In the words of psychologist William James, “nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task”.
Procrastination is a problem everyone faces from time to time, but what do you do when it begins to significantly hold you back? While there is no magic cure for procrastination, there are many techniques you can use to lessen its grip on your productivity. First of all, it helps to understand why people procrastinate.
Causes of procrastination
By definition, procrastination is a delay of an intended course of action. Although there is no “one size fits all” answer, research has identified many factors that contribute to procrastination. For some people, procrastination is due to task aversion. Task aversion simply means that you have created a dialogue in your mind that makes the task unappealing. Phrases like “this is gonna suck” or “uggghhhh I hate doing this” make you more likely to put off completing a task in order to avoid discomfort.
Another contributing factor to procrastination is poor time management. This means that the person procrastinating overestimates the amount of time they have left to complete a task. This habit of leaving tasks to one’s future self may be due to structural abnormalities in the areas of the brain that affect planning.
A propensity to delay completing tasks can also arise due to difficulties with self-regulation, depression, perfectionism, distractibility, or merely adopting poor habits. A person may procrastinate due to one of these reasons or a combination of several. Therefore, it’s important to have many tools in your arsenal that can combat procrastination.
Tips for defeating procrastination
Whether or not you understand the core reason for your procrastinating, you can improve your productivity and begin to develop habits that effectively motivate you to get things done. Here are 13 tips to finally beat procrastination and begin conquering your goals.
- Reframing- Reframing is a technique used in cognitive behavioral therapy that creates a different way of looking at a problem. In order to use it to combat procrastination, try reframing the task at hand in a positive or more realistic way. For instance, if you are delaying beginning a project and your initial thought is, “there’s so much work it’ll take forever” try checking yourself with a less negative and more realistic thought like, “if I begin this today I’ll feel better and there will be less work tomorrow”.
In order to use reframing effectively try to describe the situation as accurately as possible, give yourself credit for your ability to complete it (e.g. I am capable), and brainstorm alternate views that may make it easier to begin the task. At the end of the day, boring tasks, challenges, and hard work will not kill you and they’ll be easier to approach if you focus less on the negative.
- Clarify your goals- Sometimes we push things off because we haven’t clearly set a goal or honestly assessed it’s value to our lives. By clarifying the specific goal and assessing the actual long-term value of completing the goal, you are more likely to complete it. Break down your big goal into smaller and manageable segments. Once you’ve established these segments, write them out as mini-goals (make sure they have measurable outcomes), and give yourself a set timeline to complete them. In order to give yourself an extra boost, try techniques like visualization when goal setting.
- Get out your calendar- Projects with no clear timeline are less likely to get done. Once you’ve set your specific goal utilize a calendar to book chunks of time dedicated to working on your goal. When the block of time arrives, make sure to hide all distractions (e.g. your cellphone), set a timer, and work only on the task at hand. Try out the Pomodoro technique for an effective productivity boost.
- Track your progress- Once you’ve booked off time to dedicate to your goal, track your progress by using an app like Ultiself. Tracking your progress helps to better solidify your new habit and also serves as positive reinforcement.
- Don’t wait for the right time- Waiting for motivation to fall down from the heavens is one of the most common mistakes among procrastinators. The hard truth is that there may never be a “right time” and it really doesn’t matter if you are in “the mood” to do your task. Combat this hurdle by being honest with yourself about your excuses and just doing the work. You can try repeating the phrases “it doesn’t matter, do the work” when your mind starts pursuing reason to delay.
- Positive self-talk- Making “I’m a productive person” a part of your identity is possible through the power of positive self-affirmations. Try being gentle to yourself when you do fail and focus on implementing positive phrases that correspond to your goals. For instance, instead of getting down on yourself, repeating phrases like “I am confident and capable”. Whenever you are having problems getting motivated these phrases can boost your morale. By repeating positive affirmation regularly, you can reframe some of the negative self-talk you have developed in your mind around completing tasks and push yourself into productivity mode.
- Forget perfectionism- Sometimes people get hung up in a loop of procrastination because they’ve set the bar too high for themselves. Research has shown us that perfectionism is detrimental to progress. Remind yourself that for the majority of tasks done is better than perfect.
- Accountability partner- Try using a coach, friend, or boss to help you stay on task. You can do this by setting up check-ins with the person to talk about your progress. Try making a scheduled time every week where you can hop on a call, video chat, or text to discuss your productivity. A study by the American Society of Training and Development found that your chances of completing a goal increase by up to 95% with an accountability partner.
- Amp yourself up- Research shows that music can elevate mood and make you more motivated to complete a task. Find a power song, motivation speech, or motivational video that gets you amped up. Try playing it whenever you are having difficulty getting yourself motivated. Your brain will use this as a trigger for a new habit (e.g. working on your goal), plus the endorphin rush will make you more likely to jump into productivity mode.
- Reward yourself- Instead of indulging in procrastination, try delaying your gratification until you’ve completed a task that brings you closer to your goal. This means no binge-watching Netflix, no brunch, and no zoning out on Facebook until you’ve completed the task at hand. You can even create special rewards and incentives for the completion of tasks like getting your favorite treat or buying a new book.
- Supplements- Certain nutritional supplements, particularly nootropics, have been shown to help people improve their focus. In addition to old trusty caffeine, try supplements like B vitamins or Omega-3s to help boost your brainpower and improve focus.
- Manage your environment- Sometimes the root of procrastination is literally right in front of you. Identify the main sources of distraction in your life (e.g. apps on your phone) and eliminate the temptation. You can try tools like a lockbox for your phone that keeps it locked away for a set amount of time. A recent study showed that even just having your phone out and visible makes you 20% less productive than if it was tucked away.
- Make it fun- When it comes to completing certain tasks, sometimes the best way to get yourself motivated is to make it fun. Try combining things like listening to audiobooks while you vacuum, putting on your favorite album while you organize your closet, or doing a fun sport for physical activity.
No matter what the cause of your procrastination, it’s important to begin implementing techniques and habits that help you overcome the urge to put things off. The most important thing to remember is to take it one step at a time and be kind to yourself as you complete each task.
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