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10 Mini Hacks to Overcome Procrastination

10 Mini Hacks to Overcome Procrastination

Is procrastination taking over your life?

We are all familiar with the phenomenon of procrastination. You have a task you need to do, but instead of doing it you slack off, dillydally, deliberately put it off, or delay by fiddling with miscellaneous things like making unnecessary calls, checking e-mail, or social media.

You know you should be working, but you just don’t feel like doing anything. So you drag your feet and defer the work, only to face it later when it is unavoidable. And then when it is indeed too late, you panic and wish you had done the task earlier.

Ironically, I had planned to finish this article yesterday by the time it was 10 a.m.

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In the meantime, I had consumed two breakfasts, checked my e-mails, edited a post for my website, watched a few episodes of a favorite TV show, opened several tabs on my browser, despaired at my lack of progress, hung out with my cousin… and written absolutely nothing.

What’s wrong with me?  It’s not like me to not want to write.

The problem with procrastination

According to research that attempts to explain this sort of behavior, nothing is wrong with me. Or, at least, nothing out of the ordinary for writers. Derek Thompson, a senior editor at The Atlantic, notes that productive people sometimes fail to differentiate reasonable delay and true procrastination. The former can be useful: “I’ll respond to this email when I have more time to write it,” he says.

The latter, Derek writes, is by definition, self-defeating: (“I should respond to this email right now, and I have time, and my fingers are on the keys, and the Internet connection is perfectly strong, and nobody is asking me to do anything else, but I just… don’t… feel like it.”

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Joseph Ferrari, a professor of psychology at DePaul University, puts it plainly that procrastination “really has nothing to do with time-management. To tell the chronic procrastinator to just do it would be like saying to a clinically depressed person, cheer up.”

If you occasionally suffer from true procrastination (as I am sure all of us do), then these ten quick mini hacks might come in handy to help you get a handle of things and overcome procrastination.

1.   Set a deadline for tasks.

One thing that can help beat procrastination is the inescapable pressure of an impending deadline. So, set a hard deadline for tasks to bind yourself to your responsibilities. It’s amazing how productive we get when we face an impending deadline. Admittedly, the pressure might not be felt until after the deadline has passed for chronic procrastinators, but still. It has its uses.

2.   Schedule reminders to complete tasks significantly ahead of the deadline.

To hack this strategy, you could schedule one-shot reminders as late as possible—even slightly after you were supposed to start the project, says Derek. This way you shock yourself into action and stop yourself from putting off assignment. Scheduled reminders are also great because they ensure you don’t forget about a task until long after the deadline, as it sometimes happens when you’re procrastinating. Imagine how great you’ll feel when you’re done ahead of the deadline.

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3.   Break down big tasks into micro-steps.

Most tasks contain many sub-tasks that they cause a mental overload. We find ourselves opting to take the path of least resistance, which is often procrastination. The way to beat this trap is to break down big tasks into micro-steps. For example, if you are procrastinating about writing a book, just start with the title. Come back and write the outline. Then just write the first sentence. Write the second sentence and keep going from there. If you take it one step at a time, it’s not that daunting at all.

4.   Use the 10-minute rule.

If a task seems overwhelming or if you can’t bring yourself to start and are tempted to just procrastinate, tell yourself you are only going to do it for 10 minutes. There is nothing intimidating about 10 minutes. Once you get started, the Zeigarnik Effect will kick in and you will be much more likely to keep going. This is a highly effective hack that helps break the pattern of stalling or dreading work.

5.   Remove distractions.

Procrastination is much easier when you have tantalizing distractions everywhere, such as Facebook, Twitter, pinterest, TV, IM and e-mail. Instead of hoping to come back strong after being distracted, it’s much more effective to prevent distraction from derailing you in the first place. So remove all distraction during work hours. Clear off your desk, turn off e-mail notifications, close all open browser tabs and any other distractions on your computer. In fact, disconnect the Internet if you can.

6.   Eat the frog last.

If you have a bunch of tasks that you need to do but you are procrastinating, try doing the easiest task first. The idea is to get things into motion and create momentum straight away. Once you are in motion, it will be easier to eat the frog (to do the “worst” or “hardest” thing that you must do regardless) when the Zeigarnik Effect finally kicks in.

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7.   Change your environment.

Sometimes our work environment promotes procrastination. Consider the room you work from. Does it make you want to work or does it make you want to snuggle and sleep? If it is the latter, it’s time to change things around. Tidy up the room, improve the lighting, bring indoor plants to change the ambiance, order comfortable furniture, get a good heating system, or relocate to a quieter place. Whatever you do, make sure your work environment makes you feel inspired to get work done.

