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When it comes to productivity and reaching goals, procrastination can be one of the biggest problems we face.
In this article you will learn how you can finally overcome procrastination to boost your productivity and reach your goals.
Before we delve into how to stop procrastinating, let’s go over some of the basics of what procrastination is to really understand what we’re dealing with.
What Is Procrastination?
There are a lot of misconceptions about what procrastination is. Let’s go over what procrastination is not.
What procrastination is not:
- A character flaw
- Lack of ambition
- Rest or relaxation
What procrastination is:
- Normal, happens to everyone
- A habit
- A feedback loop
- More of an emotional issue
Although we are not born procrastinators, procrastination is a natural occurrence that happens to everyone.
Procrastination is a habit that we develop over time and it’s a feedback loop that gets strengthened and reinforced every time we procrastinate.
Because procrastination is a habit rather than a part of our identity, it gives us power to change the habit and stop the cycle to overcome procrastination.
Procrastination is also more of an emotional issue than a time management issue.
Why Do We Procrastinate?
We procrastinate to avoid doing tasks that feel unpleasant.
When we start a task that feels unpleasant, the pain part of your brain lights up. Yes, you literally feel pain! So because your brain is naturally wired to avoid pain, you will want to avoid doing that task.
There are also triggers that make us more likely to procrastinate.
Triggers that cause us to procrastinate can include:
- Low self-esteem and not believing in ourselves
- Decision paralysis and information overload
- Being overwhelmed by the task or workload
- Energy levels
- Our brain tricking ourselves with excuses
Our brains often like to trick us into procrastinating.
They will trick us into thinking
- The task is a lot harder than it actually is
- The task is not that important
- We have a legitimate reason to put the task off
Now that we understand how procrastination works on the basic level, let’s dive into ways to overcome procrastination.
Depending on your level of procrastinating, because it is a habit, don’t expect to stop procrastinating overnight or instantaneously.
So how to overcome procrastination?
Develop Awareness of Your Procrastination
One of the biggest steps in overcoming procrastination is simply developing awareness of it. It’s the very first step.
Start to develop awareness of:
- When you procrastinate
- Why you procrastinate
- What you do to procrastinate
- What you tell yourself when you procrastinate (the justification and excuses you make to yourself)
Start practicing awareness throughout your days and mentally notice and take note of when you procrastinate.
You don’t have to fight it when you’re just practicing awareness, but sometimes just being consciously aware of when you procrastinate is enough to make you stop procrastinating or not give into it in the first place.
It’s important to realize why exactly we procrastinate and what we are procrastinating.
There can be a lot of different reasons for procrastinating.
We procrastinate because of how we feel emotionally.
Sometimes this can mean we don’t like or want to do the task. We may find it boring, stressful, or lacking in meaningfulness.
Other times this can mean the task is very important and large to us so it feels overwhelming and we get caught up in procrastinating. (This is my main reason for procrastinating.)
We may feel incapable of succeeding in the task. This can be from a lack of self-esteem or a lack of skills that doesn’t match the challenge of the task.
We might find that procrastination is a symptom of not being happy emotionally or we just don’t have energy.
Realizing how and why you procrastinate and your triggers can help you develop a plan and systems tailored to you.
When we can figure out why exactly we are procrastinating, it’s easier to find specific solutions and strategies that will work.
Whatever it is, let’s look at strategies to help you overcome procrastination.
Choose What To Work On
If you can, do more of what you actually enjoy doing.
Consider outsourcing or delegating tasks that you don’t enjoy as much.
Granted this isn’t always feasible. However, it’s important to take into account how you feel when you procrastinate.
If you absolutely hate and dread the work you’re doing, consider changing up your roles.
If what you are doing is not making you happy and causing you pain and suffering, this is always an option.
There’s always a way and it’s never too late to change it up and start doing work you enjoy at least a little bit.
This isn’t simply “follow your passion” advice, but advice to try not to do work you hate that is making you miserable.
