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Published on August 5, 2019

5 Tips for Overcoming Procrastination and Feeling Overwhelmed

5 Tips for Overcoming Procrastination and Feeling Overwhelmed

Procrastination is a trap that many of us fall into. In fact, according to a 2007 American Psychological Association study, between 80% and 95% of college students procrastinate when it comes to completing their assignments and coursework.[1]

And, from my experience as a life coach, I’ve come to believe that this percentage range continues beyond college and into working life.

You may be surprised to hear, but… I was a super-procrastinator when I was young!

At the time, it felt good and normal to put things off to the very last minute, such as studying for my exams or preparing for an interview.

However, while a procrastination mindset ‘might’ get you through college — it won’t work when it comes to your career.

That’s because the vast majority of jobs involve teamwork; and if you continually promise things but fail to deliver them (such as a project plan or briefing notes for a meeting), your colleagues will quickly notice. And, they’ll quickly become frustrated and annoyed by your lack of actions.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There’s definitely a time and place for procrastination. For example, if you’re given a high-priority task to complete, you’ll probably need to delay working on a lower-priority task (this is actually a good time management technique). However, if you procrastinate with all your tasks — then you’ll need to find a way to break free from this productivity-killing habit.

But, let’s pause for a moment, and ask the question: Why do most people procrastinate?

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Well, according to Alexander Rozental, a procrastination researcher and a clinical psychologist at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden:[2]

“People procrastinate because of a lack of value associated with the task; because they expect that they’re not going to achieve the value they’re trying to achieve; because the value is too far from you in terms of time; or because you’re very impulsive as a person.”

Do you recognize yourself in any of those points? If you do, don’t worry, as help is at hand.

Check out my 5 tips for defeating procrastination and getting your life back on track:

1. Get Started

Whether you’re cleaning a closet or planning your team’s next quarterly goals — getting started is half the battle towards completion.

Many writers have learned this the hard way. They often suffer from something called “writer’s block,” a psychological condition which causes them to be unable to produce any new material. There are numerous opinions on how to overcome this, but the best way by far, is for the writer to simply start writing! 

You’ve probably noticed something similar in your own life. When you finally get started on something, you get it done much more easily or quickly than you initially planned. In other words, it wasn’t as hard as you thought.

As Laotzu once declared: 

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“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” 

So don’t hesitate. Take that first step. And put yourself above and beyond procrastination.

2. Don’t Be Dramatic 

Are you putting off something that would honestly take you 15 minutes to complete?

If so, my advice to you is… just do it!

This will ensure the task is done and that you also stop wasting time fretting and stressing about it.

Personally, I believe that people spend more time procrastinating than they do on completing their tasks. It’s true. Just think of how long you put off washing your car or preparing your tax returns. If you’re like most people, I guarantee that you think for days and weeks about doing these or similar tasks, before actually doing them.

It’s easy to dramatize the things you need to do — but it’s much better to just do them.

3. Schedule Your Time 

Are you in control of your time?

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Whether you answered yes or no to this question, try this test:

You’ve just finished your dinner, and you’re enjoying browsing the latest posts on your favorite social media channel. Suddenly, your partner calls over to you and asks you to help clear up the kitchen.

Do you…

  1. Say you’ll do it in 10 minutes or so.
  2. Put your phone down and get into the cleaning straightaway.
  3. Pull a face and say, “I’m not doing it!”

Hopefully, you didn’t choose option 3! Option 1 is better (at least you’ll get the task done). But, option 2 is the one you should be aiming for if you want to be productive and successful in life.

That’s because it neatly illustrates the power of prioritizing your time. Sure, you want to check your social media feed, but that’s not as important as making sure your kitchen is clean and tidy after your meal.

If you have something you’re procrastinating with, my recommendation is to schedule an hour or so within your calendar to complete it. Google calendar works well for this, as you can set up reminders. Then — when the time comes — dedicate your focus solely to completing your task.  

4. Break It Down 

Often we feel overwhelmed because a task is just too overbearing. In this case, break the task into small, bite-sized chunks that can easily be checked off.

For example, if you have to create a newsletter for your company, don’t be defeated by the scope of the work. Instead break it down:

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  • Decide on table of contents
  • Research on topics
  • Draft the copy
  • Put the copy into layout software
  • Print
  • Distribute

And, here’s the best part of breaking down bigger tasks into smaller ones: As you check off each task, you’ll build a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction as you progressively chip away at your end goal.

Breaking down your tasks can save YOU from breaking down!

5. Be Kind to Yourself

Don’t dwell on the past and how much time you’ve already used up. You won’t get it back; so it’s pointless to despair. Instead, focus on moving forward and doing better next time.

Nobody is perfect, so it’s unfair and unproductive to put yourself down each time you fail. And, remember, you’re not going to defeat your procrastination habit overnight. But, by starting now, you can begin turning the tide in your favor.

Take the tips I’ve shared with you today, and put them into action in your life.

When you do this, you’ll begin to muster up the motivation to tackle the tasks you need to do. And before long, you’ll be caught up with everything, and ready to take on the world!

One final warning about putting off tasks…

“Procrastination is like a credit card: it’s a lot of fun until you get the bill.”  — Christopher Parker

Featured photo credit: Nordwood Themes via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on October 22, 2019

How to Focus and Concentrate Better to Boost Productivity

How to Focus and Concentrate Better to Boost Productivity

We live in a world of massive distraction. No matter where you are today, there is always going to be distractions. Your colleagues talking about their latest date, notification messages popping up on your screens, and not just your mobile phone screens. And even if you try to find a quiet place, there will always be someone with a mobile device that is beeping and chirping.

