The only way to stop procrastinating is to start something.
It’s funny, when I came up with the idea to write about procrastination, my first thought was that I would start writing it tomorrow. I’m not kidding.
While it may be obvious, it’s helpful to remember:
“Tomorrow is often the busiest day of the week.”
I’ve struggled with procrastination my entire adult life. It’s bitten me in college, graduate school, and even during my career. I’ve slowly been taking steps to keep it under control and I can tell you that it only takes a little bit of work to see some progress.
The truth is, we all end up procrastinating more than we would like. You aren’t a bad person and you are not lazy. Procrastination is something you can overcome with some mindfulness and commitment to action.
Why Do We Procrastinate?
Cause: You simply have a need (desire) that your brain is trying to fulfill. Your brain is trying to be kind to you.
Symptom: You realize that you are procrastinating. Your brain does not think that the task you have been putting off for some time will give you what you desire. Being the loyal organ that it is, it tries to focus you on something else that satisfies your needs.
What is Your Brain Trying to Give You by Procrastinating?
A reward. It’s very primitive in this regard. It tries to provide for your desires and isolate you from what you fear. In many cases, this fear can be identified as the fear of failure or even success.
Procrastinating gives you a reward that is linked your desires. But doesn’t the task you are avoiding by procrastinating give you a reward as well? Sure, but the difference is that it is more satisfying to get something right now, rather than to have to wait until later. It is a matter of how imminent the reward is, and when you procrastinate, you skip the task and go straight for the reward.
Procrastinating by browsing the internet, watching television, playing a video game, etc. all give you a reward of entertainment and distraction from the anxiety associated with a tough task that must be done. When you are procrastinating and turn your attention to a time wasting task, your brain thinks you are being productive, even if it is meaningless productivity.
Where to Start to Stop Procrastinating?
Ask yourself this one question.
Why am I putting this task off?
The answer won’t always help. But one response you can give to the resulting answer is this:
“If I procrastinate now, I’ll procrastinate later.”
In the end, you’ll reach a point where the anxiety has built up so much and your time has run out. You get trapped.
“I love deadlines. Especially the whooshing sound they make as they pass by.” – Douglas Adams
6 Ways to Stop Procrastinating Today
You can and will overcome the habit of procrastinating if you take small, actionable steps.
1. Find Calm – Clear the clutter from your desk. Eliminate distractions by turning off your electronic devices. Go to the library.
2. Be Positive – Write down as many reasons why you want to get this item off of your plate. Try to reflect back on the last time you started and finished something. How good did it feel to have that burden lifted off of your shoulders so you could finally relax?
3. Grab a friend – (optional) Bring someone into the situation and start brainstorming with them to get some movement going. This way, you aren’t in it alone and you’ll put your attention towards your friend and consequently, the task.
4. Think Small – Break the task down into small pieces. Be reasonable, you don’t want to over analyze it. Make small commitments of your time. Doing one or even a few of these small things will create momentum. You’ll actually see that this momentum pushes you forward with little effort.
- You aren’t cleaning the entire house. You are just focused on cleaning the kitchen. In the kitchen, you just commit to cleaning up the trash, and then the dishes, and so on.
- You don’t want to think about writing ten pages. Draft a title, then an outline. Write one paragraph, the easiest one.
5. Provide Reward – Your brain needs to anticipate a reward to realize that you are doing the right thing and realize it’s going to get a dopamine boost. The key here is when you provide the reward. Most of you will want to give yourselves a reward when you finish, don’t. You’ll end up training your brain to realize that it has a long way to go to get the reward. Reward yourself when you start. That’s the hurdle you face every time, this is where procrastinating kicks in.
6. Intervals – If you reward yourself at the start of each task, and these tasks are small enough, you’ll get a constant reward. You’ll also see that you are making progress and your anxiety will temper down.
Time Based vs. Task Based Intervals
Pomodoro – Commit to starting and working for 25 minutes on one task. Once these 25 minutes are up, give yourself 5 minutes to do anything you wish, even if you end up doing something similar to when you were procrastinating. Then commit to another 25 minutes of focused work.
Stop by Starting Today!
Once you start, you’ll find that the urge to stop (and start procrastinating) is less of an issue than the original urge to delay starting.
The key to overcoming procrastination is to realize that it is about starting, not finishing. Don’t look too far ahead. Just start somewhere, anywhere.