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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 March 31, 2020

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Procrastination is very literally the opposite of productivity. To produce something is to pull it forward, while to procrastinate is to push it forward — to tomorrow, to next week, or ultimately to never.

    Procrastination fills us with shame — we curse ourselves for our laziness, our inability to focus on the task at hand, our tendency to be easily led into easier and more immediate gratifications. And with good reason: for the most part, time spent procrastinating is time spent not doing things that are, in some way or other, important to us.

    There is a positive side to procrastination, but it’s important not to confuse procrastination at its best with everyday garden-variety procrastination.

    Sometimes — sometimes! — procrastination gives us the time we need to sort through a thorny issue or to generate ideas. In those rare instances, we should embrace procrastination — even as we push it away the rest of the time.

    Why We Procrastinate After All?

    We procrastinate for a number of reasons, some better than others. One reason we procrastinate is that, while we know what we want to do, we need time to let the ideas “ferment” before we are ready to sit down and put them into action.

    Some might call this “creative faffing”; I call it, following copywriter Ray Del Savio’s lead, “concepting”.[1]

    Whatever you choose to call it, it’s the time spent dreaming up what you want to say or do, weighing ideas in your mind, following false leads and tearing off on mental wild goose chases, and generally thinking things through.

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    To the outside observer, concepting looks like… well, like nothing much at all. Maybe you’re leaning back in your chair, feet up, staring at the wall or ceiling, or laying in bed apparently dozing, or looking out over the skyline or feeding pigeons in the park or fiddling with the Japanese vinyl toys that stand watch over your desk.

    If ideas are the lifeblood of your work, you have to make time for concepting, and you have to overcome the sensation— often overpowering in our work-obsessed culture — that faffing, however creative, is not work.

    Is Procrastination Bad?

    Yes it is.

    Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re “concepting” when in fact you’re just not sure what you’re supposed to be doing.

    Spending an hour staring at the wall while thinking up the perfect tagline for a marketing campaign is creative faffing; staring at the wall for an hour because you don’t know how to come up with a tagline, or don’t know the product you’re marketing well enough to come up with one, is just wasting time.

    Lack of definition is perhaps the biggest friend of your procrastination demons. When we’re not sure what to do — whether because we haven’t planned thoroughly enough, we haven’t specified the scope of what we hope to accomplish in the immediate present, or we lack important information, skills, or resources to get the job done.

    It’s easy to get distracted or to trick ourselves into spinning our wheels doing nothing. It takes our mind off the uncomfortable sensation of failing to make progress on something important.

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    The answer to this is in planning and scheduling. Rather than giving yourself an unspecified length of time to perform an unspecified task (“Let’s see, I guess I’ll work on that spreadsheet for a while”) give yourself a limited amount of time to work on a clearly defined task (“Now I’ll enter the figures from last months sales report into the spreadsheet for an hour”).

    Giving yourself a deadline, even an artificial one, helps build a sense of urgency and also offers the promise of time to “screw around” later, once more important things are done.

    For larger projects, planning plays a huge role in whether or not you’ll spend too much time procrastinating to reach the end reasonably quickly.

    A good plan not only lists the steps you have to take to reach the end, but takes into account the resources, knowledge and inputs from other people you’re going to need to perform those steps.

    Instead of futzing around doing nothing because you don’t have last month’s sales report, getting the report should be a step in the project.

    Otherwise, you’ll spend time cooling your heels, justifying your lack of action as necessary: you aren’t wasting time because you want to, but because you have to.

    How Bad Procrastination Can Be

    Our mind can often trick us into procrastinating, often to the point that we don’t realize we’re procrastinating at all.

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    After all, we have lots and lots of things to do; if we’re working on something, aren’t we being productive – even if the one big thing we need to work on doesn’t get done?

    One way this plays out is that we scan our to-do list, skipping over the big challenging projects in favor of the short, easy projects. At the end of the day, we feel very productive: we’ve crossed twelve things off our list!

    That big project we didn’t work on gets put onto the next day’s list, and when the same thing happens, it gets moved forward again. And again.

    Big tasks often present us with the problem above – we aren’t sure what to do exactly, so we look for other ways to occupy ourselves.

    In many cases too, big tasks aren’t really tasks at all; they’re aggregates of many smaller tasks. If something’s sitting on your list for a long time, each day getting skipped over in favor of more immediately doable tasks, it’s probably not very well thought out.

    You’re actively resisting it because you don’t really know what it is. Try to break it down into a set of small tasks, something more like the tasks you are doing in place of the one big task you aren’t doing.

    More consequences of procrastination can be found in this article: 8 Dreadful Effects of Procrastination That Can Destroy Your Life

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    Procrastination, a Technical Failure

    Procrastination is, more often than not, a sign of a technical failure, not a moral failure.

    It’s not because we’re bad people that we procrastinate. Most times, procrastination serves as a symptom of something more fundamentally wrong with the tasks we’ve set ourselves.

    It’s important to keep an eye on our procrastinating tendencies, to ask ourselves whenever we notice ourselves pushing things forward what it is about the task we’ve set ourselves that simply isn’t working for us.

    Learn more about how to fix your procrastination problem here: What Is Procrastination and How to Stop It (The Complete Guide)

    Featured photo credit: chuttersnap via unsplash.com

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