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Last Updated on December 1, 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.

            Here’re 5 extra strategies to help you stop procrastinating:

            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 January 15, 2021

            How To Overcome Laziness in 7 Steps

            How To Overcome Laziness in 7 Steps

            Taking some time off from your busy routine is not only normal; it is essential. But if you find yourself taking too many days off, unable to achieve anything, chances are you are lazy.

            But why do people succumb to laziness even when they know they have things to do and places to go?

            It might be due to a fear of failure, an overwhelming list of tasks to achieve, or a lack of motivation for your job.

            Whatever the reason may be, it is time to identify ways to overcome laziness. All you need is a little mental stimulation to recharge yourself and feel inspired to accomplish your tasks.

            If you’re struggling with the daily grind, here are a few simple tips to overcome laziness and increase your productivity.

            1. Make Realistic Goals

            It’s true that one of the key reasons people get lazy because they don’t find anything challenging enough to stir them up from their slumber.

            But on the other hand, setting impractical goals can overwhelm you and may even send you down in a spiral of demotivation, indolence and guilt. Your objectives, therefore, must be achievable and stimulating.

            A long list of to-dos can be overwhelming, it can cause a sensory overload and we end up ignoring all items on the list altogether. But don’t let it overpower you. Instead, ask yourself the following:

            • What do I want to achieve at the end of the project?
            • Is this what I love doing?
            • Why is achieving this task necessary?

            Break down your daily, weekly, monthly goals into achievable tasks so that you can accomplish them one step at a time.

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            2. Create A Plan Of Action

            Specificity and direction can help you realize your goals faster, even if there is a hurdle along the way.

            James Clear emphasizes “Implementation Intention” in his book, Atomic Habits. He says that being specific about your tasks takes away foggy notions associated with them.

            This means making a specific plan for when, where, and how you will complete a particular task. Too many people try to achieve their goals without figuring out these essential details.

            For example, you might think to yourself, “I want to start eating healthier” or “I am going to finish my book this month,” but hardly anyone ever talks about the exact steps they’ll take to achieve these goals.

            For starters, specify what you are going to eat and at what time. Do you want to incorporate greens at lunch-time? Or do you want to cut carbs from your breakfast first?

            Similarly, figure out how you’ll set apart time to complete that book, and know how many pages you’ll read in one go.

            Once you have an implementation intention, you don’t have to wait for “the right time.” When the moment comes, you already have a pre-determined plan to follow.

            3. Get An Accountability Partner

            Productivity expert Laura Vanderkam recommends getting an accountability partner who can hold you responsible for the unaccomplished tasks.[1] Ensure your partner has a track record of accomplishing their goals and knows how to pull you out of the debilitating feelings left behind by demotivation and laziness.

            When you have someone to answer to, you will work faster and more efficiently. You may also care about making a good impression on your accountability partner, thus also increasing the quality of your work.

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            Learn How to Find an Accountability Partner to Help You Reach Your Goal.

            4. Avoid Clutter and Distractions

            One of the biggest hurdles to motivation is the environment you are in. This means that your surroundings must be free of diversions, noise and clutter.

            You can make your space work-friendly by doing the following:

            Personalizing Your Workspace

            Imagine sitting down at a desk with a monthly calendar, a task list, and colorful pens all nicely kept in decorative holders and your pile of files and paper properly stacked in a corner.

            Throw in additional photo frames, a motivational quote, or anything else that sparks your creativity for work.

            Adopting A No-Storage Policy On Your Desk

            Your desk shouldn’t be a dumping space for samples or litter. Make space for files and papers in your drawers or other storage boxes. With all the extra stuff on your desk all the time, you likely keep getting distracted.

            Also check out these 15 Best Organizing Tips For Office Organization and Getting More Done.

            5. Incorporate High-Impact Movement In Your Routine

            There is growing evidence that shows exercise as a promising intervention to overcome laziness and increase motivation.[2]

            Particularly cardiovascular exercises get the blood pumping in your body, which leaves you energetic and motivated to take on the day.

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            However, going to the gym or picking up weights is not everybody’s cup of tea. But don’t worry because other high-impact to moderate movements like Yoga are sometimes all you need to feel like you can take on the day and power through your to-do list.

            Other examples of high-impact fun activities can be:

            • Go for a hike with a friend
            • Dancing to your favorite tunes
            • Take part in a cycling marathon
            • Join a kickboxing club with your friend

            At the end of the day, it is all about including some form of activity in your routine, so it is better to do something that you already love!

            6. Recognize Your Efforts Along The Way

            One of the main reasons people tend to get demotivated is because they’re too hard on themselves. Acknowledge that you are a human and that you cannot achieve everything at once.

            Start with completing little tasks and praise yourself for every little effort that you make. Negative self-talk and underestimating your abilities can derail you from your path – you have to be in your corner even if no one else is there yet.

            Instead of saying things like, “I know I won’t be able to do this,” tell yourself, “This will be an interesting challenge; I will give it my best.”

            7. Make Tedious Tasks Fun

            Sometimes small, menial tasks seem so big and burdensome because they are tiresome and monotonous. It can be hard to muster the motivation to start something, but it is even harder to keep going at it if it bores you.

            Here’s how to deal with tedious tasks:

            Reward Yourself

            When you have something to look forward to, it becomes easier to overcome laziness and accomplishing tasks on your to-do list. Motivate yourself with external rewards like a spa-day after completing a relatively challenging task or treating yourself to an expensive dinner.

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            Get a Partner

            Get a friend, a colleague, or sibling to pump you up and give you company as you do that dull, boring thing that’s been on your list for ages.

            Having a friend or a partner to assist you certainly makes it easier to get things done. Sometimes companionship is better than solitude, especially if you know that you’ll procrastinate if left alone.

            For example, chores like cleaning your room or washing the dishes will never be fun, but if you have someone to accompany you, chances are you can get them done more efficiently and faster.

            Divide It Up!

            “In order to achieve your goal, divide it up into smaller tasks.” — James Clear, Atomic Habits

            Breaking down your tasks into smaller ones can make you feel less overwhelmed. For example, if your goal is to read 50 pages every day, tell yourself you will read a few pages every time you have a cup of tea. This way, you get to read a few pages every-time and before you know it, you’ll have achieved your reading goal!

            Bottom Line

            Pressurizing yourself with negative thoughts and emotions is a surefire way to ensure that you’ll never stop procrastinating or overcome laziness.

            Instead, be your own motivator. You don’t need a major life overhaul to wake up and fight the feelings of demotivation. Easy does it. All you need are small tweaks to your daily routine, a positive mindset and confidence to know that you have what it takes to achieve something!

            Just remember to set manageable goals and play to your strengths. Also, know that it’s okay to call out for help if need be. Your coworkers, classmates, family and friends will not mind encouraging and motivating you.

            More Motivational Tips

            Featured photo credit: Adrian Swancar via unsplash.com

            Reference

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