What is procrastination?
What exactly is procrastination? Procrastination is a huge problem for many people and it’s one of the biggest enemies of time management, that’s what it is!
For sure, you’ll have heard this proverb.
It’s so commonly used that it seems like more of a truism, but you cannot argue with it.
We can only be (somewhat) certain of the time we have right here and now, so putting things off for another day in the future that you can’t even be sure you’ll have doesn’t seem to make sense.
Of course, we are all guilty of putting things off from time to time, but if you’re somebody that is constantly avoiding difficult tasks and consciously finding distractions, then you could be a chronic procrastinator and that is a problem.
Why do people procrastinate?
From a psychological point of view, procrastination is an interesting topic.
Sometimes people put procrastination down to laziness, but it is not really about that.
Procrastination is essentially an avoidance strategy.
Everyone has their own personal triggers, but some common reasons why people procrastinate are:
- Looking for a buzz of last-minute task completion
- Fear – fear of failure, or possibly success
- Avoiding accountability for the outcome of events
- Being overwhelmed with work and cannot prioritize effectively
- Lack of motivation
When we put off tasks, they are still taking up space in our minds, whether we realize it or not.
Human beings have an inclination towards actions that provide an immediate payoff and instant gratification over those that may deliver reward at some point in the future.
In other words, we’re often more concerned about our present selves than we are with our future selves. And so there’s this inconsistency between what we want our future selves to do from our point of view in the present and what our future selves actually want to do when the time comes.
For example, you set your alarm in the evening to get up at 6 am the following day, because you want to get out early and do some exercise. But when the alarm goes off, you want to sleep in.
This kind of pattern can be recognized in all kinds of human behaviour, most commonly in things like failed resolutions to get fit or lose weight, having to cram for exams the night before and not saving enough money for retirement.
Things that require action in the present for reward in the future get put off, often resulting in future failure.
Right now, the doughnut is far more appealing than the kale smoothie, an evening of Netflix wins out over the gym and you blow your bonus on a holiday instead of sticking it in your investment account.
It’s ok to indulge in some instant gratification, but if it is happening all the time, there will usually be consequences to face in the future.
Welcome to the world of procrastination!
How to stop procrastinating
Ok, so how to kick it?
Beating procrastination is basically a mind game. Ultimately, it comes down to having a serious chat with yourself in the corner and putting things into action.
Understanding exactly why you are procrastinating on a task can go some way to knowing what to do to overcome come it, but I realize that this is usually a lot easier said than done, as we don’t always have the self-perception necessary to really get down to the core of our procrastination habits.
If you don’t really have a grasp on what it is that is making you procrastinate, you may find that having some supporting strategies and mental tricks will make it much more difficult for you to procrastinate. Let’s look at some of them now . . .
1. Schedule . . . everything
If something is scheduled in your diary, I feel that the chances of you procrastinating on it are much lower.
Scheduling tasks is a core part of time management, so should be doing this anyway.
Check out this post: How To Create A Schedule >>>
You could start by ensuring that the task you feel you are most likely to put off in the day is scheduled first.
This is a method known as “eating a frog’, which has been popularized by Brian Tracy in his best-selling book, “Eat That Frog!” If you are interested in reading more about it, I have reviewed it here.
2. Break the task down into bite-sized chunks
A common reason for procrastination is that we may think that the task at hand is simply too big and so we feel overwhelmed.
For example, if you are writing a paper for college or even attempting to do something bigger, like writing a book, break it down into chapters and just focus on one part at a time – you don’t even need to think about the rest.
If you find that you’re procrastinating on a task, sometimes it can work if you take the opposite approach to the ‘eat that frog’ method and just attack a small and simple part of the task first. It’s a foot in the door. A way to get some momentum going.
3. Remove distractions
When you are procrastinating on one particular task, other distractions will start to become more evident than ever.
Dealing with distractions is possibly one of the biggest challenges to time management since humans have finite willpower and can be seduced by all number of time-wasting activities, such as gaming, social media and YouTube cat videos to name just a few.
When I need to get down to tasks I don’t particularly want to do, I find it super-helpful to take as many distractions as possible completely out of the equation.
So, I turn my phone off, close down my email applications and if necessary, turn on web blockers that are nifty little apps that will prevent you from accessing the sites you find most distracting when you are supposed to be focusing on a more important task. I’ve reviewed a few of them in this post.
