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3 Steps to Kick the Procrastination Habit

3 Steps to Kick the Procrastination Habit
Procrastination

    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    Leo Babauta

    Founder of Zen Habits and expert in habits building and goals achieving.

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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