12 Tips to Finally Overcome Procrastination
That half-done assignment, that long-due article, that approaching test, recording that first video, starting that first podcast — How many times have you told yourself you’ll do it later? Procrastination is a problem that plagues most of us to some degree. Almost all of us deal with it and its consequences, which are many. Sometimes we’re able to get the work done, or simply end up letting it go. That leads us to believe procrastination isn’t all that bad, but no. Procrastination is a very damaging habit to be in.
You get behind with your work, or you eventually end up having to cram last minute before the deadline. The time you buy at the cost of putting things up for later or simply “tomorrow”, a lot of it is wasted on guilt trips. “You should be working right now” is what your inner monologue says, veiling the otherwise enjoyable leisure time with a thin layer of guilt and worry.
Procrastination leads us to struggle in doing even the things we find most fulfilling in our life. We keep coming up with long lists of excuses for why we don’t need to do the thing that we actually need to do. Ironically, we always put off the things that are the most important. If I’m not going to finish that course, my floor tiles are going to be cleaned spotless at the very least!
Ways to beat procrastination
Know the enemy — Know what’s stopping you
You want to get started, progress, or complete that work, but you feel an invisible force is keeping you from doing so, this force that doesn’t act when we’re watching hours of TV or playing video games. A force that is actively working against us, holding us back from doing anything creative, productive, or entrepreneurial that we’re consciously aware will level up our skills or life. You never feel any resistance towards sitting down and playing 3 hours of Valorant, but you do when you sit down to start writing that piece of code for your website. This resistance between the life we’re living and the life we’re capable of living builds up within us, paralyzing us and stopping us from starting.
It births from fear, the fear of getting started. The best and the only way to overcome that is to…well, get started.
Procrastinating comes as a result of your body triggering a fight or flight reaction — basically, it’s triggered by fear. If you’re approaching a task you’re dreading, your brain naturally chooses flight, this causes you to procrastinate.
Understand that if you feel scared about doing something, the more you know you should do it. Fear is a part of your work, stepping out of your comfort zone is imperative and inescapable for growth. The more the thought of answering a call scares you, the more urgent and unavoidable you know that call is. The regret of giving in to fear and not starting out while you still have time is not worth the momentary relief of escaping the horror of action. Simply put, it’s not worth procrastinating when you know you’ll have nothing but regrets about it later.
Let the fear guide you, not control you
For many, fear keeps them on track, and gets them started. In that case, the absence of fear makes us keep choosing momentary pleasure over the discomfort of doing things. This is the reason procrastinators frequently put things off until the last minute. Work begins as fear takes control. Sure it seems viable, but this however comes with a price — the anxiety of doing things last minute. You get hysterical when you realize how overwhelming the amount of piled-up work is. The anxiety might fade once you turn your work in (at the very last minute) but it can do greater damage to your physical and psychological health in the longer run.
Use fear as a fuel, a guiding force that propels you towards completing your tasks in time, as an indicator of how important the task is. Don’t let it control you or hold you back from getting started.
Be aware that you’re procrastinating.
Sometimes we’re so preoccupied with the activity we’re procrastinating, that we fail to recognize that we’re putting off what needs to actually be done instead. Don’t fall into the trap of pseudo-productive work. It’s not productive if it wasn’t on your agenda in the first place. Know and admit when you’re procrastinating, only then you can begin to prevent it.
Free yourself from the guilt
Forgive yourself for the procrastination you’ve done in the past. It’s no use beating yourself up over the time that’s lost. Be self-compassionate. This way you’re more likely to avoid procrastination in the present and future.
Reevaluate and redefine your priorities and expectations. Set a new deadline if the first one has passed or proven unworkable.
Set your goals inwards rather than outwards — Let go of your judgments
While setting goals, keep in mind not everything is going to be under your control. Set goals within your limits. Sure, go beyond but don’t go so beyond that you end up not getting started from the fear of not being able to accomplish it.
Inward goal setting is important. Don’t subject your productivity to outwardly factors that are essentially out of your control. Do not base your goals on what others will think of you — that just leads you to set unrealistic goals for yourself that you might not be able to accomplish — or worse, you will, but at the cost of burnout. Be less focused on how other people or the world sees you and more focused on how you see yourself.
Live life by design rather than emotion
Don’t rely on motivation. Motivation is temporary, self-discipline is permanent.
You won't always love what you’re doing, sometimes you just won't have a choice. Being passionate and excited about your work propels you towards almost-effortless dedicated hard work, however, that isn’t always viable. You can’t let emotions influence your productivity most of the time.
You’ll never be able to sustain constant and balanced productivity levels if you frequently go hard on yourself. Mediocre consistency is the key.
Acting on inspiration, being driven by your mood and emotions, and having a lack of commitment and clarity will lead you to procrastinate. Shape your life by making work a priority, and acting against impulse. Focus your goals on your determination and commitment to succeed. Approach every creative and entrepreneurial work with that mindset.
Recognize the Challenge
Mostly, we procrastinate for either of two reasons — the task is either too hard or too boring, not very ambitious for us.
For the former case, break down the job into smaller more actionable subtasks — create micro-tasks, that make it less overwhelming.
For the latter case — Add a few more challenges and tasks to your to-do list to create a sense of urgency and make the task a bit more challenging and interesting. But don’t go overboard with that, it’ll lead to anxiousness and burnout.
Overestimate the task, underestimate your ability
I know this sounds counterintuitive to the popular message, that is to remember you’re capable of more than you can think. But if we were to undermine our skillset and our abilities, by stretching ourselves a bit outside our comfort zones, our brain enters a state of hyperfocus — also called the state of flow, that allows us to complete most seemingly daunting tasks with ease.
Embrace the 5-minute rule
The resistance that leads to procrastination comes from the fear we build up based on how difficult or daunting we believe a task would be. To make the work less daunting, start by putting in just 5 minutes of work. Chances are, you’d want those followed by more until you’ve finished the whole task. This Cognitive Behavioral Technique, also known popularly as the 5-minute rule, greatly helps when you’re feeling unmotivated, or when you’re starting out on building new habits or learning a brand new skill.
“If you don’t want to do something, make a deal with yourself to do at least five minutes of it. After five minutes, you’ll end up doing the whole thing,”
-Kevin Systrom, Co-founder of Instagram
Create distraction-free environments
Disorder calls for distraction. Mess creates stress, breaks your focus, and leads you to procrastinate. Remove potential short-term distractions from the environment.
Digital distractions are an easy path to procrastination. Getting rid of them is essential. This article suggests how you can say goodbye to digital distractions for good.
Use timers like the Pomodoro technique if your focus span isn’t very good. Set a timer for 25 minutes and do only one task during that time. After that, take a 5-minute break, followed by another cycle of the same.
Plan your days in advance — Prioritize what’s important
The night before, write a list of all the tasks you’d like to do tomorrow. To keep it simple, include one to 3 major unavoidable tasks that demand urgent fulfillment or progress in the current day and another set of tasks that are relatively less important. Don’t forget to add the non-negotiable daily activities that are part of your routine.
Don’t multitask. Schedule your priorities. Start by knowing what you HAVE to get done and what you WANT to do. Prioritize the first category of tasks and reward yourself by fulfilling the tasks in the latter category.
Have a to-do list for all your distractions. A list of all the tasks that you want to do to procrastinate on what you actually need to do. Diligently write things down when they come to your attention, and later when you have free time, cater to those tasks.
Overcome resistance, self-doubt, and self-sabotage. Remember, procrastination is a choice. Understanding and accepting that is a very empowering mindset to have. You’re no longer a prisoner to the destructive habits that are sabotaging your life long-term.