I think you’ll agree with me when I say:
Staying focused and avoiding procrastination is hard sometimes! Creating a schedule, doing the hardest things first, or the reverse, which is doing the easiest tasks first often doesn’t work!
That’s what we want to address here today. How can you beat procrastination and become more productive for real?!
Well, the first step is to understand exactly why we procrastinate, and find out why we put things off before we can start to get things done!
So, shall we?
What is Procrastination and Why Do We Procrastinate?
Procrastination is what we do when we put off tasks we’re supposed to do, even though we know it will lead to trouble. So we avoid the task, often by doing something completely different, like scrolling through social media or reading and responding to emails instead of writing that report that’s due tomorrow.
Now, why do we do it? Are we just being lazy?
Well, it turns out that procrastination is NOT laziness. Laziness is marked by low energy levels and a general sense of apathy. That means when you’re feeling lazy, you’re more likely to lounge around without engaging in any activity, let alone diverting yourself with unimportant tasks.
Procrastination is a tactic that our brains use to protect themselves. Imagine you have a report to create, and the deadline is approaching. You don’t feel confident that you can finish this report, or you feel your bosses won’t like what you come up with.
In this instance, the task is attached to negative emotions like fear and anxiety. The task is scary to start, so what do you do? You decide to deal with it by avoiding it, even though you know you’ll do a worse job if you wait until the last minute, and will be told off if it’s submitted late.
Yet this is exactly what happens when you procrastinate. And, if you’re really keen, you’ll see that pattern of putting off tasks associated with negative emotions like fear of failure, or boredom, or feelings of overwhelm.
So how do you reverse this reaction? Or get things done despite it?
Tip 1: Understand the Reason why you Procrastinate
Is it failure that you are afraid of? Or are you feeling overwhelmed? What negative emotion do you have when trying to do the task you procrastinate on?
Here’s a video that shows several reasons you might procrastinate to help you start the thought process of why you do it.
Possible reasons include:
- Fear of Failure. You believe you will fail anyway, so your body won’t get you to start.
- Anxiety from task ambiguity. The task at hand is super ambiguous and you can’t figure out where to start, making you anxious and unable to get started.
- You’re overwhelmed. You have a full plate of tasks and feel so overwhelmed that you end up not getting anything done.
- Perfectionism. You want everything to be perfect and the thought that your outcome may not be perfect makes you unable to start.
These are not the only reasons. Perhaps you also prefer to do things at the very last minute, or you want a rush of dopamine, so you end up scrolling for hours on end just to get that feel-good feeling.
Once you know these reasons, you can tackle the root cause, not the symptom.
Tip 2: Flip the Script: Find Positive Motivation for Doing the Task
According to Fuschia Sirois, Ph.D., a psychology researcher with over 20 years of experience researching procrastination, “Some very simple ways that take the edge off [the negative feelings] are forgiveness and self-compassion.”
To get yourself to do the task, you need to counter the negative emotions attached to the task. One way to do this is to seek positive motivation for tasks so that your body stops seeing the activity as a danger and becomes more receptive to it.
Here’s an Example:
The task: A really challenging project that you need to get done
The Negative Reason: You’re delaying it because you are worried about making mistakes and failing. It feels like a massive threat to your career.
New Positive Reason: By doing the task, you’ll have the opportunity to learn and grow. You will gain new skills or practice those you aren’t yet good at. And you can add it to your list of achievements! You’ll have something to add to your next appraisal and CV!
Here’s another example:
If you find yourself thinking, “I’m never going to be good in this area, and this task will not even be good enough,” you can try to redirect your thoughts and say something like, “It’s okay to not be good at this task right now. If I do it, I’ll get to practice and become better the more I do it.”
Showing yourself some compassion helps you overcome the negative feelings associated with procrastination, making it easier for you to start the task.
Tip 3: Set Reasonable Goals
Setting reasonable goals is a huge part of taking on a more positive approach to tasks.
Do away with those long to-do lists that have 20+ tasks. You know very well that you won’t actually finish them all.
Furthermore, don’t schedule every single minute of your day without leaving some downtime. That’s where things start to slip through the cracks because your body will forcibly take some downtime anyway, leaving you with untouched tasks.
What to do instead?
Set achievable goals and create a realistic to-do list. One that takes just enough to stretch your limits without overwhelming you. And delegate the rest. This will take time and may even need you to do a bit of trial and error, but it will be crucial to helping you beat procrastination.
Tip 4: Seek Accountability
Sometimes an encouraging word from someone other than yourself is all you need to beat procrastination.
So let your favorite colleague or friend know what tasks you want done. But make sure this is someone who can encourage you and preferably even follow up to check how much progress you’ve made. That is your accountability partner.
And you’ll see that just letting someone else know about your tasks and their deadlines motivates you to get started on the activities.
Tip 5: The Two-Minute Rule
The last tip is one by David Allen, author of “Getting Things Done,” and it’s a simple rule: If it takes you less than 2 minutes to do, then do it immediately!
You can ignore the small tasks because “They’d only take minute to complete anyway.” Then before you know it, the deadline is up, and you forgot to make a crucial payment and now you’re in trouble.
So whatever it is, before you even get time to rethink it, just tackle that quick task immediately and move on to other time-consuming items.
We’ve explored why we procrastinate and shared four practical tips to beat it: the Two-Minute Rule for quick starts, accountability, and setting doable goals. But remember, before you try out these tips and any others you see elsewhere, first find the negative emotion behind your procrastination and work towards eliminating it.
With these simple strategies, you can say goodbye to procrastination and hello to a more accomplished you.