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Last Updated on January 11, 2021

How To Stop Procrastinating and Get Stuff Done

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 January 20, 2021

Procrastination Is a Matter of Emotion, Here’s How to Stop It

Procrastination Is a Matter of Emotion, Here’s How to Stop It

Procrastination is in a human’s biological makeup. Thanks to our limbic system, the neurological powerhouse that controls our emotions and memory, we are inclined to feel before we think. To avoid experiencing negative feelings, we keep away from tasks that may overwhelm or inconvenience us.

Because we are inclined to seek and enjoy pleasure first, we tend to give in to things that make us happy instantly. It is so instant that we don’t see a point in neglecting ourselves. But it blinds us from viewing the consequences due to procrastination — more than 3 hours go missing every single day, and about 55 days — almost 2 months are lost every year.

It All Comes down to Our Emotions

The essential way to overcome procrastination is by regulating these emotions. When obligations are dreadful, they drag our feet to complete them. Most people tend to confuse work with emotional suffering because the task at hand may appear to be complicated or difficult; which can cause anxiety or despair.

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The more complicated or challenging the work may be, the more challenge-averse we become. All of these negative feelings and reservations add up, making people avoid the tasks altogether to keep from experiencing suffering or negativity.

Adjust the Task and Your Mood Will Change

Difficult or complicated tasks tend to easily overwhelm people, causing them to lose interest in the project and faith in themselves. The key is to make these tasks more manageable.

How do you do this? By breaking them up into smaller, digestible elements that will eventually add up to complete the big picture. This way, a lot of the strain is lifted, and you can find a little more enjoyment in your work.

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Before breaking down the tasks, as a whole they appear to be time consuming and challenging.  Small, manageable parts you can take action on immediately.  The smaller the tasks, the easier you will find them to manage.  So it’s good to break down your tasks into elements that will only take you 45 minutes or less to complete.

Keep the big picture in mind, but keep your workload light and only focus on one small task at a time. When you commit your attention to one element at a time, you are gradually making your way towards the larger goal.

Since we are inclined to seek out things that bring us pleasure, small rewards can go a long way to help to satisfy our need for pleasure and positivity.  Rewards give you small goals to work towards, which will help to keep you motivated. Even if you aren’t able to physically reward yourself, still celebrate the progress you’ve made along the way.

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Celebrate the completion of each small step to encourage morale. Keep up momentum throughout the entire project, and tiny celebrations will help you to do just that. Expecting to see results of the task at hand immediately is unrealistic. Accomplishments are measured by the differences you have made along the way, not the end result.

Imagine holding an event at work.  You must find a venue, caterer, and entertainment.  You also need to come up with a theme, and decorate the venue and table settings.  This is a huge project.  Break it down into smaller parts.  For example, maybe focus on deciding on a theme first.  When you’ve completed that, give yourself a small break as a reward before moving on to the next part.  One thing at a time and reward yourself to stay motivated.  Then the big project will not overwhelm you.

What if no matter how small the task is, it’s still dreadful?  No job is perfect. You will always at some point find yourself faced with tedious and uninteresting tasks that you must complete. Sometimes you just need to suck it up and push through.  To stay motivated, plan to complete positive tasks along with the negative ones.  This will regulate your emotions, and ensure that you don’t only do the things that you “feel like” doing.  Always remember to keep your eye on the big picture, which will give meaning to all of your tasks (even the tedious ones).

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When you alter your attitude towards your obligations, it will make the tasks seem less tedious.  It takes a lot of practice and reinforcement, but eventually it will change your work ethic.  Refer to these tips to help you beat procrastination every time!

Learn more tips about how to stop procrastinating: What Is Procrastination and How to Stop It (The Complete Guide)

Featured photo credit: Kyle Glenn via unsplash.com

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