10-Step Guide to Stop The Bad Habit of Procrastination

Originally published at growthzer.com.

Procrastination is a plague upon contemporary life. For some, it is no worse than the common cold, but there are many whose dreams are crippled by the disease, filled with regret, embarrassment, and discouragement. In this guide, I will show you the right treatment so that you can not only cure yourself but also build up your immune system to help prevent future outbreaks.

1. Understanding the reasons behind procrastination

Firstly, let’s start with the reasons why do we procrastinate. It’s a weird phenomenon. We desire to accomplish something of true importance, yet we suffer a crushing defeat caused by trivial urges. We fall asleep promising ourselves that tomorrow will be different, and more importantly, more successful.

And then, nothing changes, we admit defeat once again and the vicious circle starts anew. Does this sound familiar? I’m sure it does, otherwise you wouldn’t bother to read this. And if you already managed to read so far, it’s a good sign — I bet many procrastinators saved it “for later”.

Let’s get to the first cause of procrastination:

2. Setting action plans instead of deadlines

We all love setting lofty deadlines: Lose 20 pounds in 3 months. Write a book until the end of the year. Learn communicative Spanish in 6 months. The expected final outcome seems great and appealing so we fall into the trap of setting deadlines instead of planning our actions.

It’s easier to just say you will work hard to meet your goal until X, instead of really analyzing what it takes to do this. Based on my personal experience as well as the experience of people I learned from, I came to the conclusion that you shouldn’t set deadlines to meet them.

The final deadline represents nothing but the expectation and desire deep within yourself. But it’s far from taking you to the point you want to be at. For instance, let’s say you want to write a novel. Fulfilling your childhood dream seems so important that you finally promise yourself to accomplish it until the end of the year.

So you immediately start typing, feeling motivated for the first few days. After some time, you write irregularly, putting less and less effort into your work. Distractions beat you easily and new excuses pop up quickly, one after another. You already see the failure on the horizon. Sooner or later, you fail miserably.

The reason behind it is that you simply relayed on motivation, ignoring the fact that bad days happen and the consistency is a key.

In order to ensure you meet your goal, you have to ask yourself what is required so you can finish the book. Ignore the deadline completely at the beginning stage.

I would start with creating the outline of the topics I want to cover. Then I would prepare a writing schedule, so I know exactly when to work. Without commitment, there’s no chance to achieve the goal. Personally, I would commit to writing daily for 60 minutes (here is why I prefer daily writing).

So once you prepared the right strategy, it’s time to take care of other aspects, so you actually stick to your plan:

3. Taking care of your essentials

When you build a durable house you put it on the right foundation, so you don’t have to worry that it collapses unexpectedly. A similar rule applies to beating procrastination. If you want to take control over your bad habit, you have to first take control of your essentials.

There are 4 habits I recommend you to practice daily. They serve me as a solid foundation for any complex goal:

Seeing the things in a positive way: for me, the glass is always half full. There are enough obstacles out of my control, so I don’t need to compound the situation by letting my mind work against me.

Eating well: healthy food makes you feel well, energized and motivated. If you eat crap, you feel like a crap.

Sleeping enough: if you don’t load your batteries, don’t expect to perform at the highest level.

Exercising: we became stationary, spending our time in front of computers and behind the desks. If you don’t stimulate your body and make it do things it was meant to, then your performance decreases and so does your ability to achieve big goals.

The whole list of my daily essentials can be found here, the aforementioned four is a must, no matter what.

4. Eliminating the garbage

Often, the main cause of procrastination is the paralyzing overabundance of tasks to do. The more goals you set, the harder it is to start. You don’t know where to begin and what to focus on. The overwhelming amount of things to accomplish creates the compelling urge to put them off until someday.

Solution?

Eliminate ruthlessly. Clear your to-do list. Get rid of the garbage so you can focus on the one thing. In order to beat procrastination, you have to make it childishly easy to start. If making the first step overwhelms you, you will never get any far.

The rule promoted by Gary Keller in his book “The One Thing” is as follows: start your work by asking yourself a simple question:

“What is the one thing you can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”
Gary Keller

By doing this, you make sure to jettison the ballast that impedes focus. Procrastination is already a problem itself, so why would you complicate your life by trying to stop procrastinating on multiple things. Choose one and give it your full attention. There still will be plenty of time to work on your other goals.

What’s more, the satisfaction after achieving your first goal will be a driving force to work on the next one.

5. Comfort matters

As we already determined above, procrastination itself is a problem big enough, so there is no place for additional obstacles.

If you feel tired, depressed or stressed then you are definitely not in the best situation to push yourself harder.

You should feel comfortable with yourself and your life. I don’t mean you should settle for mediocrity. Not at all. But if there are too many things you have to worry about, then the first thing should be solving these problems.

Your head full of straits will hinder concentration and distract you whenever you try to work toward your goal.

It’s a lot harder to control yourself if your life is full of stress, unsolved problems, sleepless nights and financial struggles. I know, many of these things aren’t that easy to solve. Then again, if you don’t take care of them, they will keep giving you a lot of headache. In consequence, you run away to procrastination way to easily.

However, you should also get used to getting out of your comfort zone. This might sound a little confusing now, so let me clarify. There is a huge difference between feeling comfortable in your own life so you can function normally and feeling uncomfortable because you push yourself to your limits, in order to make your life even better.

