“This task is so big and complicated, I’m not in the mood to do this now, and anyway, the deadline is still far away, I will do it tomorrow.” We all have this kind of thoughts from time to time. Procrastination is in human nature. We want to have pleasure right now and avoid any kind of pain that can come from doing some tasks.
We will procrastinate when the task is unpleasant or boring or just because delaying is an option. Some people even live for the last-minute rush and then work like crazy before the deadline, they enjoy the flood of adrenaline and they get things done. For some, it might work, but I guess that for most of us not.
Why do we keep procrastinating?
There are a lot of different reasons why we keep procrastinating. We can be aware of them, but sometimes they can also be unconscious and automatic. We act on our impulses and even don’t notice it. Procrastinating can be our habit.
Sometimes we have the fear of failure. What if I’m not good enough to do it? What if I will fail? Better not to start now, I will research more, I will read more, I will prepare, I will clean the desk, I will do whatever to seem busy and not do what I actually need to. Does it feel familiar?
Sometimes we just want to do it perfectly. What if the result will not be as good as I want to? What if my colleague or competitor does a better job? What if the outcome will not be the best in the world? I better not start yet, then it at least still has the potential to be perfect when I start working on it in the future. Have you been there?
Sometimes we are just “too busy”. I have to answer this email that doesn’t need a reply at all. I have to clean my desktop and wash the windows. I have to rearrange the books on the shelf. I have to look for inspiration from social media. I just have to finish this book. There is too much to do, I just don’t have time right now to do the most important task. Have you been like this?
Become aware and be a bit better
I’m guilty in all of the examples above. Even researching for this blog post I found myself suddenly doing some other things instead. Becoming aware of your behaviors and putting your mind on the reasons why you delay the tasks, is an interesting feeling. If you start thinking rationally and leave the impulses and emotions out, you see that there is actually no reason to postpone doing the task at hand.
I started to look for ways to incorporate our be a bit better and think tiny mentalities to fight procrastination. I’m aware that we can’t stop procrastinating totally and we even don’t need to, but still, we should have more control over ourselves and be a bit better. So what could we do?
What is distracting you?
If you find yourself switching tasks all the time or looking for substitution activities then you could look around in your environment. Are there distractions that trigger you? Is your workplace in a mess? Are your phone and computer notifications on? Are there other projects visible and catching your attention? What are the things that you find yourself doing instead of the tasks that you need to do? Can you get rid of the prompts that make you do them? Can you make it harder to do other things and easier to do the needed tasks? What are the tiny things you could change?
Prepare your workplace so you can focus and remove everything that you can that is distracting you. This can also mean other people. Are they distracting you? Calling you? Writing you? Breathing to your neck? Talk to them and let them know that you need one hour of quiet time. Let your friends and family know that you will not be answering them before lunch. Set some borders.
Become more fit in every way
What else can cause us to procrastinate? For example, physical fatigue, lack of sleep or exercise, unhealthy diet etc. If you are not physically and mentally fit, it is very easy to postpone tasks. So maybe the way to start fighting with procrastination is through your eating and sleeping habits? What could you do to be more fit in every way? Drink more water? Stretch during brakes? Have a healthy breakfast? What one tiny action could you add to your day to become more fit?
I recently heard about the HALT method. The letters mean hunger, anger, loneliness, and tiredness. It is said that when you have any of these, it is not a good time to make decisions. They will affect you and you are not able to be rational. They will also influence your decisions about delaying the tasks.
So if you are hungry, angry, lonely, or tired, it means that you are more likely to procrastinate. When you start working on important tasks, make sure you don’t have any of those feelings. Have a good night’s sleep, eat a good breakfast, try to avoid any situations that make you angry or lonely.
Learn to say “no”
The tasks that we are postponing, are usually things we don’t enjoy doing or we don’t see big value in them, things that are boring or too difficult. So one way could be also to take some steps back and figure out why you have this kind of task at all. Is it possible to avoid them somehow? Can you delegate them? Can you say “no” to them? Don’t agree with tasks immediately. Take some time to think and figure out if you really need to take this responsibility. Learn to say “no”.
As a freelancer myself, I get a lot of different job and project offers and I have tended to say “yes” to almost everything. How could you turn down the possibility to earn more money? Now I have realized that saying “no” can sometimes actually benefit a lot. If the task will be too demanding or boring, you are not fitting with the people you have to work with and you know that you end up procrastinating on it a lot and feeling bad about it, it’s just not worth it.
Find value in the tasks
If it is not possible to say no and you still have to do the tasks that you don’t like, try to find some value in them. Try to make them more enjoyable and find aspects of every task that you can care about. Change your perspective and create your own reasons for doing this task. Maybe it is a good experience for you, maybe you learn something new, maybe you grow your willpower muscle, maybe you can share the task with somebody, maybe you can find a new and fun way to do it. Be creative.
