Advertising
Advertising

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.

    Advertising

    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.

    Advertising

    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.

    Advertising

    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.

    Advertising

    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.

    More by this author

    Leo Babauta

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

    How to Find Your Passion and Live a Fulfilling Life What to Do in Free Time? 20 Productive Ways to Use the Time The Gentle Art of Saying No Simple Productivity: 10 Ways to Do More by Focusing on the Essentials How to Pare Your To-do List Down to the Essentials

    Trending in Featured

    1 How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques 2 How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators 3 How to Master the Art of Prioritization 4 How to Find Your Passion and Live a Fulfilling Life 5 What to Do in Free Time? 20 Productive Ways to Use the Time

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising
    Advertising

    Last Updated on September 18, 2019

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes.

    I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

    One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

    Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

    The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

    And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

    What to Write Down

    Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

    Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

    Advertising

    Dates of Events

    Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

    For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

    Names of People

    Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

    Theories or Frameworks

    Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

    Definitions

    Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

    Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

    Arguments and Debates

    Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

    This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

    Advertising

    Images

    Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

    Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

    Other Stuff

    Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

    Your Own Questions

    Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

    3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

    1. Outlining

    Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

    Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

    Advertising

    For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

    2. Mind-Mapping

    For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

    Here’s the idea:

    In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

    The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

    If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

    You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

    3. The Cornell System

    The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

    Advertising

    About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

    You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

    In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

    You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

    The Bottom Line

    I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

    I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

    More About Note-Taking

    Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

    Read Next