How to stop procrastinating is an issue that we all face from time to time.
Procrastination can be a problem in our lives. It can hinder your ability to achieve the goals you set out for yourself. It can cause us to feel anxious if we wait until the last minute to work on an essay or a project.
Procrastination can also make us feel bad about ourselves. I know how much guilt and shame I feel when I have procrastinated on my homework for a long time. These negative emotions in turn may cause further issues such as low self-esteem or friction with loved ones. It is a bad habit that we must break to get things done and to accomplish what we are destined to do.
Two types of procrastination: passive vs. active
Active procrastination is when you are putting off assignments for a little while because you feel like the adrenalin rush that comes with working under pressure helps with your work. For people who prefer to work under pressure, this is not a bad thing.
Passive procrastination, on the other hand, is when people keep putting off things to the future. This is the more unpleasant and sabotaging type of the two that people do out of laziness. This type of procrastination can increase your stress levels and lower your productivity. You should avoid this type of procrastination at all times.
Strategies on how to stop procrastinating
Here are my top time management tips so you can finally stop being a procrastinator and begin getting things done!
Set up a to-do list
If you want to stop procrastination, the first step is to know what you should be focusing on. A to-do list helps you set goals. By listing out all the items that you need to complete, you have a clear visual cue on what to do.
It also helps if you can put the deadlines right next to each task at hand. It will be easier for you to follow through on them.
Use the Eisenhower Matrix
When you have limited time, you want to make sure that your time is well spent. Use the Eisenhower Matrix to help you understand where you should focus your attention on.
Temporarily avoid social media
We all know how big of a temptation those notification sounds are on our phone. Practice self-control and mute all the sounds and temporarily exit from all of your social accounts. Your friends and the news around the world can wait until you finish your tasks.
Break down the task
If a big project is too daunting, chances are that you may find excuses for yourself to not even start it. I personally suffer from this quite often. The tasks that I have to complete feel like huge mountains that I, a little person with just a spade, will have to move.
However, what I find helpful is to break down the big task into smaller, more manageable chunks, and stay focused on the pieces one at a time. This way, your big task becomes a sequence of smaller tasks, and you feel a sense of accomplishment along the way every time you finish a piece.
When you feel overwhelmed with a task, just break it down.
Work on the easier tasks first
Getting started is usually the hardest part. Therefore, I recommend that you sit down and start with the smaller tasks. By completing the simpler tasks, you will be more motivated on continuing on with your list of items to do.
But do not fall into the trap of productive procrastination
Productive procrastination is the act of being busy while still procrastinating on your most important tasks. Although I do recommend that you start with the simpler tasks to get you in the zone, you should not waste your time on meaningless work.
After all, it is the most valuable tasks that deserve the most of your time and attention. You do not want to waste time on too many tasks that you didn’t prioritize.
Switch between tasks
Another way to stop procrastinating is to switch between tasks.
While I am not an advocate for multi-tasking, which is basically a sequence of rapid switches between tasks, I do believe in the value of switching between tasks after you have spent a reasonable amount of time on one particular task. Different tasks involve different parts of your brain, and switching between tasks can allow one part of the brain to rest and another part to engage.
For example, after an hour of difficult mathematical problem solving, you may want to change up a little bit and finish some housework. You can then come back and do some more math if needed. I find I get more done if I follow this A-B-A pattern, instead of spending two full hours focusing on task A. Respect your brain’s yearnings for some rest.
Of course, in between tasks, make sure that you stretch a little! Sometimes your brain needs a bit of a rest. Let it have the rest so it can better serve you.
Try the Pomodoro technique and set up specific time blocks for your task
The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. The technique uses a timer to break down work into intervals.
Here are the exact steps to follow in the original technique:
- Decide on the task to be done.
- Set the timer (traditionally to 25 minutes).
- Work on the task.
- End work when the timer rings and put a checkmark on a piece of paper.
- If you have fewer than four checkmarks, take a short break (3–5 minutes) and then return to step 2; otherwise continue to step 6.
- After four pomodoros, take a longer break (15–30 minutes), reset your checkmark count to zero, then go to step 1.
Setting up specific time blocks can have several benefits:
- You are forcing yourself to focus on one specific task at a time without distraction.
- You know, even before delving deep into a specific task, that there is an end, because you are only requiring yourself to spend X minutes on it. This can help motivate you to start a task that may not be your favourite, because you know that you will only “suffer” at most X minutes.
