Advertising
Advertising

How do I Get Over My Bad Habit of Procrastinating?

How do I Get Over My Bad Habit of Procrastinating?

Procrastination is a topic we have covered many times on Lifehack, it’s a bad habit and an unnecessary evil, but this answer found on Quora by Oliver Emberton has become one of the most popular and upvoted answers and we just had to share it with you…

someday is not a day of the week

    I’ll answer your question, but first I need to explain all of human civilisation in 2 minutes with the aid of a cartoon snake. Humans like to think we’re a clever lot. Yet those magnificent, mighty brains that allow us to split the atom and touch the moon are the same stupid brains that can’t start an assignment until the day before it’s due.

    Advertising

    We evolved from primitive creatures, but we never quite shed ourselves of their legacy. You know the clever, rational part of your brain you think of as your human consciousness? Let’s call him Albert. He lives in your brain alongside an impulsive baby reptile called Rex:

    rex

      (Rex is your basal ganglia, but that’s not very catchy so I’m sticking with Rex).

      Advertising

      Rex evolved millions of years ago – unsurprisingly enough, in the brains of reptiles – and his instincts guide and motivate you to this day. Hunger. Fear. Love. Lust. Rex’s thoughts are primitive and without language.

      Here’s the bit you’re not going to like. Rex makes the final call on all your decisions. Every. Single. One.

      Advertising

      rex2

        We like to think of Albert as “our true self” – the conscious part of your brain. He’s the talking, reasoning part. When we decide to go to the gym or write that term paper, Albert made that decision. Rex does listen to Albert. Like a child, he will do a lot of what he’s told, as long as he wants to. But if Rex prefers to crash on the sofa to watch Survivor and eat Cheetos, that’s what you’re going to do.

        The incredible ascension of mankind that surrounds us is largely possible because we’ve developed systems to nurture our reptilian brains, to subdue, soothe and subvert them. Much of this system we call “civilisation”. Widely available food and shelter take care of a lot. So does a system of law, and justice. Mandatory education. Entertainment. Monogamy. All of it calms Rex down for long enough for Albert to do something useful – like discover penicillin, or invent Cheetos.

        Advertising

        albert

          Now let’s look at your procrastination.

          You’re making a decision with your conscious mind and wondering why you’re not carrying it out. The truth is the real decision maker – Rex – is not nearly so mature. Imagine you had to constantly convince a young child to do what you wanted. For simple actions, asserting your authority might be enough. “It’s time for dinner”. But if that child doesn’t want to do something, it won’t listen.

          You need to cajole it:

          • Forget logic. Once you’ve decided to do something, logic and rationale won’t help you. Your inner reptile can be placated, scared and excited. But it doesn’t speak with language and cannot be reasoned with.
          • Comfort matters. If you’re hungry, tired or depressed your baby reptile will rebel. Fail to take care of yourself, and he’ll wail and scream and refuse to do a damn thing you say. That’s what he’s for. Eat, sleep and make time for fun.
          • Nurture discipline. Build a routine of positive and negative reinforcement. If you want a child to eat their vegetables, don’t give them dessert first. Reward yourself for successes, and set up assured punishments for your failure. Classic examples include committing to a public goal, or working in a team – social pressure can influence Rex.
          • Incite emotion. Your reptile brain responds to emotion. That is its language. So get yourself pumped, or terrified. Motivational talks, movies and articles can work, for a while. I use dramatic music (one of my favourite playlists is called Music to conquer worlds by). Picture the bliss associated with getting something done, or the horrors of failing. Make your imagination vivid enough that it shakes you. We use similar tricks on children for a reason: “brush your teeth or they’ll fall out”.
          • Force a start. The most important thing you can do is start. Much of Rex’s instincts are to avoid change, and once you begin something those instincts start to tip into your favour. With enough time, you can even convince Rex to love doing the things he hated. There’s a reason we force kids to go to school or to try piano lessons.
          • Bias your environment. Rex is short sighted and not terribly bright. If he sees a Facebook icon, he’ll want it. It’s like showing a child the start of a cool TV program immediately before bedtime. Design your environment to be free from such distractions: sign out of instant messenger, turn off notifications, turn off email. Have separate places for work and fun, and ideally separate computers (or at least accounts).

          Once you know what to look for, you’ll start to recognise the patterns and control them.

          There’s an impulsive baby reptile in your brain, and unfortunately he has the steering wheel. If you can be a good parent to him he’ll mostly do what you say, and serve you well. Just remember who’s in charge.

           

          More by this author

          Hoi Wan

          Hoi is a mobilist who blogs about technology trends and productivity.

          30 Inspirational Songs that Keep You Motivated for Life How to Use the S.M.A.R.T. Approach to Achieve Your Resolutions Vitamins Cheat Sheet: What They Do and Good Food Sources [Infographic] Nutrition: Minerals Cheat Sheet & Food Sources [Infographic] The Best Body Hacks You Should Know About

          Trending in Productivity

          1 15 Best Organizing Tips For Office Organization and Getting More Done 2 50 Motivational Quotes for Work to Inspire Success 3 How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques 4 15 Inspiring Journal Ideas to Set You up for Success 5 11 Organizational Skills That Every Smart Leader Needs

          Read Next

          Advertising
          Advertising
          Advertising

          Last Updated on September 18, 2019

          15 Best Organizing Tips For Office Organization and Getting More Done

          15 Best Organizing Tips For Office Organization and Getting More Done

          You may think that you don’t have time for office organization, but if you really knew how much time that disorganization cost you, you’d reconsider.