There is never a perfect time
I’m sure you have sometimes said that you are not in the mood of doing something. Instead of waiting for your mood to spark you into action, act first in order to spark your mood. There is never a perfect time for doing something. Just start! Yes, the first steps can be the hardest, but when you make them tiny enough they are no challenge for you. Start going and your mood will follow.
Create a relationship with the future you
Become aware of the consequences of not doing the task now. Think about the future you. Think about how good you will feel if this task is done on time and how bad you will feel if you have to work on it the whole night before the deadline. The future you will be very thankful for your good decisions.
Really, try to create a relationship with your future self. Make some nice things for him/her. Do it now so that she/he doesn’t have to do it. And when you arrive in the future and you feel grateful that this task got done at a reasonable time, really appreciate your past self and say something good about him/her. This will make you want to do more nice things for your future self.
Go to the toilet before
When doing your important tasks, be focused. Select one task that you will be working on and focus on the small steps you have to take. Don’t multitask and don’t react to distractions. Make preparations so your focus will stay on the task. Go to the toilet before, prepare water or coffee or tea so that you don’t have to go get it during the task, turn off notifications, tell your coworkers not to disturb you.
Set the end time
Decide on the time for how long you will work on the task. Set a concrete start and end time. Not the whole day or from morning to evening, but for example from 9.00 to 12.00. Knowing the end time will help you to focus more and will take off the feeling that you have to work on it endlessly.
It is very difficult to find the possibility or ability to focus the whole time from 9 to 12. The time is also too long for continuous working. You can break this time for smaller blocks. For example, I like to work in 50 minutes time blocks. This is the time when I will totally focus on the task and try to keep everything else away. Then a 10 minutes break when I move, stretch, go to the toilet, fill my water glass etc. And then the next block.
It doesn’t mean that you have to do it like this the whole day. I’m also not doing it, but having two or three blocks like this in your day will make a big difference. Your productivity will be better and your procrastination will decrease.
Make your life easier and use helpful apps for this. For example, for setting the 50 and 10 minutes timer, I’m using Focus To-Do that you can use on the computer and on the phone. Another good app for keeping track of your time and tasks is Toggl.com. Start the time tracker when you start doing your tasks and after some time you have a great overview of where your time is actually going. It takes time to remember to use these apps, but they can be really helpful.
Connect pleasures with unpleasurable tasks
Have you heard about temptation bundling? It is the idea of combining two activities – one you should be doing, but procrastinate on, and one you enjoy doing, but that isn’t the most productive use of your time. Think if there is some unpleasurable activity that you really need to do and a pleasurable activity that you could combine and do at the same time? The most common example here is related to exercising. Do you enjoy listening to podcasts or ebooks? Maybe you can connect it with walking? Do you enjoy watching a series? Maybe you can do a workout while watching it? What else you could connect?
Have some helpful questions ready
Be prepared for the time when you feel like procrastinating. Ask yourself some questions that could help. What one thing can I do to get started? What will go wrong if I don’t do it now? What are my three biggest priorities today? How can I make it easier? Who can help me? How will my future self feel when I don’t do it now?
Start experimenting and be a bit better
Of course, you already know the usual time management and productivity tips like scheduling your days and planning your weeks, choosing your priorities, and so on. For sure they are also helpful against procrastinating. There is no one magic method or secret that will help you to get rid of procrastination. There are a lot of tiny things that you can try to do and combining them you can really make a big difference. The key here is also not to procrastinate but to start immediately.
I listed a lot of different ideas here in the blog post and for sure I’m not telling you to use all of them, at least not at once. Choose some of the concepts and try them out. Find those ones, that fit you. Not for somebody else, but you! And remember to make them tiny and very specific. It’s hard for me to give you the exact behaviors that you could do since all of us are very different and our lives are not the same. So use this information as inspiration and try to be only a bit better. You will not stop procrastinating totally, but even if you will be able to at least postpone it sometimes, it is a big win.
Inspiration for Tiny Habit recipes:
- After closing my laptop, I will clean three things from the desk.
- After I stand up from the desk, I will stretch myself.
- After somebody wants to give me a new obligation, I will say that I will think about it and let them know later.
- After I write an unpleasant task on the to-do list, I will think about why it is important to do it
- After I postpone a task, I will think about how my future self will feel about it.
- After opening the laptop, I will fill my glass of water
- After deciding on the task I will do, I will start Toggl time tracking.
- After I feel the urge to postpone a task, I will ask myself: ”How can I make it easier to do?”
Learn more about Tiny Habits here: https://habitsmastery.com/tiny-habits-course/