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Last Updated on April 22, 2020

What Is Procrastination and How to Stop It (The Complete Guide)

What Is Procrastination and How to Stop It (The Complete Guide)

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]

So what is procrastination? And what can you 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 and manage time better 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:

    Signs of a Procrastinator

    Procrastinators don’t want to complete their works because they tend to feel overwhelmed easily and lack focus when they work.

    If you’re wondering whether you’re a chronic procrastinator, take a look at these signs of a procrastinator and find out: 30 Signs You’re Actually A Procrastinator

    Why Do We Procrastinate?

    The reasons vary from person to person. It could be a matter of emotion, which affects your motivation. It could also be something related to your ability to focus, and the way you deal with your fears.

    Learn about the reasons in these articles:

    Is Procrastination Bad?

    Yes, it is. Procrastination is bad. It drags your progress and make you unable to get anything done. If you procrastinate, you will lose your precious time and blow opportunities.

    Take a look at the consequences of procrastination here: 8 Dreadful Effects of Procrastination That Can Destroy Your Life

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    The Challenge of Getting Over Procrastination

    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.

    The common symptoms of procrastination are lack of vision, lack of time and lack of organisation. Check them out here: 7 Symptoms of Procrastination and How to Fight Them

    How to Stop Procrastinating (Step-By-Step Guide)

    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 break the procrastination cycle.

    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.’

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      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.

      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.

      Learn more about the 5 types of procrastinators here: Types of Procrastination (And How To Fix Procrastination And Start Doing)

      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.

      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.

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      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. Form a Ritual

      By forming a ritual, you save yourself time from thinking about what to do next. When you don’t need to think about what to do next, you can go autopilot to actually get what you have to do done because you have no time to think about what other things to do besides completing your important tasks.

      Here’s how to form a ritual and beat procrastination: The Power of Ritual: Conquer Procrastination, Time Wasters and Laziness

      4. 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.

      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.

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        5.  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.

          6. 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.

            The Bottom Line

            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.

            Make procrastination under your control!

            More Tips About Fighting Procrastination

            Reference

            More by this author

            Leon Ho

            Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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            Last Updated on June 2, 2020

            Easy Tasks or Difficult Tasks First? Which One is More Productive?

            Easy Tasks or Difficult Tasks First? Which One is More Productive?

            Procrastination is probably the biggest detriment to our productivity. Conventional wisdom dictates that the best thing you can do is make that procrastination constructive. When you don’t feel like doing one task, usually one that requires a lot of will- or brainpower, you do another, usually less labor-intensive task.

            Recently, though, conventional wisdom has been challenged with something Penn State refers to as “pre-crastination.”[1] After doing a series of studies in which students pick up and carry one of two buckets, researchers theorized that many people prefer to take care of difficult tasks sooner rather than later. That theory poses the question of whether this pre-crastination or the more widely acknowledged constructive procrastination is more effective.

            Here is a look at whether people should do difficult tasks early or later on to achieve maximum productivity.

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            Doing Easy Tasks First

            The Pros

            One of the hardest parts of working is just getting started. Constructive procrastination eases this hardship, because working on easy tasks requires a smaller mental or physical commitment than if you tackled difficult tasks firsts.

            If one of the foremost deterrents to your productivity is simply getting going, it makes a lot of sense to save the difficult tasks for when you’re in more of a groove.

            The Cons

            If you eat a frog first thing in the morning, that will probably be the worst thing you do all day. — Mark Twain

            On the surface, there don’t seem to necessarily be any disadvantages to doing easy tasks first. However, in Eat That Frog, the book writeen by Brian Tracy challenges that.

            Based on the above quote from Mark Twain, Eat That Frog encourages avoiding procrastination, even if that procrastination is constructive. Tracy wants you to “eat that frog,” i.e. do your difficult tasks quickly because the longer it’s on your plate, the harder it will become to do the thing you’re dreading. If you have a habit of dreading things, Eat That Frog makes a solid argument to hold off on your easy tasks until later in the day.

            Doing Difficult Tasks First

            The Pros

            Brian Tracy postulates in Eat That Frog that if you do your difficult tasks first, your other tasks won’t seem so bad. After all, after you eat a frog, even something unappetizing will seem downright delectable.

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            Tracy also recommends that, if you have to eat two frogs, you should eat the uglier one first. The metaphor is a very easy way to get your head around the new concept of pre-crastination.

            If all of your tasks seem somewhat torturous to you, you might be able to ease the pain by getting rid of the ugliest “toads” as quickly as you can.

            The Cons

            The primary disadvantage of doing your difficult tasks first is probably that it will make it especially hard to get started on your workday.

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            A lot of people aren’t exactly at their peak performance mode when they enter the office. They need to ease into the workday, maybe have a cup or two of coffee to stimulate them.

            If that’s you, doing your most difficult tasks first would probably be a costly mistake. Hold off on “eating those frogs” until you have the willpower and fortitude to choke them down.

            Conclusion

            Should you do easy or difficult tasks first? It seems like a cop-out to say that it depends on the person, but sometimes that’s the honest answer, and that is definitely the case here.

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            Hopefully this article helps inform you of what type of worker you are, offering clues to whether you fall into the constructive procrastination or pre-crastination camps. Good luck on your pursuit of maximum productivity!

            More Tips for Beating Procrastination

            Featured photo credit: Courtney Dirks via flickr.com

            Reference

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