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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 March 21, 2019

            11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

            11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

            Most gurus talk about habits in a way that doesn’t help you:

            You need to push yourself more. You can’t be lazy. You need to wake up at 5 am. You need more motivation. You can never fail…blah blah “insert more gibberish here.”

            But let me share with you the unconventional truths I found out:

            To build and change habits, you don’t need motivation or wake up at 5 am. Heck, you can fail multiple times, be lazy, have no motivation and still pull it off with ease.

            It’s quite simple and easy to do, especially with the following list I’m going to show to you. But remember, Jim Rohn used to say,

            “What is simple and easy to do is also simple and easy not to do.”

            The important things to remember when changing your habits are both simple and easy, just don’t think that they don’t make any difference because they do.

            In fact, they are the only things that make a difference.

            Let’s see what those small things are, shall we?

            1. Start Small

            The biggest mistake I see people doing with habits is by going big. You don’t go big…ever. You start small with your habits.

            Want to grow a book reading habit? Don’t start reading a book a day. Start with 10 pages a day.

            Want to become a writer? Don’t start writing 10,000 words a day. Start with 300 words.

            Want to lose weight? Don’t stop eating ice cream. Eat one less ball of it.

            Whatever it is, you need to start small. Starting big always leads to failure. It has to, because it’s not sustainable.

            Start small. How small? The amount needs to be in your comfort zone. So if you think that reading 20 pages of a book is a bit too much, start with 10 or 5.

            It needs to appear easy and be easy to do.

            Do less today to do more in a year.

            2. Stay Small

            There is a notion of Kaizen which means continuous improvement. They use this notion in habits where they tell you to start with reading 1 page of a book a day and then gradually increase the amount you do over time.

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            But the problem with this approach is the end line — where the “improvement” stops.

            If I go from reading 1 page of a book a day and gradually reach 75 and 100, when do I stop? When I reach 1 book a day? That is just absurd.

            When you start a habit, stay at it in the intensity you have decided. Don’t push yourself for more.

            I started reading 20 pages of a book a day. It’s been more than 2 years now and I’ve read 101 books in that period. There is no way I will increase the number in the future.

            Why?

            Because reading 40 to 50 books a year is enough.

            The same thing applies to every other habit out there.

            Pick a (small) number and stay at it.

            3. Bad Days Are 100 Percent Occurrence

            No matter how great you are, you will have bad days where you won’t do your habit. Period.

            There is no way of going around this. So it’s better to prepare yourself for when that happens instead of thinking that it won’t ever happen.

            What I do when I miss a day of my habit(s) is that I try to bounce back the next day while trying to do habits for both of those days.

            Example for that is if I read 20 pages of a book a day and I miss a day, the next day I will have to read 40 pages of a book. If I miss writing 500 words, the next day I need to write 1000.

            This is a really important point we will discuss later on rewards and punishments.

            This is how I prepare for the bad days when I skip my habit(s) and it’s a model you should take as well.

            4. Those Who Track It, Hack It

            When you track an activity, you can objectively tell what you did in the past days, weeks, months, and years. If you don’t track, you will for sure forget everything you did.

            There are many different ways you can track your activities today, from Habitica to a simple Excel sheet that I use, to even a Whatsapp Tracker.

            Peter Drucker said,

            “What you track is what you do.”

            So track it to do it — it really helps.

            But tracking is accompanied by one more easy activity — measuring.

            5. Measure Once, Do Twice

            Peter Drucker also said,

            “What you measure is what you improve.”

            So alongside my tracker, I have numbers with which I measure doses of daily activities:

            For reading, it’s 20 pages.
            For writing, it’s 500 words.
            For the gym, it’s 1 (I went) or 0 (didn’t go).
            For budgeting, it’s writing down the incomes and expenses.

            Tracking and measuring go hand in hand, they take less than 20 seconds a day but they create so much momentum that it’s unbelievable.

            6. All Days Make a Difference

            Will one day in the gym make you fit? It won’t.

            Will two? They won’t.

            Will three? They won’t.

            Which means that a single gym session won’t make you fit. But after 100 gym sessions, you will look and feel fit.

            What happened? Which one made you fit?

            The answer to this (Sorites paradox)[1] is that no single gym session made you fit, they all did.

            No single day makes a difference, but when combined, they all do. So trust the process and keep on going (small).

