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How to Eliminate Procrastination (The Surprising Strategy One Man Used)

How to Eliminate Procrastination (The Surprising Strategy One Man Used)

In 2009, Fred Stutzman was a graduate student at the University of North Carolina. He was trying to grind out some important work on his thesis. But there was a problem.

His favorite coffee shop, which had previously been a quiet sanctuary where he could escape distraction and get work done, had just added a new and very dangerous feature.

Wireless internet.

Now Stutzman found himself constantly distracted by the endless supply of entertainment and social media on the web — even if he really wanted to get something done. He tried disconnecting from the internet, but it wasn’t that simple. He was always clicking it back on to “take a break.” He was constantly fighting the urge to check his messages and updates.

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Thankfully, Stutzman happened to be a programmer studying Information Science. When he went home that night, he decided to create a software program that would solve his problem.

The program he created was simple. You turned the application on, told it how long you wanted to focus, and it prevented your computer from going online for that amount of time. If you wanted to get back on before your time was up, you had to turn your computer completely off and reboot.

The program was called Freedom. Not long after Stutzman created it, the application went viral. It was picked up by NPR, The Economist, The New York Times, Oprah Magazine, Time, and nearly every major news outlet you can imagine. More than 500,000 people downloaded it.

It seems that many people were struggling with online procrastination.

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Why did Freedom work so well? And what can it teach us about sticking to better habits and mastering our willpower?

The Power of Decision Elimination

Making decisions over and over again will drain your willpower. This is true even if it’s the same, tiny decision — like constantly resisting the urge to check your email. (Another example is continually trying to follow a new, strict diet.)

You might be able to resist for 5 minutes or an hour or maybe even a week, but eventually, your willpower will begin to fade and you’ll give in. This is known as decision fatigue. In a previous article I discussed how it has a measurable impact on your willpower and the choices you make throughout any given day.

The Freedom app that Stutzman designed is effective not only because it prevents you from reaching the web, but also because it reduces decision fatigue. It eliminates your options and, as a result, doing the right thing becomes much easier. In other words, the application places a constraint on your behavior.

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This brings us to an important point: constraints can make it easier to stick to good habits by eliminating the number of decisions you need to make to move forward.

Constraints are a Good Thing

People often say that they want options. When it comes to getting things done, however, options aren’t always a good thing. When everything is a possibility, it actually becomes harder to make the right choice (or any choice at all). This is the paradox of choice.

Meanwhile, when we place a constraint on ourselves, it can become much easier to get something done. This is especially true if it is a constraint that forces us to start small.

  • If you want to start exercising, set a rule for yourself where you are not allowed to exercise for more than five minutes. You have to stop exercising after five minutes. I talked with a reader named Mitch who used this strategy to make his first six weeks of exercise very easy and then gradually built up to doing more. He ended up losing over 100 pounds. (Nice work, Mitch!)
  • If you want to become more creative, you can use constraints to drive your creativity. For example, you could write a book by only using 50 different words. This is the strategy Dr. Seuss used to write Green Eggs and Ham. (Full story here.)
  • If you want to eat more vegetables, you could limit yourself to only one type of vegetable this week. By limiting the number of choices you have to make, it’s more likely that you’ll actually eat something healthy rather than get overwhelmed trying to figure out all of the details of the perfect diet.

We often think that we want an open road and the ability to choose any direction for ourselves. But sometimes, what we need is a tunnel that can reduce our choices and send us in a focused direction.

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How can you eliminate the need to make the same decisions over and over again? How can you use constraints to drive your habits forward — even if it’s in a very small way?

James Clear writes at JamesClear.com, where he shares science-based ideas for living a better life and building habits that stick. To get strategies for boosting your mental and physical performance by 10x, join his free newsletter.

This article was originally published on JamesClear.com.

Featured photo credit: Lynn Friedman via flickr.com

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Last Updated on July 10, 2019

30 Best Procrastination Quotes to Get You Back to Work

30 Best Procrastination Quotes to Get You Back to Work

What do your 3pm fridge raid and perfectly alphabetised bookshelf have in common?

You most likely did both of them when you should have been doing work.

Procrastination is one of the most human behaviours. We’re all guilty of putting off what we know is important from time to time, and it seems the more pressing the task at hand, the better we are at avoiding it.

Sure, it means that every time we have an important deadline we end up with a spotlessly clean house and a completely empty inbox, but the real work gets left until the very last minute and is finished in a frenzy of stress and caffeine.

But we can gain control over procrastination by noticing it as soon as possible and stopping it in its tracks. On the contrary, you know you have a bad habit when you’re aware you’re putting something off, and you continue avoiding it anyway.

