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Last Updated on January 25, 2021

10 Mini Hacks to Overcome Procrastination

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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.

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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: Garrhet Sampson via unsplash.com

More by this author

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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Published on January 14, 2022

How to Break the Perfectionism-Procrastination Loop

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How to Break the Perfectionism-Procrastination Loop

You’re probably full of the usual impetus to make changes in your life as the new year lies before us. At the time of writing, we’re at the dawn of a new year. Bellies full and rife with lethargy, we’re all likely sat around (in the West at any rate) contemplating our moves for the next 12 months.

This is, of course, prompted by our arm-chair assessment of the year just gone. Did we achieve the goals we set out for ourselves this time last year as we nurse our splitting sides and slip into yet another food coma?

No! Of course we didn’t, and I’m not speaking from a hyperbolic or purely anecdotal point of view. According to a 2016 study, of the 41% of Americans who make New Year’s resolutions, by the end of the year, only 9% feel they are successful in keeping them.[1]

Is it because of procrastination or perfectionism?

Is Perfectionism And Procrastination Holding You Back From Achieving Goals?

The failing rate of New Year’s resolutions is 91%! A big part of that is how we set our goals. What these studies often cite as a predominant reason for failure is the setting of unrealistic goals. But I think this speaks to something else, namely that we’re not properly connecting to or aligning with our goals — this is where perfectionism and procrastination come in.

Perfectionism is just fear manifesting itself as a mental block. Not fear of failure and/or social ostracisation, so much as fear of change. Our subconscious is set up to favor the status quo. All it knows is that your choices, up until now, have resulted in your survival. Change is just rocking the boat and risking an unknowable outcome (or so it thinks).

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This is what’s at the root cause of your perfectionism and procrastination. You might claim to be a perfectionist, but what does that really mean? Do you mean that you won’t stop working on something until it is, in your opinion, perfect? Or do you mean that you don’t embark upon an endeavor until you can guarantee that the outcome will be perfect?

If you fall into the latter camp, you might consider that this perfectionism-procrastination loop is just an excuse—a manifestation of your deeply rooted subconscious fear of change.

Put it this way:

I think you could substitute the word “unrealistic” for the word “vague,” and you’d have a more accurate assessment of the problem. People often say that they want to make more money, lose more weight, eat more healthy food, etc., but they don’t define what that actually means. Setting out with such an ill-defined destination means that you can’t set an accurate course towards it, and without that, you’re just wandering around in the wilderness.

Think about a time when you’ve performed a task so mundane that it barely registered in your mind. It could be doing the grocery shopping or the laundry. Something that you do, not necessarily every day, but with regularity and (crucially) purpose. If you don’t go to the food store, you won’t have food. If you don’t have food, you can’t eat. If you don’t eat, you die. That’s a pretty clear purpose.

As you head out the door to the supermarket though, that precipitous chain of catastrophic events isn’t weighing on your mind. It’s just a case of making sure that you get everything on the shopping list. There is no doubt in your mind that you’ll make it back with what you need, though. You’ve already mentally and energetically connected, albeit subconsciously, to the outcome of “bringing home the bacon” (or meat-free bacon substitute, if you’re vegan).

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You’ve already achieved your goal mentally. Now, it’s just a case of physically going through the motions. You probably don’t even have to think that much about what you’re doing as you go round the store!

How to Break the Perfectionism-Procrastination Loop

1. Recognize the Loop

The first thing you can do to break this perfectionism-procrastination loop is to recognize it. Bring your awareness to what is really going on and consider what lies behind your claims of perfectionism. Be honest but gentle with yourself. Try, if you can, not to bring judgment into the equation.

Judgment and overly harsh self-criticism can be just as debilitating as your subconscious fear of change, so try not to introduce it in the first place. Consider yourself, as best you can, an impartial observer. You’re just there in the first instance to witness what’s going on.

2. Set Intentions Properly

Armed with that knowledge, you will find that your approach to your goals starts to shift naturally anyway, but you also need to learn how to set intentions properly. If you are one of the aforementioned New Years’ resolution setters who winds up making claims of perfectionism while not taking any action, you ought really to ask yourself:

“If I’m such a perfectionist, why do I keep setting such vague goals?”

Would a perfectionist set out to make “more money” this year and leave it at that?! Would somebody so obsessed with perfection in all things, looking to reach their ideal weight and body shape, really set a goal of simply “lose more weight”?

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You might think, genuinely, that the possibility of not hitting your target dead-on is a reason not to even start. But what are you aiming at in the first place?

Let’s back up the truck for a second, and assess what we mean by procrastination. Procrastination, as defined by researchers, is:[2]

“a form of self-regulation failure characterized by the irrational delay of tasks despite potentially negative consequences.”

So far, we’ve spoken about procrastination as if it is simply “never doing something,” which it is, over time. But really, it’s the delaying of something for no reason. When it comes to achieving goals, procrastination in and of itself isn’t what keeps you from achieving them. It’s procrastination over time. As the Spanish would say, it’s “mañana” thinking.

If you put something off till tomorrow because you just don’t want to do it today, that might still be procrastinatory behavior. But if you then actually do it tomorrow, what’s the harm? It’s the consistent putting off of something based on irrationally (or subconsciously) held beliefs that, over time, means that you never get there. This might seem blindingly obvious, but it’s important to lock down exactly what we mean before seeking to make changes.

Now that we’ve cleared that up, hopefully, it shifts your thinking on what procrastination is enough so that you can accurately assess whether or not your procrastination is hindering your progress. It should help you not to sit in judgment of your procrastination, too.

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3. Try Reaching Out for Help and Mentorship

You can’t expand in a vacuum. You need others to support your journey and provide you with objective feedback. How else are you going to realistically assess whether or not your outcome is perfect anyway?

Find others who have walked the path before you, and reach out to them. Unless they’re huge names with layers of people around them, you’ll probably find that they are willing to help. Even if they are hard to reach, check out interviews with them or look for guidance that they’ve put out publicly in the past.

Part of the problem you’ve been facing is that you can only see what the perfect outcome should look like as filtered through you. By understanding what the wider community (and market) consider to be an ideal outcome for something, you’ll get a much clearer, realistic idea of what you need to be aiming for. From there, you can identify what you’re lacking and therefore, what gaps you need to plug.

Get used to defining your terms better. Think about the language you’re using, both when you talk to others and with your internal monologue. What are you telling yourself?

Is the Narrative You’re Running On True?

Perfectionism is a disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable after all.[3] What does that have to do with an irrational delay of tasks despite potentially negative consequences? From a literal point of view, perfectionism should provoke a desire to continue to take action long past the point of an acceptable outcome, not irrationally abstain from taking any!

So, check yourself the next time you utter the words “I’m just a perfectionist” as a pretext for why you haven’t done something, whether it’s to yourself or somebody else. You don’t really mean that, but that’s okay! You’re just afraid to change, as we all are predisposed to be.

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Don’t beat yourself up. See it for what it is, and start to shift the stories (belief systems) that you’re running on.

Featured photo credit: Nubelson Fernandes via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Discover Happy Habits: New Year’s Resolution Statistics (2021 Updated)
[2] SpringerLink: Procrastination and Task Avoidance
[3] Merriam-Webster: perfectionism

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