Lately, I have also started employing another technique when it comes to writing blog posts and that’s to go offline completely. The way I used to write blog posts was to research (using mainly the internet) and write within the same session.
However, I now research everything in advance and save any websites I need to refer to using Pocket, which simply saves web pages to make them available when you’re offline. Firefox, Safari and Chrome all have an offline reading facility too, so there’s no shortage of options for doing this.
Once I have completed my research, I then use a dedicated time-slot to writing only, so there is no need for me to even be online. On occasion, I have also gone somewhere with absolutely no WiFI connection to ensure this happens.
I find working in this way is so much more efficient and prevents procrastination through distraction.
4. Change the environment
As I eluded to just now, sometimes I change my environment to deliberately avoid WiFi. Another reason is that a change in environment can help renew your enthusiasm for a task and motivate you to get on with getting stuff done.
5. Make yourself accountable
As someone who is self-employed, I do not report to anyone except, of course, my wife and perhaps, my clients.
I enjoy this luxury, but there are times when it can be useful to have someone ‘cracking the whip’ if it is clear tasks are being put off.
To get around this, I may make myself more accountable by sharing tasks and deadlines with family and friends. Knowing that they will be asking me about progress at some point, I don’t want to then find myself in a position where I have to reveal that I haven’t followed through on my intentions, because that’s lame.
Setting up the potential for embarrassment provides me with the extra impetus to get on with it and not procrastinate.
You can actually take this a step further and make an accountability wager with someone else. It’s basically a bet with someone else that you will pay them, say $20, if you don’t complete an important task you have by a certain deadline. The only difference between this and a regular bet is that the other person does not have to pay you $20 if you succeed in meeting your deadline.
The amount you ‘gamble’ shouldn’t be an amount that will cause financial hardship if you fail but should be enough to make it annoying if you do.
Also, it doesn’t have to involve money – it could be that you promise to do something for someone else, like clean out their garage or mow their lawn, for example.
Accountability wagers probably work well for many people because this strategy capitalizes on the fact that our brain is wired to be more concerned about our present selves than with our future selves, so we respond more efficiently to the prospect of short term loss than to the prospect of longer-term gain.
6. Get advice from someone ahead of you
Getting advice from someone who has already achieved your goal makes sense.
While advice from successful people won’t guarantee that you will achieve the same success, talking to someone who has reached goals you have on your radar can be extremely insightful and motivating and may give you the push you need to get over your procrastination.
7. Be clear on your ‘why’
Understanding what you are trying to achieve by completing a task can be a major motivator. If you are not clear on why you are doing something within the context of the “bigger objective”, it becomes much easier to put off.
Be clear on the overall goals and objectives when tackling tasks. Visual prompts can be a good motivator here too.
For example, if your goal is to close more sales to gain more commission so that you can afford a new sports car, keep a picture of your end goal (the shiny sports car) on your desk as a constant reminder that the sales calls on your to-do list cannot be put off.
8. Ditch perfectionism
The fear of producing work that isn’t perfect in your own (subjective) eyes can be a very common reason why people procrastinate on tasks. However, the fact is, there are relatively few cases when absolutely perfect is necessary, so try not to get hung up on it.
In the words of General George S. Patton, “A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.”
9. Try the Pomodoro Technique
I love the Pomodoro Technique. Most of the writing I do here on this blog is done using this method and I would thoroughly recommend trying it if you have never tried it before.
Read more: What Is The Pomodoro Technique? >>>
10. Personal kanban
Personal kanban is something that I discovered very recently and I think it’s a great way of helping you to visualize everything you have on your plate in the current moment.
It’s such a simple concept, but so effective when it comes to managing your workflow and reducing the likelihood of procrastination.
Read about personal kanban here.
Time Hack Hero Takeaway
We are all guilty of procrastinating from time to time, but if it becomes a chronic problem, it can have a hugely negative impact on your time management, productivity and even your relationships.
Understanding exactly why you procrastinate may not be immediately apparent and could even have some deeper psychological causes.
However, even if you are not certain about why you tend to procrastinate on certain tasks, I believe that the strategies covered in this post will go a long way to helping you overcome this bad habit.
How do you deal with procrastination? Feel free to share in the comments section below.