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10 Mini-Hacks to Overcome Procrastination

10 Mini-Hacks to Overcome Procrastination

I totally get it. You have big thoughts of what you want to get done for the day. Then your friend calls, so you talk for awhile. After that, you check Facebook for a few minutes. You get hungry, and decide to watch an episode of your favorite show while eating a snack. And pretty soon the day is gone with you wondering, “What did I even do today?”

We all have the same 24 hours in each day, yet some people seem to get a lot done and others seem to really struggle to get anything accomplished. When you really want to get things done, you’ll need to overcome procrastination.

Here are 10 mini-hacks to overcome procrastination.

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1. Set goals.

If you really want to accomplish big things, set goals. And don’t just think about the goals. Actually get your dreams out of your head and onto paper. Write down your goals. And make them as specific as possible.

There was an amazing study conducted on Harvard MBA graduates in the ’70s. Students were asked, “Have you set clear, written goals for your future and made plans to accomplish them?” Only 3% had written goals and plans. Ten years later, the group was interviewed again. The results? The 3% of the students who had clear, written goals were earning, on average, ten times as much as the other 97% of the class combined!

Whether or not your goal is to make a lot of money, writing down your goals has been shown to help people get things done. When you write down specific, measurable goals, you will have something objective to work toward. For example, instead of writing “I will write a book,” write “By December 31st, I will write a 20 page children’s book and submit it to 5 publishers.”

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2. Break your goals down into tiny, doable chunks.

When you have big goals, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and procrastinate moving toward the goal. For this problem, I recommend breaking each of your big goals down into miniature goals. You don’t have to accomplish everything today. You just need to take one small step toward your goal. Using the children’s book example, you could make a tiny goal of writing 2 sentences per day.

3. Each night, write out your schedule for the following day.

If you want to be more productive, you’ll need to tell your time where to go. Planning out your schedule is incredibly helpful. It helps you maximize every hour you are awake. It’s very easy to get distracted by the many time-suckers that bombard you daily. Writing your schedule down will help you get things done!

4. Set deadlines for yourself.

Have you ever wondered why you can make your house immaculately clean when someone calls and says they’ll stop by in 15 minutes, or how hard you can cram for an exam you have the next morning? The answer lies in Parkinson’s Law. Parkinson’s Law says work expands to fill the time available for its completion. Therefore, the less time you have to complete a task, the more you’ll increase your effort. When you’re writing out your daily schedule, take advantage of Parkinson’s Law. Give yourself deadlines to accomplish tasks. Knowing you have a deadline will light a fire in you and help you get things done. One experiment discovered external deadlines (deadlines imposed on you by others) are even more beneficial that deadlines you set for yourself. Either way, having deadlines will help you move toward your goals.

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5. Eat the frog.

One of my favorite quotes is by Mark Twain: “Eat a live frog first thing every morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” If there is a task you intentionally procrastinate because you loathe it or it’s overwhelming, this is your frog. Eat it right away in the morning and move on.

6. Minimize distractions.

We’ve all tried to get things done while our smartphones buzz frequently. It doesn’t work. Remember the friend who called you at the beginning of this article, and one distraction led to another, and pretty soon your day was gone? One study showed that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to a task after an interruption. That’s a long time! When you really want to concentrate on something, unplug, focus, and get to work.

7. Combine a task you don’t like with something enjoyable.

Do you procrastinate exercising but love having lunch with friends? Instead of the lunch date, meet your friends for an early morning tennis match. Not only will you get your workout accomplished, you’ll also get the social time you enjoy.

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7. Learn to say “No.”

When your day is filled with things you dread doing, you’re likely to procrastinate. Say “no” when possible to obligations you dislike. Filling your schedule with your priorities and passions will energize you. Choose to live your life, not someone else’s, by saying “yes” only to activities that line up with your values.

8. Automate tasks whenever possible.

Relying on simply motivation to get you through your day isn’t a wise idea. Automating tasks is the key. The more you automate, the less opportunities you’ll have to procrastinate. This has really helped me. One trick I’ve tricked is going to bed in clean workout clothes with my shoes and music ready at the door. When I wake up, I’m already dressed to go running.

9. Tell a friend.

Tell an accountability partner what you’re procrastinating doing, and ask for encouragement. Better yet, tell them you’ll meet them for a fun night out but only after you get your task done.

10. Treat yourself well.

Giving yourself the proper dose of exercise and fueling your body with healthy foods can help you feel your best. When you feel well, you have more energy to get things done. Also, treating your body well can boost your self-confidence, which is needed to tackle the projects you fear instead of procrastinating them.

Featured photo credit: Working on Website Layout/Viktor Hanacek via picjumbo.com

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Dr. Kerry Petsinger

Entrepreneur, Mindset & Performance Coach, & Doctor of Physical Therapy

Feeling Stuck in Life? How to Never Get Stuck Again How to Find the Purpose of Life and Start Living a Fulfilling Life Don’t like your job? Here are some solutions. How People Make Decisions That Are Bad For Them How to Have a Successful Career and a Fulfilling Personal Life

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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