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Last Updated on February 9, 2018

Procrastination – A Step-By-Step Guide to Stop Procrastinating

Procrastination – A Step-By-Step Guide to Stop Procrastinating

If you have so many things to do that you often find yourself struggling to finish projects and tasks and move on to other stuff, you’re certainly not alone. Studies show that over 20 percent of the adult population put off or avoid doing certain tasks by allowing themselves to be overtaken by distractions.[1]

What about the rest of the population? What do they do to prevent procrastination?

In this article, I am going to explain to you why procrastination is so difficult to beat and how you can stop procrastinating once and for all by following a step-by-step guide. But first, you need to understand how procrastination happens.

What is procrastination

Piers Steel, the author of the book The Procrastination Equation: How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Stuff Done, defines procrastination in this way:[2]

“Procrastination is to voluntarily delay an intended course of action despite expecting to be worse off for the delay.”

In other words, procrastination is doing more pleasurable things in place of less pleasurable ones. The end result is that important tasks are put off to a later time.

This comic is one of the typical examples of procrastination:

    Why stopping procrastination is difficult

    Human beings have limited self-control. Dr. Roy Baumeister, a psychologist from Florida State University, has been studying self-control and he has found that just like any muscles, human’s self-control is a limited resource that can quickly become exhausted.[3] When self-control is close to being depleted, human tend to choose what’s more pleasurable– the immediate procrastinated tasks instead of the actual works.

    At its core, procrastination is an avoidance strategy. Procrastinators choose to do something else instead of doing what they need to do because it’s much easier to choose pleasure over pain.

    In short, procrastination is so difficult to beat because it is a battle against human’s natural enemy, a human weakness that is in-born.

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    A step-by-step guide to stop procrastinating

    Despite the fact that it’s human nature to seek for immediate rewards and procrastinate, here I have a step-by-step guide for you to follow so as to stop procrastinating.

    1. Identify your triggers: the 5 types of procrastinator

    Identifying the type of procrastination you personally experience is an essential step for you to fix the problem at its root.

    Take a look at this flowchart here to find out what type of procrastinator you are:

      Which type of procrastinator are you? Let’s take a look at the triggers for your procrastination type:

      Perfectionist

      Being perfect is the pleasure perfectionists want. But often this leads to them being too scared to show any imperfections. Because of this, they frequently fail to complete things, as they’re forever seeking the perfect timing or approach. Tasks end up never being completed, because in the eyes of the perfectionist, things are never perfect enough.

      Instead of finishing something, perfectionists get caught up in a never-ending cycle of additions, edits, and deletions.

      Ostrich

      An ostrich prefers to stay in the dreaming stage. That way, they don’t have to work for real, or deal with any negativity or stress.

      Dreaming gives this type of people a false sense of achievement, as in their minds, they envision big, ambitious plans. Unfortunately for them, these plans will most likely stay as dreams, and they’ll never accomplish anything truly worthwhile.

      Self-saboteur

      A self-saboteur has bought into the line that ‘by doing nothing, bad things won’t happen.’

      In reality, self-saboteurs have developed a fear of making mistakes or doing anything wrong. Their way to avoid these mishaps, is to do nothing at all. In the end, they may make few mistakes – but they also see few accomplishments.

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      Daredevil

      Daredevils are those who believe that deadlines can push them to do better. Instead of having a schedule to complete their work – they prefer to enjoy time doing their own thing before the deadline comes around.

      It’s most likely an unconscious thing, but daredevils evidently believe that starting early will sacrifice their time for pleasure. This is reinforced in their minds and feelings, by the many times they manage to get away with burning the midnight oil. Often they sacrifice the quality of their work because of rushing it.

      Chicken

      Chickens lack the ability to prioritize their work. They do what they feel like they should do, rather than thinking through what they really need to do.

      Prioritizing tasks is a step that takes extra time, so chicken will feel it’s not worth it. Because of this, they usually end up doing a lot of effortless tasks that don’t contribute much to a project. They’re incessantly busy on low-impact tasks, but seem oblivious to urgent, high-impact tasks.

      2. Face your triggers and get rid of them

      Whether it’s fear of failure, overwhelming feelings, avoidance or convincing yourself you’re just too busy to get something done, you can improve your ability to be productive by eliminating your procrastination triggers.

      For Perfectionists, re-clarify your goals.

      Much of the time procrastination tendencies form simply because we’ve outgrown our goals. We’re ever-changing and so are our wants in life. Try looking over your goals and ask yourself if they’re still what you want.

      Take time out to regroup and ask yourself what you really want to achieve:

      • What steps do you need to take?
      • Is what you’re currently doing reflecting what you want?
      • What do you need to change?

      Write things down, scribble them out and rewrite.

      For Ostriches, do the difficult tasks first.

      Even if you feel you’re not a morning person, the beginning of the day is when your brain is most productive. Use this window of time to get the more difficult stuff done.

      If you leave your difficult tasks to later, you’re much more likely to put it off because you’re tired and lack motivation.

      Finishing lots of simple tasks at the beginning of the day such as reading all the new emails only gives you a false sense of being productive.

