We’ve all heard the quotes when it comes to procrastination. ‘Don’t put off till tomorrow what you can do today’ or ‘Action today can prevent a crisis tomorrow’… and so on.
Yet, millions of people procrastinate daily. So why do we not do, what we know we need to do?
The answer is simple. When you view a task as unpleasant and tiring, your mind immediately starts cooking up excuses to prevent you from being in discomfort. This is your self-preservation instinct at its finest.
Your mind is trying to protect you. While this is good when it comes to dangerous situations, for the most part it’s unnecessary and actually holding you back.
Knowing how to act is crucial to avoid procrastination. If you keep procrastinating, your work will pile up and your schedule will become a mess.
You won’t reach your goals or meet your deadlines. It’s impossible to have work-life balance when you’re always playing catch-up. So, here’s what you need to do to stop procrastinating…
Make a plan to avoid procrastination
Make a list of ALL the things you need to get done, listing them under 3 categories:
Recognise the difference between ‘urgent’ and ‘important’—breaking your leg and requiring immediate medical treatment is urgent; getting a quote to a customer by a certain time may masquerade as urgent, but it should be classed under important.
Get the urgent matters out of the way ASAP, then focus on all the important tasks. Finally, and only once the urgent and important tasks are completed, clear the other tasks as and when you can.
It’s also worth noting that if you have a number of items in your ‘other’ category that you somehow never get round to doing, you probably need to remove them entirely. If the pain of doing this is too much, perhaps they’re ‘important’ pretending to be ‘other’ and need attention sooner than you’re thinking!
Do you have 2 minutes?
Many times, you may feel like you’re not in the mood for an activity. This could be exercise or writing or cleaning your house, etc. Whatever the activity is, your mind is already making excuses for you to avoid doing it.
You’re thinking of skipping the workout. Or maybe you’d rather organise the folders in your laptop than write that blog post you need to. Clean the house? Meh, there’s always tomorrow, right?
Your mind NEVER lacks excuses and they’re all very plausible and highly convincing. Quite frankly, we usually don’t need that much convincing to procrastinate.
So how do you beat this problem?
Simple. Just give yourself 2 minutes to do the task. Tell yourself that you’ll just exercise for 2 minutes or clean the room for 2 minutes. It doesn’t matter what the task is. Just aim for completing just 2 minutes.
You’ll often find that once you get started, you’ll usually go on for 30 minutes to an hour or longer.
It’s always the initial step of getting started that’s the most difficult and feels the most daunting. 2 minutes tricks your mental resistance because writing or exercising for 2 minutes is not as intimidating as doing it for 30 minutes or an hour.
Employ this technique whenever you catch yourself about to procrastinate.
An effective alternative to this when there are numerous similar things to get done, is to set a number of items completed. For example, if you need to sort clothes that you no longer wear, or have a number of emails that need to be cleared out—instead of setting a time-based goal, state that you will clear out 5 items of clothing, or action the requests on 3 emails.
Shorten the deadlines
Parkinson’s law states that, “Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.”
What this means is that if you give yourself 3 days to complete a job, you’ll take 3 days. However, if instead you gave yourself 8 hours to do it, you’ll rush and get the job done within that much shorter time.
So, giving yourself shorter deadlines will help to motivate you by lighting a fire under your butt to get you moving. You can’t procrastinate when you have a deadline that’s approaching really fast (think ‘important’ quickly becoming ‘urgent’). You’ll get the job done quicker than you might have thought possible.
Understand that motivation comes after, not before
One of the cruel twists of life is that very often, you get motivation only after you’ve completed the work. If you wait to be motivated to do a task, you’ll tend to be waiting a long time.
However, if you just go ahead and do it, you’ll gain some self-satisfaction and feel productive. Now you’ll have the motivation to quickly complete the next task and so on.
It’s this momentum that will keep you going and in doing so, you’ll gain self-confidence and a new-found respect for yourself. Now you’ll be truly motivated to keep up that winning streak!
So start doing first, and the motivation will come later—and you’ll not even think of procrastinating once you’re on a roll.
The psychology of procrastination
At the heart of procrastination lies the battle between instant gratification and delayed rewards. Our brains are hardwired to seek immediate pleasure, and tasks with long-term benefits often lose out to activities that offer instant satisfaction. This tug-of-war between what feels good now and what will be beneficial in the long run, creates a dilemma that fuels procrastination.
There are many other psychological factors that also come into play such as decision fatigue, the perfectionism paradox and lack of clear task structure, and by understanding them we begin to unravel the intricate web that procrastination weaves.
By recognising that it’s not solely a matter of laziness or lack of willpower, we can approach procrastination with empathy and a strategic mindset.
Procrastination is the thief that robs us of the most precious resource we possess—time. By understanding its mechanisms and employing effective strategies, we can regain control. Embrace the challenge, cultivate productive habits, and unleash your potential. The journey towards a more fulfilling and accomplished life starts with arresting procrastination and halting its thieving ways. In the immortal words of Nike, Just Do It!
What actions will you employ to beat procrastination?
Let us know!
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