To start you off with combating procrastination, here are a few quotes to get you in a motivated frame of mind, because if procrastination has any enemies, it’s motivation to work harder.

A Few Home Truths

    “Never put off till tomorrow what may be done day after tomorrow just as well.”
    ― Mark Twain


    “It is easier to resist at the beginning than at the end.”
    ― Leonardo da Vinci


    “Someday is not a day of the week.”
    ― Janet Dailey


    “Success is not obtained overnight. It comes in instalments; you get a little bit today, a little bit tomorrow until the whole package is given out. The day you procrastinate, you lose that day’s success.”
    ― Israelmore Ayivor


    “The man who waits to know everything is the man who never does anything.”
    ― Craig D. Lounsbrough


    “Procrastination is like going to a fancy restaurant and filling up on bread and not leaving enough room for dinner.”
    ― Richie Norton, The Power of Starting Something Stupid: How to Crush Fear, Make Dreams Happen, and Live without Regret


    “Procrastination is the lazy cousin of fear. When we feel anxiety around an activity, we postpone it.”
    ― Noelle Hancock, My Year with Eleanor


    “Doing things at the last minute reminds us of the importance of doing things at the first minute.”
    ― Matshona Dhliwayo


    “You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”
    ― Abraham Lincoln


    “A day can really slip by when you’re deliberately avoiding what you’re supposed to do.”
    ― Bill Watterson, There’s Treasure Everywhere


    “By what right do I, who have wasted this day, make claims on tomorrow?”
    ― Alain-Fournier, Le Grand Meaulnes


    “If you want to get ahead in life, I’ve found that perhaps the most useless word in the world is “tomorrow.”
    ― José N. Harris


    Some Practical Advice

      “If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem. But don’t make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people’s words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient.”
      ― Hilary Mantel


      “Thinking too much leads to paralysis by analysis. It’s important to think things through, but many use thinking as a means of avoiding action.”
      ― Robert Herjavec, The Will To Win: Leading, Competing, Succeeding


      “Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone”
      ― Pablo Picasso


      “It is only by working the rituals, that any significant degree of understanding can develop. If you wait until you are positive you understand all aspects of the ceremony before beginning to work, you will never begin to work.”
      ― Lon Milo DuQuette, The Magick of Aleister Crowley: A Handbook of the Rituals of Thelema


      “Do first what you don’t want to do most.”
      ― Clifford Cohen


      “How often do you find yourself saying, “In a minute”, “I’ll get to it” or “Tomorrow’s good enough” and every other possible excuse in the book? Compare it with how often you decide it’s got to be done, so let’s get on and do it! That should tell you just how serious your procrastinating problem really is.”
      ― Stephen Richards, The Secret of Getting Started: Strategies to Triumph over Procrastination


      “How to stop procrastinating starts with believing you can overcome procrastination.”
      ― Robert Moment, How to Stop Procrastinating


      “Never put things off…you will wake up and find them gone.”
      ― James Jones


      Some Tough Love

        “Do something instead of killing time. Because time is killing you.”
        ― Paulo Coelho, Aleph


        “If you take too long in deciding what to do with your life, you’ll find you’ve done it.”
        ― George Bernard Shaw


        “If you want to get ahead in life, I’ve found that perhaps the most useless word in the world is “tomorrow.”
        ― José N. Harris


        “What is deferred is not avoided.”
        ― Thomas More


        “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work”
        ― Chuck Close


        “If you always do what is easy and choose the path of least resistance, you never step outside your comfort zone. Great things don’t come from comfort zones.”
        ― Roy Bennett


        “Your ideas have legs and just as they run through your head, they could be running through someone else’s head and it’s just a matter of who gets to the finish line first. Nothing is new under the sun so act on your ideas.”― Sanjo Jendayi


        “You may not be punished for your procrastination, but for sure you will be punished by your procrastination.”
        ― Debasish Mridha


        When You Need Pulling out of Procrastination

          “Time is an equal opportunity employer. Each human being has exactly the same number of hours and minutes every day. Rich people can’t buy more hours. Scientists can’t invent new minutes. And you can’t save time to spend it on another day. Even so, time is amazingly fair and forgiving. No matter how much time you’ve wasted in the past, you still have an entire tomorrow.”
          ― Denis Waitley


          “A year from now you may wish you had started today.”
          ― Karen Lamb


          Print these quotes out, stick them on the wall in front of your desk – do whatever it takes to remember why you shouldn’t be putting your work off, or getting distracted by a desire to rearrange your socks into colour order.

          It won’t be easy, but being aware of how detrimental procrastination is to your longer-term goals is the first step towards overcoming it.

          More Motivational Quotes

          Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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