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      For Self-saboteurs, write out a to-do (and a not–to-do) list each day.

      Writing things down is powerful and psychologically increases your need to get things done.

      Each day, make a habit of creating a list of the tasks you know you’ll try and avoid. By doing this, it brings these ‘difficult’ tasks to your mind’s attention instead of keeping them locked away somewhere in your avoidance mode.

      Remember, think how satisfying and productive it feels to cross of a completed task.

      For Daredevils, create a timeline with deadlines.

      It’s common to have a deadline for a goal which seems like a good idea. But this is basically an open invitation for procrastination.

      If it’s a self-created deadline with no pressure, we tend to justify pushing it back each time it comes into sight and feel we haven’t yet done ‘enough’ to get there.

      Create a bigger timeline then within that, establish deadlines along the way. The beauty of this comes when each deadline completion is dependent on the next. It keeps you on track and keeps you accountable for being in alignment with the overall timeline.

      For Chickens, break tasks into bite-sized pieces.

      A lot of the time procrastination comes from overwhelming thoughts.

      If something feels too big to tackle and we don’t know where to start, it feels like a struggle. This is also true if our goal is too vague and lacking direction.

      Break down larger tasks into smaller ones and turn them into daily or weekly goals. Smaller steps may seem like the slower approach to achieving a goal, but it often leads you much more quickly to where you want to be due to the powerful momentum you get going.

      3. Take planned breaks

      The human brain isn’t designed to work continuously on the same task and this could be a reason for procrastination.

      Make sure you take regular, structured breaks away from your task so that you can come back refreshed and ready to be more productive.

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      A break as short as 5 minutes is enough to keep your mind sharp and wards off fatigue. I recommend you to use the Pomodoro Time Tracker. It is a great tool to help you take breaks at set intervals. Simply start the 25-minute timer, and follow the prompts.

        4.  Reward yourself

        It’s important to acknowledge and reward yourself for achieving even the small tasks. It creates a sense of motivation and releases those feel-good, productive emotions that spur you on to achieve even more.

        Make your reward proportional to the task you completed so getting a bite-sized task done gets you a cup of your favourite coffee or snack. Then plan a weekend away or fun activity for the bigger stuff.

        Personally I try to make staying focus more fun by using the app Forest. It turns productivity into a game. In the game, you can plant a virtual tree at the beginning of your work time. If you maintain focus for the duration of the timer, you’ll grow a tree to add to your forest. It’s rewarding when you can eventually grow a forest.

          5. Keep track of your time in a smart way

          If you want to prevent the bad habit of procrastination from coming back, keep track of the time you spend every day.

          By having a clear idea of where you spend your time, you can always review your productivity and know which areas to improve.

          It’s not easy to keep track of every minute you spend throughout the day so I recommend you to use the app Rescue Time.

          It gets you a categorized breakdown of how you spend your time and helps you to find out how much time you’re really on-task. You can even label activities as productive and non-productive so as to block your biggest distractions.

            Procrastination exists for many reasons and only you know for yourselve what these triggers are. Understanding the source of your avoidance tendencies is important in moving them out of the way and help you start the productivity momentum.

            Reference

            More by this author

            Leon Ho

            Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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            Forget Learning How to Multitask: Boost Productivity 10X More with Focus

            Forget Learning How to Multitask: Boost Productivity 10X More with Focus

            There’s a dark side to the conveniences of the Digital Age. With smartphones that function like handheld computers, it has become increasingly difficult to leave our work behind. Sometimes it seems like we’re expected to be accessible 24/7.

            How often are you ever focused on just one thing? Most of us try to meet these demands by multi-tasking.

            Many of us have bought into the myth that we can achieve more through multi-tasking. In this article, I’ll show you how you can accomplish more work in less time. Spoiler alert: multi-tasking is not the answer.

            Why is multitasking a myth?

            The term “multi-tasking” was originally used to describe how microprocessors in computers work. Machines multitask, but people cannot.

            Despite our inability to simultaneously perform two tasks at once, many people believe they are excellent multi-taskers.

            You can probably imagine plenty of times when you do several things at once. Maybe you talk on the phone while you’re cooking or respond to emails during your commute.

            Consider the amount of attention that each of these tasks requires. Chances are, at least one of the two tasks in question is simple enough to be carried out on autopilot.

            We’re okay at simultaneously performing simple tasks, but what if you were trying to perform two complex tasks? Can you really work on your presentation and watch a movie at the same time? It can be fun to try to watch TV while you work, but you may be unintentionally making your work more difficult and time-consuming.

            Your brain on multi-tasking

            Your brain wasn’t designed to multi-tasking. To compensate, it will switch from task to task. Your focus turns to whatever task seems more urgent. The other task falls into the background until you realize you’ve been neglecting it.

            When you’re bouncing back and forth like this, an area of the brain known as Broadmann’s Area 10 activates. Located in your fronto-polar prefrontal cortex at the very front of the brain, this area controls your ability to shift focus. People who think they are excellent multitaskers are really just putting Broadmann’s Area 10 to work.

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            But I can juggle multiple tasks!

