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Last Updated on July 19, 2018

What Is Procrastination (And the Complete Guide to Stop Procrastinating)

What Is Procrastination (And the Complete 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.

            Make procrastination under your control

            Procrastination exists for many reasons and only you know for yourself what these triggers are.

            Understanding what procrastination really is and 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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            Last Updated on September 20, 2018

            8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

            8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

            You go to the gym to train your muscles. You run outside or go for hikes to train your endurance. Or, maybe you do neither of those, but still wish you exercised more.

            Well, here is how to train one of the most important parts of your body: your brain.

            When you train your brain, you will:

            • Avoid embarrassing situations. You remember his face, but what was his name?
            • Be a faster learner in all sorts of different skills. No problem for you to pick up a new language or new management skill.
            • Avoid diseases that hit as you get older. Alzheimer’s will not be affecting you.

            So how to train your brain and improve your cognitive skills?

            1. Work your memory

            Twyla Tharp, a NYC-based renowned choreographer has come up with the following memory workout:

            When she watches one of her performances, she tries to remember the first twelve to fourteen corrections she wants to discuss with her cast without writing them down.

            If you think this is anything less than a feat, then think again. In her book The Creative Habit she says that most people cannot remember more than three.

            The practice of both remembering events or things and then discussing them with others has actually been supported by brain fitness studies.

            Memory activities that engage all levels of brain operation—receiving, remembering and thinking—help to improve the function of the brain.

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            Now, you may not have dancers to correct, but you may be required to give feedback on a presentation, or your friends may ask you what interesting things you saw at the museum. These are great opportunities to practically train your brain by flexing your memory muscles.

            What is the simplest way to help yourself remember what you see? Repetition.

            For example, say you just met someone new:

            “Hi, my name is George”

            Don’t just respond with, “Nice to meet you”. Instead, say, “Nice to meet you George.”

            Got it? Good.

            2. Do something different repeatedly

            By actually doing something new over and over again, your brain wires new pathways that help you do this new thing better and faster.

            Think back to when you were three years old. You surely were strong enough to hold a knife and a fork just fine. Yet, when you were eating all by yourself, you were creating a mess.

            It was not a matter of strength, you see. It was a matter of cultivating more and better neural pathways that would help you eat by yourself just like an adult does.

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            And guess what? With enough repetition you made that happen!

            But how does this apply to your life right now?

            Say you are a procrastinator. The more you don’t procrastinate, the more you teach your brain not to wait for the last minute to make things happen.

            Now, you might be thinking “Duh, if only not procrastinating could be that easy!”

            Well, it can be. By doing something really small, that you wouldn’t normally do, but is in the direction of getting that task done, you will start creating those new precious neural pathways.

            So if you have been postponing organizing your desk, just take one paper and put in its right place. Or, you can go even smaller. Look at one piece of paper and decide where to put it: Trash? Right cabinet? Another room? Give it to someone?

            You don’t actually need to clean up that paper; you only need to decide what you need to do with it.

            That’s how small you can start. And yet, those neural pathways are still being built. Gradually, you will transform yourself from a procrastinator to an in-the-moment action taker.

            3. Learn something new

            It might sound obvious, but the more you use your brain, the better its going to perform for you.

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            For example, learning a new instrument improves your skill of translating something you see (sheet music) to something you actually do (playing the instrument).

            Learning a new language exposes your brain to a different way of thinking, a different way of expressing yourself.

            You can even literally take it a step further, and learn how to dance. Studies indicate that learning to dance helps seniors avoid Alzheimer’s. Not bad, huh?

            4. Follow a brain training program

            The Internet world can help you improve your brain function while lazily sitting on your couch. A clinically proven program like BrainHQ can help you improve your memory, or think faster, by just following their brain training exercises.

            5. Work your body

            You knew this one was coming didn’t you? Yes indeed, exercise does not just work your body; it also improves the fitness of your brain.

            Even briefly exercising for 20 minutes facilitates information processing and memory functions. But it’s not just that–exercise actually helps your brain create those new neural connections faster. You will learn faster, your alertness level will increase, and you get all that by moving your body.

            Now, if you are not already a regular exerciser, and already feel guilty that you are not helping your brain by exercising more, try a brain training exercise program like Exercise Bliss.

            Remember, just like we discussed in #2, by training your brain to do something new repeatedly, you are actually changing yourself permanently.

            6. Spend time with your loved ones

            If you want optimal cognitive abilities, then you’ve got to have meaningful relationships in your life.  Talking with others and engaging with your loved ones helps you think more clearly, and it can also lift your mood.

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            If you are an extrovert, this holds even more weight for you. At a class at Stanford University, I learned that extroverts actually use talking to other people as a way to understand and process their own thoughts.

            I remember that the teacher told us that after a personality test said she was an extrovert, she was surprised. She had always thought of herself as an introvert. But then, she realized how much talking to others helped her frame her own thoughts, so she accepted her new-found status as an extrovert.

            7. Avoid crossword puzzles

            Many of us, when we think of brain fitness, think of crossword puzzles. And it’s true–crossword puzzles do improve our fluency, yet studies show they are not enough by themselves.

            Are they fun? Yes. Do they sharpen your brain? Not really.

            Of course, if you are doing this for fun, then by all means go ahead. If you are doing it for brain fitness, then you might want to choose another activity

            8. Eat right – and make sure dark chocolate is included

            Foods like fish, fruits, and vegetables help your brain perform optimally. Yet, you might not know that dark chocolate gives your brain a good boost as well.

            When you eat chocolate, your brain produces dopamine. And dopamine helps you learn faster and remember better. Not to mention, chocolate contains flavonols, antioxidants, which also improve your brain functions.

            So next time you have something difficult to do, make sure you grab a bite or two of dark chocolate!

            The bottom line

            Now that you know how to train your brain, it’s actually time to start doing.

            Don’t just consume this content and then go on with your life as if nothing has changed. Put this knowledge into action and become smarter than ever!

            Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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