You won’t get on the route leading to superior results until you get out of your comfort zone.

6. Intentionally leaving the comfort zone

Let’s talk about the main source of rationalization and excuses: your comfort zone. It’s what stops you from working harder and fulfilling your dreams. That’s why you have to leave this. But the truth is, you have to feel comfortable to embrace discomfort. It sounds crazy, but it’s true.

Let me repeat: In order to leave the comfort zone, you have to feel comfortable, otherwise you will be too afraid of the leap in the dark.

Back to the example of writing daily no matter what, so that you meet your goal of finishing your book. It’s going to be uncomfortable. The beginning might be amazing, but then you hit plateau, lack motivation, feel tired and uninspired.

What’s worse, you want to procrastinate because it feels uncomfortable to work when you don’t feel like it. If you start procrastinating at the hard moments, then you are almost sure to fail. That’s why you have to be prepared for discomfort, and the only way prepare is to get as comfortable in other areas of life as possible.

One of the ways to do this is to schedule the time when you can procrastinate:

7. Allowing time for procrastination




Most of us tend to choose short-term pleasure over long-term reward. As a result, you choose to play a video game instead of learning new language. You know the latter opens up new horizons, but it takes time and you won’t see much results right at the beginning.

The reward comes once you put enough effort into it. Whereas playing a video game gives you instant pleasure.

What if you could combine both?

At the beginning, it’s almost impossible to eliminate the desire for a quick satisfaction. But it’s possible to control when you are allowed to reward yourself quickly and when you focus on work and forget the pleasure.

Personally, I work on long-term goals from Monday to Friday, and spend weekends having fun and relaxing myself, without any regret. So Saturday and Sunday are days when I loosen my grip, so I can reload the batteries and start the next week refreshed.

By controlling the days when you have fun and when you work, you also get control over the urge to procrastinate. Because let’s face it, we all feel this urge. What differentiates successful people from the rest is the fact that they control when they procrastinate, so as a result, the procrastination does not control them.

Let’s wrap what I covered so far:

you already know about the reasons behind procrastination and the importance of setting action plans. You also learned why you should take care of your essentials as well as eliminate the unnecessary garbage.

We also talked about the difference between comfort in your life and intentional discomfort. Then we discussed the short-term pleasure and long-term reward.

Now let’s move to a few principles that are incredibly helpful to make sure you beat procrastination and not the other way around.

8. 20 Seconds rule

Often, starting is the hardest part. It’s when you tend to rationalize and come up with excuses to put things off. But then, once we begin doing that very thing, it seems easier than we thought. So how can you make sure you don’t get stuck at the moment you want to start?

“Sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage and I promise you something great will come from it.”
We Bought A Zoo

The way this rule work is to trick your mind that all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage to do something. For example:

  • You need 20 seconds of insane courage to put your running shoes of and go running.
  • You need 20 seconds of insane courage to open your writing software and start typing.
  • You need 20 seconds of insane courage to take a book and start learning.

And so on. The rule is straight-forward, yet really powerful. You don’t need any more time to start. Don’t overthink and try to come up with all the reasons of why you can or can’t. Simply start.

Now let’s move to the next principle:

9. Time blocking

As humans, we can’t work on something for a few hours straight without taking any break. Or at least, we can’t work effectively that way. This is where time-blocking comes in handy.

This technique increases the efficiency of your work. Say you choose to work for 45 minutes interrupted by a 5-minute break. You commit to 3 sessions of 45/5. After that, you can have a longer break. During 45 minutes of work, you focus on your one thing and ignore anything else.

The urge to switch to another task might pop up, but don’t think about it. Just let it go and work on your thing. Once it’s time to have a break, you can then decide to work on different stuff during the next session.

When you do your work on the computer, then I recommend you checking out the single tab rule, which helps you eliminate all the additional distractions.

10. Proper workplace

Imagine entering a messy room with furnitures cluttered with plenty of stuff. Books, DVDs and memorabilia. Dirty windows, dusty desk and clothes scruffily laying on a chair. You literally feel overwhelmed by the abundance and chaos.

So what to do?

Declutter. Clear your room. Before getting to any work, make sure your workplace is tidy. Remove all the potential distractions which could fight for your attention. Also, if you work on the computer, keep your desktop clear, remove notifications and even block distracting some sites if necessary.

The rule is simple, any potential handicap should be removed. If it’s your phone that interrupts you constantly, turn it off. If there’s too much stuff in your room so you get distracted, clean it. I know some of this might sound obvious, but there are a lot of people who neglect the importance of a neat workplace.

In today’s world, everything fights for your attention and it’s your responsibility to decide what you focus on.

My ultimate guide to help you beat procrastination is over. I’d like to thank you for spending your time to read this. I hope the information included is useful and you will turn the theory into practice.

Also, I’d be really glad if you could share it with your friends, I’m sure there are some people you know that suffer from procrastination.

“My biggest regret could be summed up in one word, and that’s procrastination.”
Ron Cooper

I’m Oskar and I write on Growthzer, where I help people create a better life. Recently, I published a book: “In Control: 5 Weeks To Stronger Self-Discipline”, which you can get for free.