Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on June 18, 2020

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.

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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.

Advertising

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!

Advertising

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

More by this author

3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively How To Stop Procrastinating and Get Stuff Done Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide) The Science of Setting Goals (And Its Effect on Your Brain) Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

Trending in Featured

1 3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively 2 How to Master the Art of Prioritization 3 How to Stay Motivated and Reach Your Big Goals in Life 4 How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators 5 11 Reasons Why You Aren’t Getting Results

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on July 8, 2020

3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

It is easy, in the onrush of life, to become a reactor – to respond to everything that comes up, the moment it comes up, and give it your undivided attention until the next thing comes up.

This is, of course, a recipe for madness. The feeling of loss of control over what you do and when is enough to drive you over the edge, and if that doesn’t get you, the wreckage of unfinished projects you leave in your wake will surely catch up with you.

Having an inbox and processing it in a systematic way can help you gain back some of that control. But once you’ve processed out your inbox and listed all the tasks you need to get cracking on, you still have to figure out what to do the very next instant. On which of those tasks will your time best be spent, and which ones can wait?

When we don’t set priorities, we tend to follow the path of least resistance. (And following the path of least resistance, as the late, great Utah Phillips reminded us, is what makes the river crooked!) That is, we’ll pick and sort through the things we need to do and work on the easiest ones – leaving the more difficult and less fun tasks for a “later” that, in many cases, never comes – or, worse, comes just before the action needs to be finished, throwing us into a whirlwind of activity, stress, and regret.

This is why setting priorities is so important.

Advertising

3 Effective Approaches to Set Priorities

There are three basic approaches to setting priorities, each of which probably suits different kinds of personalities. The first is for procrastinators, people who put off unpleasant tasks. The second is for people who thrive on accomplishment, who need a stream of small victories to get through the day. And the third is for the more analytic types, who need to know that they’re working on the objectively most important thing possible at this moment. In order, then, they are:

1. Eat a Frog

There’s an old saying to the effect that if you wake up in the morning and eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that the worst thing that can possibly happen to you that day has already passed. In other words, the day can only get better!

Popularized in Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!, the idea here is that you tackle the biggest, hardest, and least appealing task first thing every day, so you can move through the rest of the day knowing that the worst has already passed.

When you’ve got a fat old frog on your plate, you’ve really got to knuckle down. Another old saying says that when you’ve got to eat a frog, don’t spend too much time looking at it! It pays to keep this in mind if you’re the kind of person that procrastinates by “planning your attack” and “psyching yourself up” for half the day. Just open wide and chomp that frog, buddy! Otherwise, you’ll almost surely talk yourself out of doing anything at all.

2. Move Big Rocks

Maybe you’re not a procrastinator so much as a fiddler, someone who fills her or his time fussing over little tasks. You’re busy busy busy all the time, but somehow, nothing important ever seems to get done.

Advertising

You need the wisdom of the pickle jar. Take a pickle jar and fill it up with sand. Now try to put a handful of rocks in there. You can’t, right? There’s no room.

If it’s important to put the rocks in the jar, you’ve got to put the rocks in first. Fill the jar with rocks, now try pouring in some pebbles. See how they roll in and fill up the available space? Now throw in a couple handfuls of gravel. Again, it slides right into the cracks. Finally, pour in some sand.

For the metaphorically impaired, the pickle jar is all the time you have in a day. You can fill it up with meaningless little busy-work tasks, leaving no room for the big stuff, or you can do the big stuff first, then the smaller stuff, and finally fill in the spare moments with the useless stuff.

To put it into practice, sit down tonight before you go to bed and write down the three most important tasks you have to get done tomorrow. Don’t try to fit everything you need, or think you need, to do, just the three most important ones.

In the morning, take out your list and attack the first “Big Rock”. Work on it until it’s done or you can’t make any further progress. Then move on to the second, and then the third. Once you’ve finished them all, you can start in with the little stuff, knowing you’ve made good progress on all the big stuff. And if you don’t get to the little stuff? You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you accomplished three big things. At the end of the day, nobody’s ever wished they’d spent more time arranging their pencil drawer instead of writing their novel, or printing mailing labels instead of landing a big client.

Advertising

3. Covey Quadrants

If you just can’t relax unless you absolutely know you’re working on the most important thing you could be working on at every instant, Stephen Covey’s quadrant system as written in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change might be for you.

Covey suggests you divide a piece of paper into four sections, drawing a line across and a line from top to bottom. Into each of those quadrants, you put your tasks according to whether they are:

  1. Important and Urgent
  2. Important and Not Urgent
  3. Not Important but Urgent
  4. Not Important and Not Urgent

    The quadrant III and IV stuff is where we get bogged down in the trivial: phone calls, interruptions, meetings (QIII) and busy work, shooting the breeze, and other time wasters (QIV). Although some of this stuff might have some social value, if it interferes with your ability to do the things that are important to you, they need to go.

    Quadrant I and II are the tasks that are important to us. QI are crises, impending deadlines, and other work that needs to be done right now or terrible things will happen. If you’re really on top of your time management, you can minimize Q1 tasks, but you can never eliminate them – a car accident, someone getting ill, a natural disaster, these things all demand immediate action and are rarely planned for.

    Advertising

    You’d like to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant II, plugging away at tasks that are important with plenty of time to really get into them and do the best possible job. This is the stuff that the QIII and QIV stuff takes time away from, so after you’ve plotted out your tasks on the Covey quadrant grid, according to your own sense of what’s important and what isn’t, work as much as possible on items in Quadrant II (and Quadrant I tasks when they arise).

    Getting to Know You

    Spend some time trying each of these approaches on for size. It’s hard to say what might work best for any given person – what fits one like a glove will be too binding and restrictive for another, and too loose and unstructured for a third. You’ll find you also need to spend some time figuring out what makes something important to you – what goals are your actions intended to move you towards.

    In the end, setting priorities is an exercise in self-knowledge. You need to know what tasks you’ll treat as a pleasure and which ones like torture, what tasks lead to your objectives and which ones lead you astray or, at best, have you spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

    These three are the best-known and most time-tested strategies out there, but maybe you’ve got a different idea you’d like to share? Tell us how you set your priorities in the comments.

    More Tips for Effective Prioritization

    Featured photo credit: Mille Sanders via unsplash.com

    Read Next