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Last Updated on January 25, 2021

10 Mini Hacks to Overcome Procrastination

10 Mini Hacks to Overcome Procrastination
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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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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed
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Procrastination is very literally the opposite of productivity. To produce something is to pull it forward, while to procrastinate is to push it forward — to tomorrow, to next week, or ultimately to never.

Procrastination fills us with shame — we curse ourselves for our laziness, our inability to focus on the task at hand, our tendency to be easily led into easier and more immediate gratifications. And with good reason: for the most part, time spent procrastinating is time spent not doing things that are, in some way or other, important to us.

There is a positive side to procrastination, but it’s important not to confuse procrastination at its best with everyday garden-variety procrastination.

Sometimes — sometimes! — procrastination gives us the time we need to sort through a thorny issue or to generate ideas. In those rare instances, we should embrace procrastination — even as we push it away the rest of the time.

Why We Procrastinate After All?

We procrastinate for a number of reasons, some better than others. One reason we procrastinate is that, while we know what we want to do, we need time to let the ideas “ferment” before we are ready to sit down and put them into action.

Some might call this “creative faffing”; I call it, following copywriter Ray Del Savio’s lead, “concepting”.[1]

Whatever you choose to call it, it’s the time spent dreaming up what you want to say or do, weighing ideas in your mind, following false leads and tearing off on mental wild goose chases, and generally thinking things through.

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To the outside observer, concepting looks like… well, like nothing much at all. Maybe you’re leaning back in your chair, feet up, staring at the wall or ceiling, or laying in bed apparently dozing, or looking out over the skyline or feeding pigeons in the park or fiddling with the Japanese vinyl toys that stand watch over your desk.

If ideas are the lifeblood of your work, you have to make time for concepting, and you have to overcome the sensation— often overpowering in our work-obsessed culture — that faffing, however creative, is not work.

Is Procrastination Bad?

Yes it is.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re “concepting” when in fact you’re just not sure what you’re supposed to be doing.

Spending an hour staring at the wall while thinking up the perfect tagline for a marketing campaign is creative faffing; staring at the wall for an hour because you don’t know how to come up with a tagline, or don’t know the product you’re marketing well enough to come up with one, is just wasting time.

Lack of definition is perhaps the biggest friend of your procrastination demons. When we’re not sure what to do — whether because we haven’t planned thoroughly enough, we haven’t specified the scope of what we hope to accomplish in the immediate present, or we lack important information, skills, or resources to get the job done.

It’s easy to get distracted or to trick ourselves into spinning our wheels doing nothing. It takes our mind off the uncomfortable sensation of failing to make progress on something important.

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The answer to this is in planning and scheduling. Rather than giving yourself an unspecified length of time to perform an unspecified task (“Let’s see, I guess I’ll work on that spreadsheet for a while”) give yourself a limited amount of time to work on a clearly defined task (“Now I’ll enter the figures from last months sales report into the spreadsheet for an hour”).

Giving yourself a deadline, even an artificial one, helps build a sense of urgency and also offers the promise of time to “screw around” later, once more important things are done.

For larger projects, planning plays a huge role in whether or not you’ll spend too much time procrastinating to reach the end reasonably quickly.

A good plan not only lists the steps you have to take to reach the end, but takes into account the resources, knowledge and inputs from other people you’re going to need to perform those steps.

Instead of futzing around doing nothing because you don’t have last month’s sales report, getting the report should be a step in the project.

Otherwise, you’ll spend time cooling your heels, justifying your lack of action as necessary: you aren’t wasting time because you want to, but because you have to.

How Bad Procrastination Can Be

Our mind can often trick us into procrastinating, often to the point that we don’t realize we’re procrastinating at all.

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After all, we have lots and lots of things to do; if we’re working on something, aren’t we being productive – even if the one big thing we need to work on doesn’t get done?

One way this plays out is that we scan our to-do list, skipping over the big challenging projects in favor of the short, easy projects. At the end of the day, we feel very productive: we’ve crossed twelve things off our list!

That big project we didn’t work on gets put onto the next day’s list, and when the same thing happens, it gets moved forward again. And again.

Big tasks often present us with the problem above – we aren’t sure what to do exactly, so we look for other ways to occupy ourselves.

In many cases too, big tasks aren’t really tasks at all; they’re aggregates of many smaller tasks. If something’s sitting on your list for a long time, each day getting skipped over in favor of more immediately doable tasks, it’s probably not very well thought out.

You’re actively resisting it because you don’t really know what it is. Try to break it down into a set of small tasks, something more like the tasks you are doing in place of the one big task you aren’t doing.

More consequences of procrastination can be found in this article: 8 Dreadful Effects of Procrastination That Can Destroy Your Life

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Procrastination, a Technical Failure

Procrastination is, more often than not, a sign of a technical failure, not a moral failure.

It’s not because we’re bad people that we procrastinate. Most times, procrastination serves as a symptom of something more fundamentally wrong with the tasks we’ve set ourselves.

It’s important to keep an eye on our procrastinating tendencies, to ask ourselves whenever we notice ourselves pushing things forward what it is about the task we’ve set ourselves that simply isn’t working for us.

Learn more about how to fix your procrastination problem here: What Is Procrastination and How to Stop It (The Complete Guide)

Featured photo credit: chuttersnap via unsplash.com

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