Procrastination, the I-will-do-it-later bug is behind a lot of the stress and clutter we have in our lives. It’s the one loose end that unravels every plan to effectively manage time and get things done. Knowing how to stop procrastinating is an indispensable life skill for good stress management and better control over your life.
Why does rescheduling feel productive: How to Stop Procrastinating.
When we take up tasks because:
- They can’t be avoided as they are a part of our duty/responsibility.
- We felt awkward or difficult to say no straight up and so ended up holding the task.
- It seemed like a good decision at first. But after committing, you aren’t so sure and it feels like a lot of work.
We know there’s a commitment and things need to be done, but it doesn’t make starting on it any easier. And so, to avoid the guilt of wasting time, we stay busy with other less urgent tasks. Sometimes when there’s something I ‘have’ to do but don’t really feel like it, I would do anything else rather than getting started with it… maybe even tidy up the cabinet.
Why? Because that makes me feel productive as if I am accomplishing something and so I am justified in rescheduling the real task.
It may discount the guilt, but the stress of not possibly meeting the deadline always stays at the back of our mind. And so, the moment you think “let me reschedule this” or “I’ll do it tomorrow”, you can physically feel the pressure lifting from your mind, neck, and shoulders.
Shifting the deadline, pushing forward the need to act to another day, and so being able to tick all the boxes on today’s to-do list, makes us feel oddly very productive without actually having accomplished anything. That kind of productivity feels good only in the very short run. It keeps shoving & piling up stress on ‘tomorrow’ till it overwhelms us into inaction – “there’s so much to do, I will never be able to finish it.”
That’s why it’s important to know how to identify what’s really making us put things off and learn how to overcome procrastination every single day.
5 Easy Steps to Stop Procrastinating
1. Conviction improves motivation
Whatever you need to do, make sure you are convinced of the reason behind it. Maybe it’s good for your future, for your family, to keep the momentum up at work, or maybe you want to help someone out. Whatever your reasons, make sure that it means something to you, that it touches your heart at some level.
According to the Society for the Study of Motivation we are motivated to do something when it promises us the experience of joy, satisfaction, feeling of accomplishment or any other kind of emotional kick. We feel more motivated to act, and the results and consequences seem more real when we feel an emotional connection with them. It makes us choose to prioritize that specific task over others.
When we don’t tap into our conviction, the message from our head to take action becomes weak and we tend to procrastinate. And if you aren’t convinced why you should be doing something, then it’s a good idea to reassess whether that task should really be on your to-do list.
2. Striking the balance
Sometimes, knowing a task is important, doesn’t help getting started with it. When our self-motivation comes up against:
- anxiety at the amount of work that needs to be done, or
- the boredom of repetition that task requires, or
- maybe even self-doubt,
the impetus to get moving feels too weak.
We either get over-confident and think “I can do it in half the time” and end up scrambling in the end. Or, we feel it’s too daunting and start using avoidance techniques like filling up the time with other tasks.
When this happens, the key to stop procrastinating is to break up the task into enjoyable chunks – mini tasks that aren’t so easy as to be boring, or so far out of the comfort zone as to overwhelm you into inaction.
Ask yourself what can I manage today, something that doesn’t stress you out, and just focus on completing that single task.
If looking at the big picture from a height makes you feel dizzy, it’s better to keep your focus on each single step of the staircase leading you there. Because sometimes reality is quite different from what we see in our head. We either think of the task to be tougher than it actually is. Or, we downplay our capacity making the task feel way out of our comfort zone.
3. Customizing action triggers
There are a few things that trigger our brain into action – like if there’s a hint of risk, the novelty of action, unpredictability, complexity, or pattern recognition (this leads to that). All this produce dopamine in our brain, the neurochemical connected with reward-motivated behavior and reflexes.
But, these action-triggers don’t work the same way for everyone, like unpredictability doesn’t really fire me up into action.
You need to identify which of these work for you and use it for tasks that feel tough to get started with. For me, pattern recognition works most of the time. So, whenever I have to do something out of my comfort zone, I follow it up by half a day of doing whatever I like.
This teaches my brain that every risk taken, every uncomfortable step is going to lead to half a day of pure indulgence. The brain recognizes this pattern and also sees this as a reward, and so throws up fewer excuses why I shouldn’t be doing that task.
Stepping out of the comfort zone can be more comfortable if we plan things the way that works for us.
4. Focus on comfort
When we make things comfortable for us, it’s easier to get things done and stop procrastinating. If you can make a task more enjoyable or comfortable for you, that counts as a reward for our brain. Rewards whether big or small, signal our brain that it’s worth doing again, worth putting in the effort. Rewards aren’t always reserved for ‘after’ we have finished the task.
As part of a commitment, I once had to write about taking care of kitchen plumbing in winters. You can imagine how I felt about it. So to redeem a bit of the hard-luck and get things moving, I broke it up into 4 half-hour actions.
The first half-hour, I spent searching online for fun facts about the topic. That made the next half hour of researching everything technical much easier because it created a sort of momentum. Then I spent the third half-hour making and enjoying a chocolate shake for myself.
What this did was shift my brain from focus mode to diffuse mode. That’s a very good space to connect disjunct pieces of information into a meaningful picture. Now with everything in place, I went back to my blank page and spent the last half hour pouring that picture from my mind as words onto the page. And the job was done on time!
Break up a boring thing you have to do today, one that has re-schedule written all over it. Brainstorm what can be done, what will feel comfortable and interesting.
5. Managing distractions to stop procrastinating
One of the biggest hurdles to stop procrastinating every day is to manage distractions. There’s also a lack of motivation, boredom, or uncertainty of success. But boredom is the most popular of the lot.
Whatever makes doing the task on our list look good for later, harms our productivity. It disarranges all our carefully crafted time management plans. It throws everything out of gear. Distraction can come from those multiple tabs open on your computer, noisy or uncomfortable surroundings, or your mind floating back to where you left your game on the phone.
Now, there are four very effective ways of dealing with this.
- Know your distractions beforehand and make arrangements for them. Put those noise-cancelling headphones on and shut down all those extra tabs – a clean space helps us concentrate better. Schedule your distractions. Block off chunks of time in your day for the things you enjoy doing more than the actual task in hand.
- Turn the very thing that’s tempting or distracting you as a reward for completing that task. Suppose, a fresh new episode of your favorite show is making you think of shifting a task to another day. Promise yourself instead to watch it after finishing the job. Turn it into a reward.
- Get clear on your priorities and organize time around the things you want to focus on like work or hobbies, family, friends. We are less likely to get distracted if we enjoy doing something.
- If the size of the task is distracting you and overwhelming you into inaction, break it up into mini tasks. As you keep finishing each, they feel like rewards to your brain and it gets charged up for more. And so we gain momentum even when the task seemed boring or overwhelmingly big.
Procrastination can take many shapes like perfectionism, over-confidence, or focusing on getting more things done rather than doing what’s important. It can even make us super-productive in short bursts. But we can’t keep doing these super-productive bursts without it taking a toll on our motivation, results, and health.
The task isn’t the problem. It’s more about how we look at it. And having the willingness to take action is the first step towards any positive change. Knowing how to stop procrastinating is a life skill essential for peace of mind, success, and a sense of fulfilment in life.
Author Bio: Nandita is the writer and creator behind Nandyz Soulshine (www.nandyzsoulshine.com). One thing she lives by that life has taught her – it’s absolutely possible to uncomplicate and take back control for your life one right step at a time.