Identify the type of work and tasks you are most interested in and enjoy doing most and if you can, focus more on that.
Believe in Yourself
Remember that procrastination and other bad habits are not character flaws. They’re not ingrained in our personality. We aren’t born procrastinators.
Procrastination is a habit. This means that it’s something we can change. And a big part of changing a habit or any kind of behavior to reach any goal is believing in ourselves. Believing that we can.
Break narratives and limiting beliefs about yourself in regards to procrastination and productivity.
We might say or believe things like:
“I’m not a productive person.”
“I’m not very disciplined.”
“I can’t do this.”
“I’m a procrastinator. That’s just who I am.”
Start seeing yourself as someone who is (or can be) productive. Think about all the times you were productive and didn’t procrastinate. Tap into that identity and try to replicate what you did and how you felt.
A big strengthener of our habits is our beliefs. We reinforce our habits with our beliefs about ourselves even if these beliefs don’t serve us and aren’t true.
When we let go of limiting narratives and scripts about ourselves, it makes it easier to let go of bad habits and create new habits that reinforce a new identity we want to step into.
When we believe we’re a certain kind of person, our habits and actions will follow along and reinforce the identity we adopt.
To overcome procrastination, it’s essential to believe that you can.
Relying on solely willpower is not likely to get you very far for very long. The key is to create systems that will prevent you from procrastinating in the first place or make it less likely for you to procrastinate.
To many people limiting distractions means turning your phone on Do Not Disturb mode, Airplane mode, turning it off completely or putting it away in another room or in a drawer away from sight.
For a more in-depth guide on how to limit technological distractions check out the article Take Control of Your Technology: How to Avoid Phone and Social Media Addiction.
Change Your Environment
Sometimes changing up your place of work can do wonders for your productivity. This can mean working outside or at a coffee shop.
When it comes to your regular work environment, it’s important to set yourself up for success. This means making sure your space is clean, decluttered, and organized.
You’re more likely to be motivated and clear headed in an organized environment and more likely to feel overwhelmed, stressed, and discouraged in a messy and cluttered space.
Sometimes what makes us procrastinate is a lack of clarity on what we need to do. We feel overwhelmed about a task and don’t know exactly where to start.
If you have a big goal or project you want to work on, break it down into actionable steps.
Focus on the very next or very first action you need to take. The steps should be actionable and clear.
If you don’t know, commit to figuring it out. A lot of the times we procrastinate because we let ourselves get stuck in confusion and “I don’t know.”
Make the first step to figure out what you need to do. Write out, “research it” or “ask someone”. Do whatever you have to do to find out the first or next step.
Don’t let not knowing how or what stop you from taking action on your goals.
Simplify and Start Small
Starting small can reduce the overwhelm we may feel in starting a task. If we just focus on reducing the time we will take on a task, it will make it seem less daunting and easier to start.
Complexity can be a major trigger for procrastination so simplifying your tasks can help you overcome procrastination with big tasks.
Break down your task into smaller actionable steps. Break it down as much as you can.
Focus on Just Starting
We often procrastinate because of how we perceive our task to be. Once we get started though it’s not always as bad as we thought it was going to be.
Earlier I noted how the pain area in your brain lights up when you start an unpleasant task. Well, shortly after starting a task, the pain signals disappear!
Starting a task is more painful than continuing a task.
Remember that our brains like to trick us into thinking it’s going to be worse than it actually is.
The main goal in overcoming procrastination is getting into the habit of just starting.
If you just focus on getting started, you’re more likely to continue.
Just starting also helps with perfectionism. When you just jump in, you naturally get better over time from practicing your task.
Increase Urgency and Importance
We can increase urgency through setting deadlines for ourselves and taking them seriously.
If there are already deadlines set, we can self impose stricter deadlines to kick us into action rather than waiting until the actual last minute.
Set reminders or put the deadline on your calendar to keep it in front of you.
