We’ve all read a number of articles, tips and tricks on procrastination, but what follows is the most powerful method invented for beating procrastination.
It begins with the realization that procrastination isn’t something we’re born with, or something that can be beat with a simple hack or a few rewards. The truth is, procrastination is a habit, and like any habit, it can only be changed with a concentrated and proven method. What follows are three steps that can change any ingrained habit, from smoking to nail-biting to unhealthy eating to procrastination.
Before you start, however, here’s the key: focus on a positive habit change, not a negative one. So instead of ridding ourselves of procrastination, we are going to replace it with a positive habit: the Do It Now habit. To be more specific, we are going to define certain times in our work day when we must do work, and certain times when we give ourselves breaks — and during the work periods, our habit will be to Do It Now.
1. Commit Thyself, Big Time. The first step in changing any habit is to commit yourself. There are several mini-steps within the Commitment step: first, commit fully to yourself. Don’t say, “I think I’ll change” or “I should stop procrastinating” but say instead “I WILL stop procrastinating, and I WILL start the Do It Now habit.”
Next, put it on paper. Write it down, exactly which habit you are changing, and what habit you are replacing it with. Write down a deadline, and write down a plan to create this new habit (and kick the old one). See below for more details on your plan.
Third, commit to doing this for 30 days. Don’t just try to do it for one day, or one week. And longer than 30 days, and it’s hard to sustain motivation. Commit yourself to a 30-day Challenge, and after that 30 days, your habit should have some good momentum. It will take 30 days of focused energy, but after that, it should be much easier to sustain the new habit.
Lastly, commit yourself publicly … as publicly as possible. Tell the world. Tell your family and friends, put it on your blog, post it up in your workplace, commit yourself to daily email updates on your progress. If people not only know that you are making this change, but also are aware of your daily progress, you will be motivated to stick with this habit change.
2. Monitor yourself. Before you start the 30-day Challenge, take a few days to monitor your current habit. You can’t change something if you are not completely aware that it is happening, and with any habit, we often do it while on autopilot. So instead of working on that report, we might unthinkingly open up our favorite blog, our email program, or solitaire. The key is to become aware of those urges. So for the first few days, don’t try to change your habit. Just monitor your impulses. Simply keep a piece of paper with you, wherever you go, and try to put a tally mark on the paper for every single urge. When you get the urge to check your blog reader instead of doing work, write down a tally mark first, then go and check your blogs. After a few days, you’ll be very aware of your urges, and then you can begin to change them.
3. Practice, and practice some more. Do your new habit, Do It Now, every day for 30 days. Try not to make any exceptions, ever. If you make any exceptions, you are weakening your new habit. But if you make mistakes, do not beat yourself up about it. Just start again. Practice, practice, and more practice, and you will begin to get good at it.
Some tips for the practice stage:
- Track your progress. Do the tally marks again, but this time do it for every time you Do It Now. Set up a daily chart for your 30 days, and in each day’s box, write the number of tally marks you earned. (You can use gold stars or smiley faces if you want.) Watching your progress over time will motivate you.
- Reward yourself. In the beginning, you should reward yourself often. Reward yourself every single time you Do It Now for the first few days. Then have rewards for the first week, second week, third week, and one month. List these rewards in your plan. Celebrate your progress often!
- Post up a sign with the words “DO IT NOW” wherever you work.
- Plan for ways to beat your urges and obstacles BEFORE they happen. Once your urges start, it’s harder to beat them. Your plan should include ways to combat your urges — things that work well are deep breathing, self massage, and drinking water. You should also list all obstacles, and plan to beat them. If one obstacle is the Internet, disconnect it except during certain pre-determined break periods.
- Visualize success. Close your eyes and see yourself
The most important tip of all: Always think positive. If you have negative thoughts, doubts, or thoughts that tell you, “Just this once won’t hurt!” — squash those thoughts immediately! Do not let them stay in your head and fester, or they will win. Replace those thoughts with positive thoughts: I can do this!
And you will.
Leo Babauta is a writer, a marathoner, an early riser, a vegan, and a father of six. He blogs regularly about achieving goals through daily habits on Zen Habits, and covers such topics as productivity, GTD, simplifying, frugality, parenting, happiness, motivation, exercise, eating healthy and more.