8.   Communicate your progress to others.

It could be a close friend, a business partner, a colleague, a mentor, or an editor. Whoever it is, communicate to them your progress whether you’ve actually made any progress or not (and if not, why not). The idea is to have someone hold you accountable and keep you on track.

9.   Go outdoors and enjoy nature.

Science has shown that going out into the wild and enjoying nature can double or even triple your brain activity and get your creative juices flowing.Set work aside when you feel overwhelmed with a task and get something like a twenty minute walk or so outdoors. It will do you a lot of good, boost your fitness levels, and strengthen your willpower to get stalled projects moving again.

10.  Get enough sleep.

Granted, this isn’t the root cause of procrastination. However, if you don’t get a good night’s sleep, say because you go to bed too late, your brain won’t function optimally the next day. You will be fatigued and weak-minded all day and give in to pretty much every possible distraction of the day. However, if you get a good night’s sleep you will wake up refreshed, energized and ready to get things cracking.

And don’t also forget power naps. There’s nothing better than taking a quick 5- to 15-minute rest when you realize you are procrastinating. This will often do the trick wonderfully.

Featured photo credit: sunshinecity via flickr.com

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David K. William

David is a publisher and entrepreneur who tries to help professionals grow their business and careers, and gives advice for entrepreneurs.

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Last Updated on February 21, 2019

7 Natural Memory Boosters That Actually Work for All Ages

7 Natural Memory Boosters That Actually Work for All Ages

Forgot a name? Misplaced your keys? Taking longer to find the right words? Don’t panic. There’s plenty you can do to improve your memory.

You’re probably expecting us to reveal 7 little known and newly discovered herbs from the forests of the Amazon, the peaks of the Himalayas and the Arctic tundra. No such luck.

Despite Americans spending hundreds of millions of dollars a year on Ginkgo Biloba, Ashwagandha, Periwinkle, Bacopa, Vitamin B’s, Omega 3’s and memory boosting supplement cocktails, there is very little scientific evidence they actually work. [1]

Instead, we’re going to offer you 7 completely natural memory boosters, backed up by scientific research. It may take a little more effort than a magic memory pill, but the benefits will transcend your memory and improve your overall quality of life as well, making you more fit, energetic, happy and sharp.

How Do We Remember?

The first process in remembering is creating a memory.

This is where our brain sends a signal, associated with a thought, event or piece of information our mind is processing, over our brains neural pathways, called synapses.

Think of our neural pathways like roads and information like trucks. The better the roads, the more trucks can be driven.

The second step in remembering is memory consolidation.

Consolidation is when the brain takes that thought, event or piece of information and actually stores it in the brain. So now we’re talking about taking delivery of the trucks and storing its contents in the warehouse.

Consolidation helps us store information and label it properly, so its organized and easy to retrieve when needed.

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The last step is memory retrieval.

That’s the step whereby we try to retrieve the information stored in our brains. You know when you have the name of someone on the tip of your tongue.

You have the information; it’s been stored, but you just can’t find it. Our memory recall is typically better the stronger the memory is and the more often we’ve used it.

Memory decline is a normal part of aging. However, new scientific research is discovering many new ways for us to improve memory creation, consolidation and retrieval–no matter our age.

7 Natural Memory Boosters

So how to work on memory and boost your brain power? Here’re 7 brain boosters backed by science that you should try:

1. Aerobic Exercise

Aerobic activity is about as close as we get to a magic pill for our memories. Exercise helps your brain create new capillaries and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which creates new brain cells and connections. To put it in plain english, aerobic activity changes our brains and helps it grow.

Studies have shown that exercising increases the size of the hippocampus and improves memory. In fact, even if you start exercising as an older adult, you can reverse cognitive decline by 1 to 2 years and protects against further decreases in the size of the hippocampus, which is essential for memory. [2]

In another study, reviewed by Dr. Ian Robertson of the University of Dublin, they looked at a group of people of 60 years and older, who engaged in “active walking” for four months.

They compared them with another group of people who only stretched over the same period of time. After testing both groups before and after the 4 month period, the walkers improved their memory and attention considerably more than the stretching group.

So which exercises are best and how much do we have to exercise?

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Turns out, it doesn’t really matter whether you run, swim, row or bike. What does matter is that you push yourself beyond your current abilities, keep doing more, keep getting better. Set yourself short term goals and keep pushing the goal posts.

