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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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            Published on May 20, 2019

            How to Prevent Inaction from Leading to Regret

            How to Prevent Inaction from Leading to Regret

            Time.

            When you think of this construct, where do you see your time being spent?

            As William Shakespeare famously wrote “I wasted time, and now doth time waste me…”

            Have you used your time wisely? Are you where you want to be?

            Or do you have unfinished goals to attain… places you want to be, things you still need to do?

            The hard truth is, that time once passed cannot be replaced–which is why it is common to hear people say that one should not squander time doing nothing, or delay certain decisions for later. More often than not, the biggest blocker from reaching our goals is often inaction – which is essentially doing nothing, rather than doing something. 

            There are many reasons why we may not do something. Most often it boils down to adequate time. We may feel we don’t have enough time, or that it’s never quite the right time to pursue our goals.

            Maybe next month, or maybe next year…

            And, before you know it, the time has passed and you’re still no where near achieving those goals you dream about. This inaction often leads to strong regret once we look at the situation through hindsight. So, take some time now to reflect on any goal(s) you may have in mind, or hidden at the back of your mind; and, think about how you can truly start working on them now, and not later.

            So, how do you start?

            Figure Out Your Purpose (Your Main Goal)


            The first important step is to figure out your purpose, or your main goal.

            What is it that you’re after in life? And, are there any barriers preventing you from reaching your goal? These are good questions to ask when it comes to figuring out how (and for what purpose) you are spending your time.

            Your purpose will guide you, and it will ensure your time spent is within the bounds of what you actually want to accomplish.

            A good amount of research has been done on how we as humans develop and embrace long-term and highly meaningful goals in our lives. So much so, that having a purpose has connections to reduced stroke, and heart attack. It turns out, our desire to accomplish goals actually has an evolutionary connection–especially goals with a greater purpose to them. This is because a greater purpose often helps both the individual, and our species as a whole, survive.

            Knowing why it is you’re doing something is important; and, when you do, it will be easier to budget your time and effort into pursuing after those milestones or tasks that will lead to the accomplishment of your main goal.

            Assess Your Current Time Spent

            Next comes the actual time usage. Once you know what your main goal is, you’ll want to make the most of the time you have now. It’s good to know how you’re currently spending your time, so that you can start making improvements and easily assess what can stay and what can go in your day to day routine.

            For just one day, ideally on a day when you’d like to be more productive, I encourage you to record a time journal, down to the quarter hour if you can manage. You may be quite surprised at how little things—such as checking social media, answering emails that could wait, or idling at the water cooler or office pantry —can add up to a lot of wasted time.

            To get you started, I recommend you check out this quick self assessment to assess your current productivity: Want To Know How Much You’re Getting Done In A Day?

            Tricks to Tackle Distractions

            Once you’ve assessed how you’re currently spending your time, I hope you won’t be in for too big of a shock when you see just how big of an impact distractions and time wasters are in your life.

            Every time your mind wanders from your work, it takes an average of 25 minutes and 26 seconds to get into focus again. That’s almost half an hour of precious time every time you entertain a distraction!

            Which is why it’s important to learn how to focus, and tackle distractions effectively. Here’s how to do it:

            1. Set Time Aside for Focusing

            One way to stay focused is to set focused sessions for yourself. During a focused session, you should let people know that you won’t be responding unless it’s a real emergency.

            Set your messaging apps and shared calendars as “busy” to reduce interruptions. Think of these sessions as one on one time with yourself so that you can truly focus on what’s important, without external distractions coming your way.

            2. Beware of Emails

            Emails may sound harmless, but they can come into our inbox continuously throughout the day, and it’s tempting to respond to them as we receive them. Especially if you’re one to check your notifications frequently.

            Instead of checking them every time a new notification sounds, set a specific time to deal with your emails at one go. This will no doubt increase your productivity as you’re dealing with emails one after the other, rather than interrupting your focus on another project each time an email comes in.

            Besides switching off your email notifications so as not to get distracted, you could also install a Chrome extension called Block Site that helps to stop Gmail notifications coming through at specific times, making it easier for you to manage these subtle daily distractions.

            3. Let Technology Help

            As much as we are getting increasingly distracted because of technology, we can’t deny it’s many advantages. So instead of feeling controlled by technology, why not make use of disabling options that the devices offer?

            Turn off email alerts, app notifications, or set your phone to go straight to voicemail and even create auto-responses to incoming text messages. There are also apps like Forrest that help to increase your productivity by rewarding you each time you focus well, which encourages you to ignore your phone.

            4. Schedule Time to Get Distracted

            Just as important as scheduling focus time, is scheduling break times. Balance is always key, so when you start scheduling focused sessions, you should also intentionally pen down some break time slots for your mind to relax.

            This is because the brain isn’t created to sustain long periods of focus and concentration. The average attention span for an adult is between 15 and 40 minutes. After this time, your likelihood of distractions get stronger and you’ll become less motivated.

            So while taking a mental break might seem unproductive, in the long run it makes your brain work more efficiently, and you’ll end up getting more work done overall.

            Time is in Your Hands

            At the end of the day, we all have a certain amount of time to go all out to pursue our heart’s desires. Whatever your goals are, the time you have now, is in your hands to make them come true.

            You simply need to start somewhere, instead of allowing inaction waste your time away, leaving you with regret later on. With a main goal or purpose in mind, you can be on the right track to attaining your desired outcomes.

            Being aware of how you spend your time and learning how to tackle common distractions can help boost you forward in completing what’s necessary to reach your most desired goals.

            So what are you waiting for? 

            Featured photo credit: Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash via unsplash.com

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