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

          30 Inspirational Songs that Keeps 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

          1Forget Learning How to Multitask: Boost Productivity 10X More with Focus 2How to Organize Your Thoughts: 3 Simple Steps to 10X Your Productivity 3How to Be Productive: 11 Ways to Be Productive and Happy at Once 4Top 10 Productivity Tips to Achieve More and Create Peace of Mind 5How to Declutter Your Mind to Sharpen Your Brain and Fall Asleep Faster

          Read Next

          Advertising
          Advertising

          Forget Learning How to Multitask: Boost Productivity 10X More with Focus

          Forget Learning How to Multitask: Boost Productivity 10X More with Focus

          There’s a dark side to the conveniences of the Digital Age. With smartphones that function like handheld computers, it has become increasingly difficult to leave our work behind. Sometimes it seems like we’re expected to be accessible 24/7.

          How often are you ever focused on just one thing? Most of us try to meet these demands by multi-tasking.

          Many of us have bought into the myth that we can achieve more through multi-tasking. In this article, I’ll show you how you can accomplish more work in less time. Spoiler alert: multi-tasking is not the answer.

          Why is multitasking a myth?

          The term “multi-tasking” was originally used to describe how microprocessors in computers work. Machines multitask, but people cannot.

          Despite our inability to simultaneously perform two tasks at once, many people believe they are excellent multi-taskers.

          You can probably imagine plenty of times when you do several things at once. Maybe you talk on the phone while you’re cooking or respond to emails during your commute.

          Consider the amount of attention that each of these tasks requires. Chances are, at least one of the two tasks in question is simple enough to be carried out on autopilot.

          We’re okay at simultaneously performing simple tasks, but what if you were trying to perform two complex tasks? Can you really work on your presentation and watch a movie at the same time? It can be fun to try to watch TV while you work, but you may be unintentionally making your work more difficult and time-consuming.

          Your brain on multi-tasking

          Your brain wasn’t designed to multi-tasking. To compensate, it will switch from task to task. Your focus turns to whatever task seems more urgent. The other task falls into the background until you realize you’ve been neglecting it.

          When you’re bouncing back and forth like this, an area of the brain known as Broadmann’s Area 10 activates. Located in your fronto-polar prefrontal cortex at the very front of the brain, this area controls your ability to shift focus. People who think they are excellent multitaskers are really just putting Broadmann’s Area 10 to work.

          Advertising

          But I can juggle multiple tasks!

          You are capable of taking in information with your eyes while doing other things efficiently. Scientifically speaking, making use of your vision is the only thing you can truly do while doing something else.

          For everything else, you’re serial tasking. This constant refocusing can be exhausting, and it prevents us from giving our work the deep attention it deserves.

          Think about how much longer it takes to do something when you have to keep reminding yourself to focus.

          Why multitasking is failing you

          Multitasking does more bad than good to your productivity, here’re 4 reasons why you should stop multitasking:

          Multitasking wastes your time.

          You lose time when you interrupt yourself. People lose an average of 2.1 hours per day getting themselves back on track when they switch between tasks.

          In fact, some studies suggest that doing multiple things at once decreases your productivity by as much as 40%. That’s a significant loss in efficiency. You wouldn’t want your surgeon to be 40% less productive while you’re on the operating table, would you?

          It makes you dumber.

          A distracted brain performs a full 10 IQ points lower than a focused brain. You’ll also be more forgetful, slower at completing tasks, and more likely to make mistakes.

          You’ll have to work harder to fix your mistakes. If you miss an important detail, you could risk injury or fail to complete the task properly.

          This is an emotional response.

          There’s so much data suggesting that multitasking is ineffective but people insist that they can multitask.

          Advertising

          Feeling productive fulfills an emotional need. We want to feel like we’re accomplishing something. Why accomplish just one item on the to-do list when you can check off two or three?

          It’ll wear you out.

          When you’re jumping from task to task, it can feel invigorating for a little while. Over time, this needs to fill every second with more and more work leads to burn out.

          We’re simply not built to multitask, so when we try, the effect can be exhausting. This destroys your productivity and your motivation.

          How to stop multitasking and work productively

          Flitting back and forth between tasks feels second-nature after a while. This is in part because Broadmann’s Area 10 becomes better at serial tasking through time.

          In addition to changing how the brain works, this serial tasking behavior can quickly turn into a habit.

          Just like any bad habit, you’ll need to recognize that you need to make a change first. Luckily, there are a few simple things you can do to adjust to a lifestyle of productive mono-tasking:

          1. Consciously change gears

          Instead of trying to work on two distinct tasks at once, consider setting up a system to remind you when to change focus. This technique worked for Jerry Linenger, an American astronaut onboard the space station, Mir.

          As an astronaut, he had many things to take care of every day. He set alarms for himself on a few watches. When a particular watch sounded, he knew it was time to switch tasks. This enabled him to be 100% in tune with what he was doing at any given moment.

          This strategy is effective because the alarm served as his reminder for what was to come next. Linenger’s intuition about setting reminders falls in line with research conducted by Paul Burgess of University College, London on multitasking.

          2. Manage multiple tasks without multitasking

          Raj Dash of Performancing.com has an effective strategy for balancing multiple projects without multitasking. He suggests taking 15 minutes to acquaint yourself with a new project before moving on to other work. Revisit the project later and do about thirty minutes on research and brainstorming.

          Advertising

          Allow a few days to pass before knocking out the project in question. While you were actively work on other projects, your brain continues to problem solve-in the background.

          This method works because it gives us the opportunity to work on several projects without allowing them to compete for your attention.

          3. Set aside distractions

          Your smartphone, your inbox and the open tabs on your computer are all open invitations for distraction. Give yourself time each day when you silence your notifications, close your inbox and remove unnecessary tabs from your desktop.

          If you want to focus, you can’t give anything else an opportunity to invade your mental space.

          Emails can be particularly invasive because they often have an unnecessary sense of urgency associated with them. Some work cultures stress the importance of prompt responses to these messages, but we can’t treat every situation like an emergency.

          Designate certain times in your day for checking and responding to emails to avoid compulsive checking.

          4. Take care of yourself

          We often blame electronics for pulling us from our work, but sometimes our physical body forces us into a state of serial tasking. If you’re hungry while you’re trying to work, your attention will flip between your hunger and your work until you take care of your physical needs.

          Try to take all your bio-breaks before you sit down for an uninterrupted stint of work.

          In addition, you’ll also want to be sure you’re attending to your health in a broader sense. Getting enough exercise, practicing mindfulness and incorporating regular breaks into your day will keep you from being tempted by distractions.

          5. Take a break

          People are more likely to head to YouTube or check their social media when they need a break. Instead of trying to work and watch a mindless video at the same time, give yourself times when you’re allowed to enjoy your distracting activity of choice.

          Advertising

          Limit how much time you’ll spend on this break so that your guilt-free distraction time doesn’t turn into hours of wasted time.

          6. Make technology your ally

          Scientists are beginning to discover the detrimental effects of chronic serial tasking on our brains. Some companies are developing programs to curb this desire to multitask.

          Apps like Forest turn staying focused into a game. Extensions like RescueTime help you track your online habits so that you can be more aware of how you spend your time.

          The key to productivity: Focus

          Multitasking is not the key to productivity. It’s far better to schedule time to focus on each task than it is to try to do everything at once.

          Make use of the methods outlined above and prepare to be more effective and less exhausted in the process.

          If you want to learn more about how to focus, don’t miss my other article:

          How to Focus and Maximize Your Productivity (the Definitive Guide)

          Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

          Read Next