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Last Updated on October 25, 2018

How to Overcome Procrastination and Start Doing What Truly Matters

How to Overcome Procrastination and Start Doing What Truly Matters

Before we can solve the problem of procrastination, we must understand why we do it. There are a few basic reasons:

  • Feeling overwhelmed with a situation.
  • Given up hope that a situation can be changed or affected.
  • Afraid of failing.
  • Too “busy” to get the really important things done.
  • Can’t make a decision.
  • Overworked, tired.
  • Want to avoid work you don’t like.

Each of these can be reduced down to the pleasure/pain principle which says that we do things to gain pleasure and to avoid pain.

So how to overcome procrastination? Overcoming procrastination can be less challenging if you follow the methods below. Start doing things that matter, and jettison excess baggage in your to-do list that only serves to weigh you down:

1. Get clear about what you want in life

Procrastinators, you’ll love this!

Take 20-30 minutes to do this quick goal planning exercise.

Write down all your goals in some or all of these categories: career, education, relationships, financial, physical, mindset, creative, spiritual, public service, travel, leisure, and other.

Once you have your list, then whittle it down to your top 10, then down to your top 5, and then your top 3.

Do this by asking yourself, “Can I live without this?”

Let your less important goals lie dormant on a “maybe” list that you can check on again in a few months. Focus on the important tasks first.

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2. Tidy up your to-do list

Delete or delegate from your to-do list those things that don’t relate to your top 3-5 goals.

Just say bye bye. And don’t look back!

This is important to better time management because with limited time, it’s important to do only things that matter most, but not every single task at hand.

3. Link tasks you don’t like to your goals

It helps to mentally (and in writing) tie these tasks to one of your main goals or values. This helps you to remind yourself how each task is related to the big picture.

For example, “Keeping a tidy and clean home and desk allows me to have clarity of mind which is something I highly value. By having clarity of mind I will be better able to work on my goals and have less anxiety.”

By linking the task to the pleasure of being able to think clearly, I now have a reason that will motivate me to take action.

4. Plan your day each day

This is not a big task. It should only take about 10-15 minutes of quiet time.

Do the most difficult and most important things first and work your way down to the easier stuff in the afternoon. You’ll feel really good if you do this.

Focus on that to motivate you to wait to check email and such until after you’ve finished your first big task.

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This article about setting daily goals can help you:

How Setting Small Daily Goals Makes You Achieve Big Success

5. Plan your week just enough

Plan your week just enough  to loosely schedule in some of the big things you know you want to get done.

Sometimes procrastination happens simply because a task is not scheduled.

Scrum could be a great method for you to try, so you can plan your week right.

6. Allow for cheats and get rest

When you’re tired or have low motivation, take a break.

Don’t be so hard on yourself about the timing of a task and then you won’t try to escape through procrastination so hard in the future. Just reschedule and get back on track later or tomorrow.

Also, remember to check if the task relates to one of your goals. See #1,2, and 3 again!

7. Just do it, but don’t over do it.

We often put pressure on ourselves to do certain tasks more often than we really need to, such as cleaning, tidying and laundry etc. So give yourself a break and set a schedule for these things that is not overwhelming.

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Do thing on a “need to do” basis and let go of the notion that you need to keep up with some perfect schedule. Ever heard of the business concept “just in time” inventory, well this is “just in time” task management.

8. Break down big tasks into smaller components

We procrastinate on tasks that are vague and nebulous because we don’t have clear instructions what to do next.

Take a few moments to think about how to break down a larger task and schedule it into your calendar in pieces. This is good for when you are feeling overwhelmed.

9. Get help making decisions

Decisions are tough for me. I like to use the pro/con method and assign points.

I also recommend getting help from a friend that you know is good with making decisions.

Once you’ve made your decision, then break it down into tasks and schedule into your calendar.

10. Believe in yourself and in your ability to accomplish anything you want

If you’ve lost hope, know that you can turn things around.

Release the fear of failure. Failure is just a learning experience.

Slow and steady wins the race. A little bit done every day adds up to a lot over a year.

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If you have to, just fake your belief until it becomes real. Remember, you can do it!

11. Trick and treat yourself

Do you keep avoiding cleaning up your desk or some other big task, even though you know will make you feel good to get it done? If so, do this:

Invite a friend or family member over for a date to “tackle the dreaded task.”

All your friend has to do is sit in the room with you and make sure that you do the task.

If you want, you can let them help you, but it’s not necessary. After the task is done, you can treat you and your friend to either coffee, dessert, meal or movie, whatever!

Summing it up

It’s useless to read through this article if you’re not taking any actions right after reading it!

So here’s a recap for you:

  • Know your most important goals and values.
  • Only do tasks that contribute to those goals and values.
  • Mentally link tasks to the pleasurable outcomes you seek.
  • Plan your day & week.
  • Do, but don’t overdo. Rest when needed.
  • Break down big tasks.
  • Get help making decisions.
  • Believe in yourself!
  • Trick  and treat!

And now, start with the first one on the list, what’s your goals and what do you value?

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

More by this author

K. Stone

The founder of Life Learning Today, a blog that's dedicated to life improvement tips.

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

More About Goals Setting

Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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