            7. They Are Never Fully Automated

            Gurus tell you that habits become automatic. And yes, some of them do, like showering a certain way of brushing your teeth.

            But some habits don’t become automatic, they become a lifestyle.

            What I mean by that is that you won’t automatically “wake up” in the gym and wonder how you got there.

            It will just become a part of your lifestyle.

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            The difference is that you do the first one automatically, without conscious thought, while the other is a part of how you live your life.

            It’s not automatic, but it’s a decision you don’t ponder on or think about — you simply do it.

            It will become easy at a certain point, but they will never become fully automated.

            8. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

            Marshall Goldsmith has a great book with the same title to it. The phrase means that sometimes, you will need to ditch certain habits to make room for other ones which will bring you to the next step.

            Don’t be afraid to evolve your habits when you sense that they don’t bring you where you want to go.

            When I started reading, it was about reading business and tactic books. But two years into it, I switched to philosophy books which don’t teach me anything “applicable,” but instead teach me how to think.

            The most important ability of the 21st century is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn. The strongest tree is the willow tree – not because it has the strongest root or biggest trunk, but because it is flexible enough to endure and sustain anything.

            Be like a willow, adapting to the new ways of doing things.

            9. Set a Goal and Then Forget It

            The most successful of us know what they want to achieve, but they don’t focus on it.

            Sounds paradoxical? You’re right, it does. But here is the logic behind it.

            You need to have a goal of doing something – “I want to become a healthy individual” – and then, you need to reverse engineer how to get there with your habits- “I will go to the gym four times a week.”

            But once you have your goal, you need to “forget” about it and only focus on the process. Because you are working on the process of becoming healthy and it’s always in the making. You will only be as healthy as you take care of your body.

            So you have a goal which isn’t static but keeps on moving.

            If you went to the gym 150 times year and you hit your goal, what would you do then? You would stop going to the gym.

            This is why goal-oriented people experience yo-yo effect[2] and why process-oriented people don’t.

            The difference between process-oriented and goal-oriented people is that the first focus on daily actions while others only focus on the reward at the finish line.

            Set a goal but then forget about it and reap massive awards.

            10. Punish Yourself

            Last two sections are pure Pavlovian – you need to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior. You are the only person who decides what is good and what is bad for you, but when you do, you need to rigorously follow that.

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            I’ve told you in point #3 about bad days and how after one occurs, I do double the work on the next day. That is one of my forms of punishments.

            It’s the need to tell your brain that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that they lead to bad outcomes. That’s what punishments are for.

            You want to tell your brain that there are real consequences to missing your daily habits.[3]

            No favorite food to eat or favorite show to watch or going to the cinema for a new Marvel movie- none, zero, zilch.

            The brain will remember these bad feelings and will try to avoid the behaviors that led to them as much as possible.

            But don’t forget the other side of the same coin.

            11. Reward Yourself

            When you follow and execute on your plan, reward yourself. It’s how the brain knows that you did something good.

            Whenever I finish one of my habits for the day, I open my tracker (who am I kidding, I always keep it open on my desktop) and fill it with a number. As soon as I finish reading 20 pages of a book a day (or a bit more), I open the tracker and write the number down.

            The cell becomes green and gives me an instant boost of endorphin – a great success for the day. Then, it becomes all about not breaking the chain and having as many green fields as possible.

            After 100 days, I crunch some numbers and see how I did.

            If I have less than 10 cheat days, I reward myself with a great meal in a restaurant. You can create your own rewards and they can be daily, weekly, monthly or any arbitrary time table that you create.

            Primoz Bozic, a productivity coach, has gold, silver, and bronze medals as his reward system.[4]

            If you’re having problems creating a system which works for you, contact me via email and we can discuss specifics.

            In the End, It Matters

            What you do matters not only to you but to the people around you.

            When you increase the quality of your life, you indirectly increase the quality of life of people around you. And sometimes, that is all the “motivation” we need to start.

            And that’s the best quote for the end of this article:

            “Motivation gets you started, but habits keep you going.”

            Keep going.

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            More Resources to Help You Build Habits

            Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via unsplash.com

            Reference

            [1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Sorites paradox
            [2] Muscle Zone: What causes yo-yo effect and how to avoid it?
            [3] Growth Habits: 5 Missteps That Cause You To Quit Building A Habit
            [4] Primoz Bozic: The Lean Review: How to Plan Your 2019 in 20 Minutes

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