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.
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.”
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.
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.
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