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5 Hacks for Overcoming Procrastination

5 Hacks for Overcoming Procrastination
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Procrastination is something that affects all of us at some point or another. For some of us, procrastination hits us when we are trying to complete our biggest, most important projects. For others, it impacts all areas of our lives.

Whatever your relationship with procrastination, the good news is that there are steps you can take to overcome it.

Here are five hacks you can start using today to trade procrastination for productivity:

1. Figure out what’s behind the procrastination (and therefore, understand how to overcome it)

Although procrastination might seem like a mysterious phenomenon, usually there’s a good reason for it. Some of the most common causes of procrastination are fear, self-doubt and a perfectionist mindset.

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If we fear judgement from other people, or if we fear the changes that might come as a result of success, we’re likely to delay getting started. Equally, if we approach a task or project with the mindset that it either has to go exactly as planned or it’s a failure, that kind of pressure is likely to lead to procrastination and avoidance.

If you’re struggling to understand your procrastination, take some time to reflect and ask yourself, “What’s the payoff for staying stuck? How am I actually trying to help or protect myself?” With a better understanding of what’s behind your procrastination, you can take steps to build support structures and accountability that will help you take action— whatever your fears, doubts, or worries.

This hack is important, but make sure this kind of introspection doesn’t become a method of procrastination in itself!

Pairing this step with one of the following hacks will help you turn internal understanding into external action.

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2. Set a timer for 5 minutes and start

One of the hardest parts of any project or task is getting started. Most of us find that, once we’re past that first hurdle, the rest is smooth sailing. You can overcome this hurdle by giving yourself permission to work on the object of your procrastination for just five minutes.

Agree with yourself that you’ll focus on that particular task—and that task only—for the next five minutes. If you want to stop at the end of the five minutes, you’re allowed to. If you want to continue, that’s allowed too. Be careful not to “should” yourself into continuing after the timer goes off. Tomorrow, you can try another five minutes and see how you feel then.

This hack works because many people find they get into the groove and want to continue beyond the five minutes. Even if you don’t, however, that’s fine. Even five minutes each day will amount to significant progress in the long-term.

3. Focus on how good it will feel when you’re done

I ask a lot of my clients to do a specific visualisation exercise. The first part involves creating a detailed picture of how their lives will be if they take a specific course of action we’ve been discussing. The second part involves creating a detailed picture of how their lives will be if they don’t take that course of action. For each picture, I ask them to think about how they’ll feel, and how taking or not taking action will affect other areas of their lives too.

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If you’d like a dose of intrinsic motivation, you can do a similar exercise yourself. Imagine you’re looking at your life a year from now. Create the two pictures above, allowing yourself to feel the feelings associated with taking action (such as satisfaction, fulfillment, accomplishment, excitement, and confidence) and then the feelings associated with not taking action (such as disappointment, fatigue, dread, and negative self-judgement).

Now, you know the consequences of your action (or inaction) and you have a choice which reality you choose to create.

4. Find a way to make the task fun

With any big project, there will be tasks or actions that just aren’t fun or interesting. These can stall otherwise speedy progress and lead to a period of avoidance and procrastination.

If you’re in this situation now, you can help yourself by finding ways to make a particular task more interesting. Put on some good music, take your computer to a coffee shop and work there, or invite friends to take part with you. The fun-making method you choose will depend on the task at hand, but there will be a way to turn your procrastination into passion.

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5. Set up public accountability

Public accountability is one of the most effective ways of overcoming procrastination. It’s effective for a simple reason: we don’t like to look bad in front of other people. Public accountability doesn’t even have to be that public to be helpful. Just being accountable to one person is often enough to kick us into gear.

To make the most out of public accountability, enlist the help of a coach, a friend or a dedicated accountability buddy. Tell them exactly what action you’re going to take and when you’re going to do it.

Featured photo credit: Britt Selvitelle via flickr.com

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Hannah Braime

Hannah is a coach who believes the world is a richer place when we have the courage to be fully self-expressed.

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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