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Last Updated on April 19, 2021

How To Stop Procrastinating and Get Stuff Done

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How To Stop Procrastinating and Get Stuff Done

OK, I’m done with procrastinating. I’m done with the guilt, anxiety, stress—and, of course, the not getting stuff done.

I’m tired of answering “what’d you do today” with “nothing”. Of course, it’s a lie—I did do something, just not anything important – not anything that made me feel happier, more complete, or more relaxed.

What I did today was spend 8 hours kicking myself, putting myself down, and telling myself “I’ve really got to do. . .”.

Why Procrastination Is Always Easy to Do Right Now

Psychologists tell me that the reason I procrastinate is because it feels so darn good. Can you believe that? All that guilt, stress, and bad self-image feel good?

It does though, doesn’t it? Not the self-recriminations, but the excuse-making and the excuse-fulfilling.

Here’s why:

  1. When we procrastinate, we tend to do stuff that we know how to do—there’s no risk. And avoiding risk feels good—our brain loves it when we don’t do stuff that puts us out in the open, stuff that makes us vulnerable.
  2. Most of the things we do while we procrastinate are fun, offering an immediate payoff—instead of the deferred payoff of the routine, boring, or lengthy projects we’re putting off. A little thrill now makes us feel better than a bigger thrill at some point in the distant future.
  3. Procrastination helps prevent success, and we fear success. Success at anything important means change, it means becoming someone different, it means growing as a person—and all that stuff is really, really hard. Futzing around, on the other hand, rarely accomplishes anything important, so I can stay comfortably me.

I can’t tell you how much I hate knowing all that about myself! I bet you’re not all that thrilled about it yourself.

And I didn’t even mention the part about how we hate our parents and would hate even more for them to see us succeed since that would validate their years of torturing us into passable adults.

So What’s a Poor, Lazy Sod to Do?

I can’t tell you how to deal with your obvious childhood resentments, but maybe there is a way to get around procrastination without expensive and time-consuming therapy? Therapy that you’ll probably just use as another excuse not to do whatever it is you’re procrastinating in the first place? (“I can’t write my novel until my analyst says I’m ready.”)

Sure there is. When it comes down to it, all we have to do is a) minimize the rewards of procrastination, and b) maximize the rewards of non-procrastination. How hard could that be?

OK, maybe a little bit hard. So how do we do it? What’s the program if you can’t stop procrastinating? Let’s see if we can figure this out.

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1. Make Lists

You knew I was going to say that, didn’t you? You know I love the lists. Lists are good—they’re fun to make, and even more fun to throw out when you’re done.

Lists are very useful if you can’t stop procrastinating because they help us deal with at least two of the three factors that cause procrastination risk-aversion and rewards.

Here’s how:

  1. Making a list feels like you’re doing something. Bing! You’ve got your reward.
  2. Crossing something done off your list feels good. Bing! Another reward.
  3. Making a list reduces the risk that you’ll forget to do something—and therefore that you’ll screw up and fail. Bing! Your brain likes that, a lot.

You can’t make just any list, though. As I never tire of saying, lists should be concrete, granular, doablethe first item on your list should be something you can glance at and immediately do.

Don’t know how? Then it shouldn’t be the first thing on your list; figuring out how to do it should be the first thing on your list. Or, rather, “Use Google to find out how to do x”, or “Go to the library to get books on x”, or “Take a class on x” should be first on your list.

Then, the next thing on your list should be something you can glance at and immediately do; and the third thing, and the fourth.

If you can’t start doing something within two minutes of reading it on your list, it’s not concrete enough. Call it “The Other Two Minutes Rule”.

2. Get Motivated

There’s lots of advice on how to get motivated; whatever it takes you to be motivated, do that thing.

Here’s one idea: play the best-case/worst-case game.

What’s the best possible outcome of whatever it is you’re (not) working on?

Visualize it. Daydream about it. Ok, put that aside for a minute.

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Now, what’s the worst possible outcome? Don’t be afraid—spill it. You finish your project and now what? Now ask yourself—how likely is that? Really? Be honest here—chances are you haven’t undertaken something that you’re wholly unsuited for. OK, that’s better.

Now, ask yourself if the best-case scenario makes the worst-case worth the risk? I’ll bet it does (note: if there’ a chance that successfully completing your project might well kill you, please, try un-motivating yourself. I kind of like having you around!).

Another way of getting motivated is to relive past successes.