Next time when you find yourself procrastinating, Pomodoro technique can be an effective method to try!
Humans are interesting creatures. Even as adults, rewards are still very much effective, even if they are small and set up by yourself.
Examples of rewards can include 5-minutes of browsing the Internet, a piece of your favourite fruit, 5-minutes of doing absolutely nothing, etc. These rewards will keep you motivated.
Keep in mind that you should set an alarm for when you should come back from your small break!
Tell yourself that you have to do it
Sometimes merely giving yourself no option can do the trick, because it eliminates the possibility of your not doing it. By telling yourself that there is no other way around it, completing a certain task no longer remains a multiple choice question, but rather becomes a “must”. Personally, I find that creating such a one-way street for myself forces me to put my head down and just go through with it.
Just do it.
Remind yourself of the negative consequences of NOT completing the task
Humans are risk-adverse animals, so reminding yourself of the negative consequences of not completing a task can be an effective way to motivate yourself.
Thinking of applying to your dream job but procrastinating on finishing your resume? Picture the job being snatched away from you! It is Sunday afternoon but you haven’t finished washing all your dishes? Picture fruit flies circulating in your kitchen!
Picturing negative consequences in your head can really spur you into action, because we don’t like pain.
Remind yourself of the positive consequences of completing the task
However, carrots are sometimes more effective than sticks when it comes to self-motivation. Take the examples above, you can picture yourself entering the new office with a smile, or lazily lying in bed in a clean house that smells like fresh lavender with no guilt on your mind whatsoever.
An attainable and beautiful picture of the future that is a direct result of your actions today can serve as a powerful incentive for you to stop procrastinating.
Give yourself a procrastination time
If you find it extremely difficult to avoid procrastination, then give yourself a designated procrastination time, for example, 15 minutes. You can do whatever you like during that time, but when the time is up, you need to stop and start working on your tasks!
Work in an organized environment
Have you ever found that you are more easily distracted and frustrated when your workstation is messy? The University of Manitoba has an interesting article on how the environment can impact us.
For example, “rooms with bright light, both natural and artificial, can improve health outcomes such as depression, agitation, and sleep.” Given the subtle impact environment has on our mood and emotions, it can definitely help with our tendency to procrastinate.
Place only relevant materials at your workstation, and remove all the distracting items. Have as much space as possible for your arms, and as much empty space as possible. Remove all sorts of distractions. If you need to put your phone away and turn off your wifi temporarily, do so. The version of you after you finish the task will thank you for the small sacrifices you make.
Join with others
If you find it difficult to concentrate on your own, see if you can ask a friend or two to join with you. It is much easier to motivate yourself when you see another person working hard on his/her tasks.
Read a book
If you are looking for a book to help you with your chronic procrastination issues, you may want to consider the following books:
Piers Steel, PhD., uses his groundbreaking research to offer understanding on the matter that bedevils us all.
This book with a whimsical title shows you how to organize each day so you can zero in on these critical tasks and accomplish them efficiently and effectively. Eat the frog and you will not regret it!
Don’t be a perfectionist
Sometimes, procrastinators keep putting something off not because of laziness, but because of perfectionism.
Perfectionism is a double-edged sword. It motivates us to strive towards high standards of excellence, but it can also hinder us from starting a task out of fear of failure.
Tell yourself that you don’t need to be perfect. Taylor Swift’s first lyrics are probably hidden in a small corner of her closet, and Elon Musk’s first piece of code was probably long forgotten. Nobody gets something perfect the first time.
Rest when you need it
Of course, sometimes the reason why you procrastinate is that you have over-exerted yourself, and your body and brain just really need some time off.
If that is the case, then cut yourself some slacks. You certainly don’t want to feel overwhelmed or exhaust yourself, because it may inevitably backfire. If your body needs rest, let it. Give yourself permission to rest and don’t beat yourself up for it. It will be good for your mental health and physical health.
Overcoming procrastination takes time and effort. However, we all have the ability to get things accomplished. By adopting some of the small steps above, I am confident that you can unlock your potential, overcome procrastination and get your work done.
Of course, one thing you cannot procrastinate on is personal finance. Check our my articles here to find some useful resources for your personal finance journey.
If you have any other bad habits to break, you may want to check out this article from my friend Josh over at Money Life Wax to find additional tips and tricks!
Stop procrastinating right now, and start taking action!