to be effective.
Try to have a system for keeping things in certain places as well. That way you don’t get distracted from the task at hand while looking for something.
Try going out to a library or a café once in a while to mix things up. If you’re someone who has to listen to some music while you work to help
you concentrate, try listening to music that has no lyrics.
Use the time to procrastinate effectively
Every now and then, the work in front of us truly is challenging. It can be something very demanding that will require a lot of mental energy.
It’s not the worst idea to put it off just a bit rather than getting frustrated with ourselves.
Those of us who are paralyzed by our indecision to act are called passive procrastinators.
Being a passive procrastinator, it’s easy to ease those unwanted feelings by taking no action whatsoever or looking for sense pleasures like snacking, social media, or Netflix.
Ultimately, both of these cause additional anxiety and make it more difficult to begin.
Doing something positive while we procrastinate can improve our mood and our esteem when we come back to dealing with the said task.
You can find more details about this in my post about procrastinating effectively.
Also, some of us are simply just wired to work at the last minute. This group of people are called active procrastinators; they thrive under the pressure of time constraints and work faster, harder and better.
So, if you fall under either of these categories, why not use the time that you are procrastinating by doing something effective or something that helps you such as meditation or cleaning up?