Procrastination is delaying tasks you need to do. No matter how important the task could be, our brain simply finds ways to avoid what we need to be doing. Instead of writing a report, cleaning dishes, responding to an e-mail or doing exercises, we resort to Netflix, Instagram or playing video games. Hell, even folding clothes becomes a fun activity when you have to make a dreadful phone call to your boss. We all procrastinate, all of us can be lazy at times. But you want to stop procrastinating. Maybe you even found this article while you were procrastinating. In that case, reading this article will be the best 5 minutes of procrastination of your life.
“Procrastination has taught me how to do 30 minutes of work in 8 hours and 8 hours of work in 30 minutes.”
@justsayraywrld on Twitter
The Danger of Procrastination
Procrastination is the antagonist of productivity. If you procrastinate too much, you will likely become stressed out, especially when other people are waiting for you to take action. The task you need to do will stay, but now you have less time to actually do it. Long streaks of procrastination also leads to stagnation. Your inaction results into not making any progress. And not making progress, eventually turns into deterioration. If you postpone exercising, your physical shape will worsen. If you delay sending emails, your relationship with your boss or clients will deteriorate. Fool away time and in time you become the fool.
Why Do We Procrastinate?
We procrastinate because the task seems strenuous and unpleasant. We automatically associate tasks with effort, thus a need for energy, focus and dedication. Thinking of all the effort it will take, we already anticipate the suffering and boredom the task will cause us. But in most cases, the act of procrastination drains more energy than the task itself.
Procrastination comes from a disparity between our Present Self and Future Self. The Future Self wants to be in shape, but the Present Self wants to eat fudgy chocolate brownies. The Future Self wants to be a successful entrepreneur, but the Present Self does not want to reach out to clients.
Whenever we procrastinate, we convince ourselves that now is not the best time to do something. It would be better to do it tomorrow or that we deserved a break.
Instead of putting in the effort for a long-term result, we resort to short-term gratification. This is because our brain tends to value immediate rewards higher than future rewards. But we need to realize: the present is where the future is made.
The Downward Spiral of Instant Gratification
Giving in to short-term gratification is dangerous. Playing video games whenever you need to do something important, might make you forget about the task and feel a little better. But this effect is only temporary. After playing your game, you will a hit a new low, because the task you need to do is still there. Plus a quick look at the clock reveals that you have even less time to finish it today.
Now in this moment of distress you can do two things: do the thing you need to do, or pick another distraction that makes you feel better. If you decide to fight your low with another distraction, you fall into the downward spiral of short-term gratification. You are conditioning your mind to crave short-term gratifications. This will give you short bumps of happiness, but unhappiness in the long-term. It is very easy to see the similarities with a drug addiction.
We need to break the cycle of short-term gratifications. And sorry to break it to you, but you can only break the cycle by taking action. The only way out is to start working on the stuff you need to do.
Two ways to help you break the cycle:
- Make the task easier to start.
- Make it less attractive to do other stuff.
Make the task easier to start
- Write down the tasks you need to do.
- Break big tasks into smaller tasks.
- Prioritize the tasks in order of importance.
- Pick an important task that seems the most doable/fun.
Make it less attractive to do other stuff
- Put your phone away (in a drawer or another room) or put it on Airplane Mode
- Disable WiFi on your laptop/tablet if you don’t really need it
- Work with pen and paper instead of a screen
- Work in silence or put on headphones
- Tell people around you to not disturb you
- Give your controller, tv remote, network cable to your parents or a friend and instruct them to give it back once you finish your task
- Time blocking → Create periods of uninterrupted work time. Commit to not looking at your phone, reading emails or doing any kind of leisure for these periods of time.
- Set email notifications to only twice a day
Get into a state of flow
The most difficult part of a task you don’t want to do, is always the beginning. Ten minutes in, and you already forewent most of your worries and working on the task becomes natural. You become immersed in your task and hit a state of flow. It is as if you awakened the ninja inside you and there’s nothing else in the world, except you and the task. The hype you are feeling even makes you want to pick up more unfinished tasks, and before you know it, you can cross off multiple items of your list. The best thing? It’s not even about being productive anymore, you are actually enjoying it!
Do you find it hard to start writing in a blank document? You have this great idea, but where do you start? How do you turn the idea in your head into tangible words?
Writing your first words on an empty page can be intimidating. But there is actually a great tool that can help you conquer your fear of the blank page. Otter, a speech recognition tool, removes most obstacles and saves time taking notes. You can just speak out loud and the characters magically appear on screen!
by James Clear
An excellent guide on how to stop procrastinating. It mentions interesting methods, such as the 2-minute rule and using visual cues that prompt you to take action.
by Time Urban
In this hilarious and insightful TED talk, Tim Urban takes us on a journey through YouTube binges, Wikipedia rabbit holes and bouts of staring out the window — and encourages us to think harder about what we’re really procrastinating on, before we run out of time.