With all these distractions, it is incredibly difficult to concentrate on anything for very long. Something will distract you and that means you will find it very difficult to focus on anything.

So how to focus and concentrate better? How to focus better and produce work that lifts us and takes us closer towards achieving our outcomes?

1. Get Used to Turning off Your Devices

Yes, I know this one is hard for most people. We believe our devices are so vital to our lives that the thought of turning them off makes us feel insecure. The reality is they are not so vital and the world is not going to end within the next thirty minutes.

So turn them off. Your battery will thank you for it. More importantly though is when you are free from your mobile distraction addiction, you will begin to concentrate more on what needs to get done.

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You do not need to do this for very long. You could set a thirty-minute time frame for being completely mobile free. Let’s say you have an important piece of work to complete by lunchtime today. Turn off your mobile device between 10 am and 11 am and see what happens.

If you have never done this before, you will feel very uncomfortable at first. Your brain will be fighting you. It will be telling you all sorts of horror stories such as a meteorite is about to hit earth, or your boss is very angry and is trying to contact you. None of these things is true, but your brain is going to fight you. Prepare yourself for the fight.

Over time, as you do this more frequently, you will soon begin to find your brain fights you less and less. When you do turn on your device after your period of focused work and discover that the world did not end, you have not lost an important customer and all you have are a few email newsletters, a confirmation of an online order you made earlier and a text message from your mum asking you to call about dinner this weekend, you will start to feel more comfortable turning things off.

2. Create a Playlist in Your Favourite Music Streaming App

Many of us listen to music using some form of music streaming service, and it is very easy to create our own playlists of songs. This means we can create playlists for specific purposes.

Many years ago, when I was just starting to drive, there was a trend selling driving compilation tapes and CDs. The songs on these tapes and CDs were uplifting driving music songs. Songs such as C W McCall’s Convoy theme and the Allman Brothers Band’s, Jessica. They were great songs to drive to and helped to keep us awake and focused while we were driving.

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Today, we can create playlists to help us to focus on our work. Choose non-vocal music that has a low tempo. Music from artists such as Ben Böhmer, Ilan Bluestone or Andrew Bayer has the perfect tempo.

Whenever you want to go into deep, focused work, listen to that playlist. What happens is your brain soon associates when you listen to the playlist you created with focused work and it’s time to concentrate on what it is you want to do.

3. Have a Place to Go to When You Need to Concentrate

If you eat, surf online and read at your desk, you will find your desk a very distracting place to do your work. One way to get your brain to understand it is focused work time is, to use the same place each time for just focused work.

This could be a quiet place in your office, or it could be a special coffee shop you use specifically for focused work. Again, what you are doing is associating an environment with focus.

Just as with having a playlist to listen to when you want to concentrate, having a physical place that accomplishes the same thing will also put you in the right frame of mind to be more focused.

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When you do find the right place to do your focused work, then only do focused work there. Never surf, never do any online shopping. Just do your work and then leave. You want to be training your brain to associate focused work with that environment and nothing else.

If you need to make a phone call, respond to an email or message, then go outside and do it. From now on, this place is your special working place and that is all you use it for.

Every morning, I do fifteens minutes of meditation. Each time, I sit down to do my meditation, I use the same music playlist and the same place. As soon as I put my earphones in and sit down in this place, my mind immediately knows it is meditation time and I become relaxed and focused almost immediately. I have trained my brain over a few months to associate a sound and a place with relaxed, thoughtful meditation. It works.

4. Get up and Move

We humans have a limited attention span. How long you can stay focused for depends on your own personal makeup. It can range from between twenty minutes to around two hours. With practice, you can stay focused for longer, but it takes time and it takes a lot of practice.

When you do find yourself being unable to concentrate any longer, get up from where you are and move. Go for a walk, move around and get some air. Do something completely different from what you were doing when you were concentrating.

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If you were writing a report in front of a screen, get away from your screens and look out the window and appreciate the view. Take a walk in the local park, or just walk around your office. You need to give your brain completely different stimuli.

Your brain is like a muscle. There is only so much it can do before it fatigues. If you are doing some focused work in Photoshop and then switch to surfing the internet, you are not giving your brain any rest. You are still using many of the same parts of your brain.

It’s like doing fifty pushups and then immediately trying to do bench presses. Although you are doing a different exercise, you are still exercising your chest. What you need to be doing to build up superior levels of concentrated focus is, in a sense, do fifty pushups and then a session of squats. Now you are exercising your chest and then your legs. Two completely different exercises.

Do the same with your brain. Do focused visual work and then do some form of movement with a different type of work. Focused visual work followed by a discussion with a colleague about another unrelated piece of work, for example.

The Bottom Line

It is not difficult to train your brain to become better at concentrating and focusing, but you do need to exercise deliberate practice. You need to develop the intention to focus and be very strict with yourself.

Set time aside in your calendar and make sure you tell your colleagues that you will be ‘off the grid’ for a couple of hours. With practice and a little time, you will soon find yourself being able to resist temptations and focus better.

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Featured photo credit: Wenni Zhou via unsplash.com

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