How did you feel the last time you finished a project? What did you have to do to get that one done? How closely did the outcome match your fears? Yeah, not too closely, right?

Moving on.

3. Reward Yourself

Some people say that rewards aren’t good motivation. Don’t believe them. Those people are probably criminals.

OK, maybe not—but they’re only right about external rewards, a.k.a. “bribes”. As it happens, offering rewards to employees often doesn’t increase motivation.

But offering rewards to yourself—well, that’s just good common sense. You need that Bing! moment—you are, after all, simply a giant hairless ape with a yen for gourmet coffee and a laptop. This is a good hack if you just can’t stop procrastinating.

Researchers placed monkeys in a cage, with a button that, when pressed, dispensed a piece of food. “Yum!” said the monkey when he pushed the button. So he pushed it again. And again. Monkeys are, of course, just small hairy people without coffee or laptops, so they learn pretty fast.

Then the researchers added a twist: every third time the monkey pushed the button, he’d get an electric shock! “Ouch!” said the monkey—then he ate his treat. “Ouch ouch!” he said, the next time—then he ate his treat.

The moral of this story is that we’ll put up with quite a bit of crap, as long as we get our treat. Your challenge, then, is to find a treat good enough to hit the button for, even though you know it’s going to hurt like heck.

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4. Be Accountable

Shame, guilt, humiliation—they can be effective motivational tools. The problem is, when they’re directed at ourselves, they’re corrosive, undoing motivation as fast as they create it.

It’s hard to convince yourself you’re not going to fail when you’ve also convinced yourself you’re a no-good lazy stupid son-of-a-…badger.

My advice: outsource your guilt and humiliation to someone you love and respect. The world is flat, after all. It’s what Tim Ferriss would do.

What do I mean, exactly?

Simple: tell someone—tell lots of people—what you’re doing, when you’re going to be done, how excited you are about it, how important it is to you, and so on.

Now you’ve got risk. You fail, and everyone is going to know. Put that fear of failure to good use! Now, what’s going to prevent the negative payoff of everyone knowing what you want to get done?

5. Do It for Three Minutes

Aside from, say, breathing poison gas or watching reality television, you can do anything for just three minutes, right?

Get a kitchen timer (I don’t actually advocate stealing from your grandmother, but you do what it takes), set it for three minutes, and work. Since you aren’t likely to be procrastinating something you could do in less than three minutes, you have no reason to fear the successful completion of your project.

And you can promise yourself whatever you want when the timer goes off—a cup of coffee, a game of Minesweeper, a half-hour of porn surfing, whatever. Bing! You get your reward—and guess what? Having gotten three minutes of work done will feel pretty good, too. Bing bing!

Next time, shoot for five. Then ten. Eventually, dare I say it, you might be able to put in as much as 25 minutes of solid work without dying—all in a row!

There’s something else, though. Sometimes, once we start working, it feels so good to be working towards our goal, we don’t stop when the timer goes off. We start making excuses—”just one more sentence, I promise, then I’ll play Minesweeper”—in effect, procrastinating our procrastination. Bing bing bing bing bing!

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6. Learn to Embrace Change

Last but not least, you need to get past the whole fear of success thing.

Jonathan Fields, a guest contributor here at Lifehack, offers some tips in his article How to Sell Yourself on Lifestyle Change, and he should know—he’s had quite a few successes in his life, and all of them have drastically changed his life for the better.

It can be hard to imagine coming to terms with what success will mean for you, but here’s my promise: you’ll know how to deal with success when you get there, even if you can’t imagine it now.

Final Words

It is traditional, of course, to end a post on procrastination with a sly joke about how you should start putting these tips into action, first thing tomorrow.

But you know what? Procrastination can be serious stuff and many people just can’t stop procrastinating, so I’m not going to do that.

Instead, I’m going to tell you to turn off your monitor for a minute, get out a piece of paper, and write a list of what you should be working on next. And then start doing it.

Because, believe me, you’ll be a better person afterwards. And that’ll feel great.

Bing!

More Tips If You Can’t Stop Procrastinating

Featured photo credit: Dai KE via unsplash.com

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Last Updated on October 7, 2021

How to Overcome Procrastination and Start Doing What Truly Matters

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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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Here’re some questions to inspire you to think about what you want: 7 Powerful Questions To Find Out What You Want To Do With Your Life

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.

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

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!

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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.

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.

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

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?

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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