            You are capable of taking in information with your eyes while doing other things efficiently. Scientifically speaking, making use of your vision is the only thing you can truly do while doing something else.

            For everything else, you’re serial tasking. This constant refocusing can be exhausting, and it prevents us from giving our work the deep attention it deserves.

            Think about how much longer it takes to do something when you have to keep reminding yourself to focus.

            Why multitasking is failing you

            Multitasking does more bad than good to your productivity, here’re 4 reasons why you should stop multitasking:

            Multitasking wastes your time.

            You lose time when you interrupt yourself. People lose an average of 2.1 hours per day getting themselves back on track when they switch between tasks.

            In fact, some studies suggest that doing multiple things at once decreases your productivity by as much as 40%. That’s a significant loss in efficiency. You wouldn’t want your surgeon to be 40% less productive while you’re on the operating table, would you?

            It makes you dumber.

            A distracted brain performs a full 10 IQ points lower than a focused brain. You’ll also be more forgetful, slower at completing tasks, and more likely to make mistakes.

            You’ll have to work harder to fix your mistakes. If you miss an important detail, you could risk injury or fail to complete the task properly.

            This is an emotional response.

            There’s so much data suggesting that multitasking is ineffective but people insist that they can multitask.

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            Feeling productive fulfills an emotional need. We want to feel like we’re accomplishing something. Why accomplish just one item on the to-do list when you can check off two or three?

            It’ll wear you out.

            When you’re jumping from task to task, it can feel invigorating for a little while. Over time, this needs to fill every second with more and more work leads to burn out.

            We’re simply not built to multitask, so when we try, the effect can be exhausting. This destroys your productivity and your motivation.

            How to stop multitasking and work productively

            Flitting back and forth between tasks feels second-nature after a while. This is in part because Broadmann’s Area 10 becomes better at serial tasking through time.

            In addition to changing how the brain works, this serial tasking behavior can quickly turn into a habit.

            Just like any bad habit, you’ll need to recognize that you need to make a change first. Luckily, there are a few simple things you can do to adjust to a lifestyle of productive mono-tasking:

            1. Consciously change gears

            Instead of trying to work on two distinct tasks at once, consider setting up a system to remind you when to change focus. This technique worked for Jerry Linenger, an American astronaut onboard the space station, Mir.

            As an astronaut, he had many things to take care of every day. He set alarms for himself on a few watches. When a particular watch sounded, he knew it was time to switch tasks. This enabled him to be 100% in tune with what he was doing at any given moment.

            This strategy is effective because the alarm served as his reminder for what was to come next. Linenger’s intuition about setting reminders falls in line with research conducted by Paul Burgess of University College, London on multitasking.

            2. Manage multiple tasks without multitasking

            Raj Dash of Performancing.com has an effective strategy for balancing multiple projects without multitasking. He suggests taking 15 minutes to acquaint yourself with a new project before moving on to other work. Revisit the project later and do about thirty minutes on research and brainstorming.

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            Allow a few days to pass before knocking out the project in question. While you were actively work on other projects, your brain continues to problem solve-in the background.

            This method works because it gives us the opportunity to work on several projects without allowing them to compete for your attention.

            3. Set aside distractions

            Your smartphone, your inbox and the open tabs on your computer are all open invitations for distraction. Give yourself time each day when you silence your notifications, close your inbox and remove unnecessary tabs from your desktop.

            If you want to focus, you can’t give anything else an opportunity to invade your mental space.

            Emails can be particularly invasive because they often have an unnecessary sense of urgency associated with them. Some work cultures stress the importance of prompt responses to these messages, but we can’t treat every situation like an emergency.

            Designate certain times in your day for checking and responding to emails to avoid compulsive checking.

            4. Take care of yourself

            We often blame electronics for pulling us from our work, but sometimes our physical body forces us into a state of serial tasking. If you’re hungry while you’re trying to work, your attention will flip between your hunger and your work until you take care of your physical needs.

            Try to take all your bio-breaks before you sit down for an uninterrupted stint of work.

            In addition, you’ll also want to be sure you’re attending to your health in a broader sense. Getting enough exercise, practicing mindfulness and incorporating regular breaks into your day will keep you from being tempted by distractions.

            5. Take a break

            People are more likely to head to YouTube or check their social media when they need a break. Instead of trying to work and watch a mindless video at the same time, give yourself times when you’re allowed to enjoy your distracting activity of choice.

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            Limit how much time you’ll spend on this break so that your guilt-free distraction time doesn’t turn into hours of wasted time.

            6. Make technology your ally

            Scientists are beginning to discover the detrimental effects of chronic serial tasking on our brains. Some companies are developing programs to curb this desire to multitask.

            Apps like Forest turn staying focused into a game. Extensions like RescueTime help you track your online habits so that you can be more aware of how you spend your time.

            The key to productivity: Focus

            Multitasking is not the key to productivity. It’s far better to schedule time to focus on each task than it is to try to do everything at once.

            Make use of the methods outlined above and prepare to be more effective and less exhausted in the process.

            If you want to learn more about how to focus, don’t miss my other article:

            How to Focus and Maximize Your Productivity (the Definitive Guide)

            Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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