Increasing importance can be done through developing a strong Why.
We can also think about what would happen if we don’t get the task done or we have to get it done at the last minute because of procrastinating on it.
Increasing importance will increase our motivation to get us started.
Manage Your Energy
Schedule your tasks based on your energy levels.
For most people that’s first thing in the morning. For others that’s after an afternoon nap. And for some that’s late at night.
Eat that frog. Meaning work on your biggest, most important task first thing. The tasks that take the most energy. Leave low energy tasks that don’t require much thinking or concentration for later in the day or when you’re at your lowest energy.
Leaving important and more difficult tasks for later increases decision fatigue and makes it more likely that you’ll procrastinate or put them off.
You can also influence your energy levels by making sure you’re taking care of the most important basics.
Getting enough sleep is an essential part of being productive. You’re more likely to procrastinate when you’re tired so make sure you’re getting enough proper sleep.
Set up your sleep environment and routine to sleep well every night and get the most out of your sleep. This means comfort, room darkness, low room temperature during sleep, having an evening routine with an electronics curfew and prioritizing sleep.
Exercise can be a great tool to increase energy levels. It also helps improve discipline for increased productivity. Just make sure you’re not overdoing it to the point of exhaustion.
Make sure you’re always staying hydrated. Plan ahead and keep water near you to make this easier. Hunger can trigger procrastination so make sure you’re eating well and regularly and giving yourself proper nutrients.
No one talks about this, but one of the biggest killers of productivity is toxic people and relationships.
Being in a toxic and draining relationship set my productivity back immensely. I had no motivation and felt anxious and depressed all the time. It really killed my self-esteem.
Do what you can to have a healthy social life, surround yourself with supportive people, and avoid toxic relationships at all costs.
Make The Task More Enjoyable
Brainstorm ways you can make the tasks you procrastinate on more enjoyable.
This can mean listening to relaxing or upbeat music, having a nice snack or drink, working with a partner or group, or using better tools such as a smooth pen.
Celebrate Small Wins
Every time you start a task, do a little celebration. Whether that means a little phrase or a dance or a smile,
This helps keep you motivated and reinforces your self-concept of someone who gets started.
It also helps wire the habit of starting instead of procrastinating. In the book Tiny Habits, habit researcher BJ Fogg states that you don’t need a fancy reward to ingrain a habit such as starting a task.
All you need is to just do a quick little instant celebration that makes you feel good.
Procrastinate on Purpose
When you do find yourself procrastinating and you can’t seem to stop at the moment, the best thing you can do is to be at least purposeful with your procrastination.
If you’re going to procrastinate, you might as well do something productive and useful while you procrastinate. This can include watching educational videos about a skill you want to learn, reading a book, going for a walk, or playing with your pet.
These options are a lot better than mindlessly scrolling through Instagram or Facebook or binge watching Netflix.
Keep in mind that the more you work to overcome procrastination, the easier it gets.
If something doesn’t work, try something else or try tweaking it to make it work for you. Fine tune and experiment. Make notes and keep records of your progress to see what works and what doesn’t.
Maintain momentum and consistency to develop habits. Focus on progress and consistency over always perfect high productivity.
If you fall back into old habits and patterns of procrastination, try not to let yourself self-sabotage.
It’s important to bounce back quickly when you fall even if it’s at a lower intensity. Not everything is going to go according to plan. Life happens. Anticipate and plan for moments of low productivity and triggers for procrastination.
And finally, don’t beat yourself up! Beating yourself up can lead to feelings of guilt, shame, and incompetence which can trigger even more procrastination. Feelings of self-loathing and distress will only make it worse.
It’s important to have acceptance for yourself and your procrastination. Having acceptance doesn’t mean you’re satisfied. It just means you accept reality and that you still believe in yourself anyways.
Use procrastination to understand yourself and how you feel. Work with it and you will find that you can overcome procrastination with time.