Have you ever taken a 5-minute break from studying for an exam, only to wonder an hour later how you ended up watching a video about raccoons chasing a cat around a dumpster? Procrastination can sneak up on you and is a tough habit to break. Maybe you’ve even procrastinated while searching for ways to stop procrastinating! The key to winning this daily battle is, as Sun Tzu would say, “know thy enemy.”
Why Do You Procrastinate?
The Problem is Within, Not Without
A common misconception people have about procrastination is that it’s the task itself you’re avoiding. You think you’re worried about a pending report, or a presentation that’s due in two days. However, the thing you’re avoiding often runs much deeper than that.
What happens when you sit down to start a particular task? Do you find your mind wandering? Do you get up to “take a quick break,” only to spend the next hour eating a snack, cleaning your room, or browsing the web? Why is it so much easier to do those things than what you actually have to do? It’s because there’s a weight on your chest that’s disguised as “laziness” when it’s actually fear or anxiety about something specific.
Addressing the Real Problem
Before setting out to complete a task, probe your mind. The only way to defeat the anxiety is by yanking off its invisibility cloak. Do this by identifying what’s causing anxiety, then say it out loud or write down a list of issues you’re worried about. The next time you’re fidgeting in front of a blank Word document, follow these steps:
- Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and consider the problem at hand.
- Ask yourself what’s really holding you back from completing your task. Fear it’ll turn out poorly? The dread of feeling overwhelmed? Doubt that you’re not capable enough?
- Let yourself feel whatever you’re feeling, then exhale deeply and let it go.
The good news is, you no longer have to stress eat or binge-watch the newest crime drama while your mind wonders what the issue is. The real enemy is finally visible.
Now that you know why you’re procrastinating, you can start working on how to actually stop procrastinating.
How to Stop Procrastinating
Break Down the Task
Craig Valentine, a motivational public speaker, often asks his audience members to get into pairs and change 20 things about their partner’s appearance in two minutes. As you might expect, most people struggle with the task, getting flustered and anxious. Valentine then stops the exercise for a moment and asks the audience members to turn to their partner and just change one thing instead. A tie is twisted around, spectacles are removed, a watch is switched to the other hand. The results are quick. When they’re asked to do this 19 more times, they completed the job in exactly two minutes.
What made it possible? A simple technique followed by Craig Valentine and countless other masters of productivity. They’ve realized that more often than not, our minds can be overwhelmed by the overall size of a task, no matter how competent we actually are at completing it. So break down each of your projects and assignments into bite-sized tasks or chunks that can be completed in just a few minutes. This chunking technique will let you forget about your cluttered list of tasks and instead focus all your attention on something manageable.
Check out the 25-minute “Just Get Started” Deep Work training session from the app’s Make Me Fabulous section if you need some support and structure!
Try Progressive Overload
Once your workload becomes manageable, gradually begin to take on more tasks. Just like lifting gradually heavier weights makes your body stronger, incrementally doing more work strengthens your “focus muscles,” which procrastination can weaken. Because you’re adding things in slowly, you never become overwhelmed. The beauty of progressive overloading is that your ability to tackle a task will always be one step ahead of your fear of failure.
But even as you build up your stamina and appetite for work, remember that one of the most deadly causes of procrastination is the mind’s failure to appreciate the value of time. We can easily work on a task if it’s due tomorrow, but what if the deadline is six months away? The extended timeline reduces the power of fear as motivation, which means we need something else.
Yes, in an ideal world, the work itself is the reward. But then again, in an ideal world you wouldn’t be reading about how to stop procrastinating, would you? Sometimes the work you do won’t be rewarding in and of itself. This is where short-term rewards come in. Compile a list of (manageable) tasks for the day, and then choose a suitable reward. Make it something small but appealing, like an episode of your favorite sitcom. Every time you feel yourself slacking, remember the reward you’ve promised yourself, and you’ll likely feel a sudden burst of motivation!
So now you’re getting comfortable with increasingly bigger tasks, and rewarding yourself for completing them. But remember, the best defense is a good offense, so don’t get complacent just yet!
Cultivate a Productive Environment
Everybody has their good days and bad days. The key is to maximize the benefits of the good days and minimize the damage a bad day can cause. When it comes to dealing with procrastination, the best time to make adjustments to your habits is while you are being productive. Why? Because that’s when you’re most focused and least tempted by distractions.
Start by examining your personal internal productivity clock. Do you work best early in the morning? Or late at night? In short bursts spread throughout the day or one long slog over several hours? Use what you learn to take advantage of your high-motivation moments.
Next, eliminate your productivity traps. You can do this by downloading app usage blockers for your phone, disconnecting your internet connection, or relocating to a different workspace altogether.
Arm yourself with Fabulous’s 240-Minute Productivity Beeper so you can work without interruption or distraction.
Remember: You’re in Control
Procrastination is a problem that plagues the best of us. Maybe you’ve been fighting the procrastination bug your whole life, or maybe you’re just stuck on one overwhelming project. Whatever your situation, the steps outlined above will allow you to turn the tide, and begin reclaiming those wasted minutes.
But don’t focus on winning the battle and forget the war. Procrastination is a habit that requires focus and discipline to conquer. The more you practice, the easier it will become to stop procrastinating when you catch yourself in the act again.
Ready for a challenge? Sign up for Fabulous’s Deep Work Challenge and put your procrastination-busting techniques to the test!