          Rearranging and moving piles occasionally doesn’t count. Neither does clearing off your desk, if you swipe the mess into a bin, or a desk drawer.

          A relatively neat and orderly office space clears the way for higher productivity and less wasted time.

          Organizing your office doesn’t have to take days, it can be done a little at a time. In fact, maintaining an organized office is much more effective if you treat it like an on-going project, instead of a massive assault.

          So, if you’re ready to get started, the following organizing tips will help you transform your office into an efficient workspace.

          1. Purge Your Office

          De-clutter, empty, shred, get rid of everything that you don’t need or want. Look around. What haven’t you used in a while?

          Take one area at a time. If it doesn’t work, send it out for repair or toss it. If you haven’t used it in months and can’t think of when you’ll actually need it, out it goes. This goes for furniture, equipment, supplies, etc.

          Advertising

          Don’t forget about knick-knacks, plants (real or artificial), and decorations – if they’re covered with dust and make your office look shabby, they’re fair game.

          2. Gather and Redistribute

          Gather up every item that isn’t where it belongs and put it where it does.

          3. Establish Work “Zones”

          Decide what type of activity happens in each area of your office. You’ll probably have a main workspace (most likely your desk,) a reference area (filing cabinet, shelves, binders,) and a supply area (closet, shelves or drawers.)

          Place the appropriate equipment and supplies are located in the proper area as much as possible.

          4. Close Proximity

          Position the equipment and supplies that you use most within reach. Things that you rarely use can be stored or put away.

          5. Get a Good Labeler

          Choose a label maker that’s simple to use. Take the time to label shelves, bins, baskets drawers. Not only will it remind you where things go, but it will also help others who may have a need to find, use, or put away anything in your workspace.

          6. Revise Your Filing System

          As we move fully into the digital age, the need to store paper files has decreased.

          Advertising

          What can your store digitally? Are you duplicating files? You may be able to eliminate some of the files and folders you’ve used in the past. If you’re storing files on your computer, make sure you are doing regular back-ups.

          Here’re some storage ideas for creating a smooth filing system:

          • Create a meeting folder – Put all “items to be discussed” in there along with items that need to be handed off, reports that need to be given, etc. It’ll help you be prepared for meetings and save you stress in the even that a meeting is moved up.
          • Create a WOR folder – So much of our messy papers are things that are on hold until someone else responds or acts. Corral them in a WOR (Waiting on Response) folder. Check it every few days for outstanding actions you may need to follow-up on.
          • Storage boxes – Use inexpensive storage boxes to keep archived files and get them out of your current file space.
          • Magazine boxes – Use magazine boxes or binders to store magazines and catalogs you really want to store. Please make sure you really need them for reference or research, otherwise recycle them, or give away.
          • Reading folder – Designate a file for print articles and documents you want to read that aren’t urgent.
          • Archive files – When a project is complete, put all of the materials together and file them away. Keep your “working folders” for projects in progress.
          • File weekly – Don’t let your filing pile up. Put your papers in a “To File” folder and file everything once a week.

          Learn more tips on organizing your files here: How to Organize Your Files for Better Productivity

          7. Clear off Your Desk

          Remove everything, clean it thoroughly and put back only those items that are essential for daily use.

          If you have difficulty declutter stuff, this Declutter Formula will help you throw away stuff without regretting later.

          8. Organize your Desktop

          Now that you’ve streamlined your desktop, it’s a good idea to organize it.

          Use desktop organizers or containers to organize the items on your desk. Use trays for papers, containers for smaller items.

          Advertising

          Don’t forget your computer desktop! Make sure the files or images are all in organized folders. I’d recommend you clear your computer desktop everyday before you leave work.

          9. Organize Your Drawers

          Put items used together in the same drawer space, stamps with envelopes, sticky pads with notepads, etc.

          Use drawer organizers for little items – paper clips, tacks, etc. Use a separate drawer for personal items.

          10. Separate Inboxes

          If you work regularly with other people, create a folder, tray, or inbox for each.

          11. Clear Your Piles

          Hopefully with your new organized office, you won’t create piles of paper anymore, but you still have to sort through the old ones.

          Go through the pile (a little at a time if necessary) and put it in the appropriate place or dump it.

          12. Sort Mails

          Don’t just stick mail in a pile to be sorted or rifle through and take out the pieces you need right now. Sort it as soon as you get it – To act, To read, To file, To delegate or hand off. .

          Advertising

          13. Assign Discard Dates

          You don’t need to keep every piece of paper indefinitely. Mark on files or documents when they can be tossed or shredded.

          Some legal or financial documents must be kept for specified length of time. Make sure you know what those requirements are.

          14. Filter Your Emails

          Some emails are important to read, others are just not that important.

          When you use the filter system to label different types of emails, you know their priority and which to reply first.

          Take a look at these tips to achieve inbox zero: The Ultimate Way to get to Inbox Zero

          15. Straighten Your Desk

          At the end of the day, do a quick straighten, so you have a clean start the next day.

          Bottom Line

          Use one tip or try them all. The amount of effort you put into creating and maintaining an efficient work area will pay off in a big way.

          Instead of spending time looking for things and shuffling piles, you’ll be able to spend your time…well…working and you’ll enjoy being clutter free!

          More Organizing Hacks

          Featured photo credit: Alesia Kazantceva via unsplash.com

          Read Next