2. Sleep

You need your sleep. The deeper the better. Sleep helps improve your procedural memory (how to do things, like how do I navigate my iPhone) and declarative memory (facts, like what’s my password). [3]

Even short naps from 6 to 45 minutes have been shown to improve your memory. In one Harvard study, college students memorized pairs of unrelated words, memorized a maze and copied a complex form. All were tested on their work. Half were then allowed to take a 45 minute nap. They were then retested. Those who took a nap, got a boost in their performance. [4]

Another study showed that getting REM (deep) sleep can increase your memory and mental performance by 33% to 73%. Getting a deep sleep helps the brain consolidate memories through dreams and “associative processing”. However, the study also revealed that heart rate variability in deep sleep also contributed significantly to increased memory performance. [5]

3. MIND Diet

Healthy eating, particularly more dark colored fruit, vegetables and oily fish has been shown to improve memory and stave off cognitive decline.

The MIND diet is proven to reduce the risk of dementia. It’s a mix of the popular Mediterranean diet and the low blood pressure DASH diet. [6]

The study kept track of the diets of almost 1,000 older adults. They were followed for an average of 4½ years.

The study concluded that “people whose diets were most strongly in line with the MIND diet had brains that functioned as if they were 7½ years younger than those whose diets least resembled this eating style.”

The study also showed that people who followed the MIND diet in the study reduced their chance of getting Alzheimer’s disease in half.

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So what does the MIND diet consist of? Lots of vegetables, leafy greens, nuts, berries, beans, fish, poultry, olive oil, whole grains and wine.

4. Relax

We all know that stress is bad for our health. It can raise our blood pressure, impact our immune system and interrupt our sleep. Stress also impairs our memory.

When our body gets stressed, it releases cortisol into our blood stream, which can cause short and long term physical changes to the brain. While cortisol has sometimes been shown to cause increases in short term memory, it can actually decrease our long term recall memory.

To help reduce the stress in your life, try relaxing with meditation, yoga or breathing exercises. Unplug–even for just a few hours. Stop checking your emails, social accounts and news. Release some endorphins with some exercise.

Bottom line, the more anxious and stressed we are, the less clearly we think, the poorer our memory works.

5. Continuous Learning

The mind is like a muscle. The more you challenge it, the stronger it gets. The more you learn, the more you can learn.

Research shows that learning can actually change the physical makeup of your brain. Not too long ago, we used to think that you were born with a fixed amount of brain cells, which declined with age. New research now shows that we can actually increase the number of brain cells we have throughout our life.

Aside from staying physically active, learning new skills and studying can actually keep our brains healthier. Consider taking a continuing education class, studying a new language, learning a new instrument, playing new card games. [7]

Studies show that the more complex the task, the more benefits for your mind. Simply showing up to class is not enough. You need to be actively engaged. Anything that forces you to focus and learn something new and get out of a rote routine will help you sharpen your mind and boost your memory.

6. Stay Social

The more deep and meaningful social connections you maintain, the more you protect your brain. Bottom line, the more friends you have, the more people you work with, the more you’re forced to use your brain.

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Social isolation and loneliness are significant risks of dementia. Without interacting with others, our brains wilt. Isolation and loneliness lead to depression, physical and mental decline. [8]

In a 2016 study published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, seniors with a full social calendar did better on memory, reasoning, and processing speed tests. [9]

What to do?

Party! Seriously, get together with friends as often as possible. Have family dinners. Choose social activities or sports like tennis, golf, cards or go for walks with a friend. Bottom line have fun, build meaningful social relationships and stay connected. Not only will it make your mind sharper and your memory better, you’ll be happier, too!

7. Wakeful Rest

This one is getting harder and harder to do. In a world where we can’t sit on a bus, go up an elevator or go to the bathroom without our phones, doing absolutely nothing to distract our minds is becoming increasingly difficult.

But, the results are in. Doing nothing is great for your memory. Quietly resting for 10 minutes, after you learn something will help you remember and help you create more detailed memories. [10]

What we do minutes after we learn something new has a significant impact on how well we retain the new information. In another study, it didn’t matter what you did after you learned something new, as long as you weren’t distracted by outside factors. In other words, you could be thinking of your day, making a grocery list, or thinking of a story. In either case, wakeful rest for a period of 10 minutes helped the brain process and consolidate your memories so that you were better able to recall the information at a later date. [11]

Conclusion

You don’t have to spend a dime on cocktails and supplements promising a quick boost to your memory power. There is very little conclusive scientific evidence suggesting supplements will help improve the memories of healthy individuals–not for Ginkgo Biloba, Vitamin B, fish oils, Vitamin D, Folate or other supplements claiming they a secret formula.

There are far cheaper and more effective ways to boost your memory: exercise, rest, eat well, learn, love, laugh and relax. Who wouldn’t want that prescription?

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

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