A short and definitive guide to crushing procrastination
Procrastination is voluntarily delaying something knowing that the delay would have negative consequences in future. A lot of the ways proposed to beat procrastination, such as telling yourself that you'll work only for 10 minutes or giving yourself rewards, are just hacks. They involve deceiving yourself by saying something that you don't believe and hence don't stick to.
The only way to crush procrastination is to roll up your sleeves and get down to work even when you don't feel like doing it. Easier said than done, I know.
First let us understand about procrastination better and then start working. Our goal is not to read lots and lots of theories but to get down to work. So what follows is a summary of what is important for you to understand to be in a better position to beat procrastination.
Why do we procrastinate?
Procrastination is not a time management problem as was widely believed in the past. It's an emotion regulation problem. When we face a task we don't want to do we feel an assortment of negative emotions—we may feel bored, resentful, frustrated, anxious or guilty. We put off the task to avoid these negative emotions; we procrastinate to feel good at the moment.
Problems with procrastinationBy postponing the task we may feel good at the moment but feel guilty and stressed in the long term. Happiness is found in pursuit of goals. By putting off our goals we're not getting on with life itself.
So, how to beat procrastination?
1. Getting started on a task is the biggest step towards beating procrastination. To start with, list down the tasks that you know are important but keep procrastinating. Come on, do it now. Write it on a paper or on your phone or computer. If there a lot of such tasks write only a few for now. Now, pick the most important and most procrastinated task. On the forthcoming days you can pick more tasks if you want but today just pick one.
2. Split the task into subtasks. Keep the subtasks small, but no too small, something you can complete in an hour. If writing down all the subtasks becomes too much of a work write down only the first few. In cases where the subtasks would become clearer only when you complete the preceding tasks, you can write them later. In cases where you have to read/learn something to know what the subtask is, list down reading/learning as a subtask.
Warning! Once you complete the splitting exercise it's natural to feel better that you've accomplished something and stop with it. No, you're not going to stop with it, you're going to get started with the first task.
3. Think about or better write down the negative consequences of not doing the task. Write down the positive outcomes of completing the task. Think about the satisfaction you'd get from completing it. This will get you primed to start the task.
4. Pick up the first subtask and start working on it. This is the big moment when our usual procrastinatory thought process would kick in. Watch out for the following saboteurs:
i. RationalizationsWhen we face a task we don't want to do we rationalize delays. We tell ourselves that we'll just check this one small video, or that we'll feel more like doing it tomorrow, or that we work well under pressure, or even that the task is not important/urgent. The problem is that none of this is true—we won't stop with that one video, we won't feel like doing it tomorrow, we don't work better under pressure (the quality always suffers and we feel undue stress) and the task is still important/urgent.
Also, we underestimate the time required to complete a task and overestimate how fast we can do it.
Identify the rationalizations you say to yourself and remind yourself that this is just an excuse you say to yourself to avoid feeling negative emotions.
ii. DistractionsUsually, once we start a task we find it less aversive; progressing on the task motivates us to work further. But sometimes we'd still feel the negative emotions and our mind would keep looking for distractions. The best way to beat distractions is to be proactive about it.
List down your usual distractions, such as social media on phone, games on computer, etc., and shut everything down before starting the task. For example, if you don't need internet for the task you can even switch of the router. Don't need phone? Leave it in a nearby room or switch it off. It's better to be as thorough as possible.
Warning! When you start working on a procrastinated task the good feeling that results can make you feel entitled for a distraction. Be aware of it and resist the urge.
iii. Persisting negative emotionsWhile we can beat distractions relatively easily it's very difficult to get over the feeling of boredom or frustration when doing a task that we don't like. But there is no magic bullet to solve it.
Persevering with a task in the face of negative emotions without turning to feel-good distractions is the only proven way to build resilience to these emotions. When you feel the urge to move away from the task, remind yourself,
- of your commitment to the task
- that you have the ability to tolerate these feelings
- that you can be tougher
- of the satisfaction you'd get when you finish the task
It'll probably be slow and painful but the result will make you feel great. More importantly, persisting consistently will make it a habit.
iv. Diminishing willpower
Willpower is a limited resource. It keeps depleting on successive tasks and from morning to evening. This reduces the motivation to start a task. It's not that we can't, we just don't feel like it. Here are some tips to maximize your willpower:
- Sleep and rest enough.
- Do more willpower-demanding tasks in the morning.
- Positive emotions can restore willpower. Spend some time with something or somebody that makes you feel good. But take care not to allow this to distract from your actual task.
Forgive yourself if you procrastinate occasionally
If you procrastinate occasionally don't beat yourself for it. Self-forgiveness is found to reduce the chances of future procrastination. When you feel bad for something you're more inclined to avoid it. When you feel bad for procrastinating you'll try to avoid the task, which makes you procrastinate in the first place. Forgive yourself so that you'll feel motivated to try again.
What to do if you still keep procratinating?
After doing everything listed above if you still can't help it, join Procrushtinate. By joining Procrushtinate you'll get two powerful motivators to get things done. One is accountability—we care about our social image. The next one is money—we value what we pay for. By committing to a work with me and paying for it you'll persevere on your tasks and move steadily towards your goals.
Once you start completing your long procrastinated tasks, you will feel great. Gradually doing tasks at will will become a habit. Till then I'll be here to help keep you on track.
You can beat procrastination and you will. Start now.