TL;DR: Learning how to stop procrastinating is at the heart of our productivity, and for that matter our sanity. By getting the right systems in place and taking a good, hard look a why we do it in the first place are great first steps to follow. Like a muscle, practicing procrastination avoidance will have you productive in no time.
Procrastination sucks. No really. One minute you’re in high demand and you’re taking on projects and courses and the next, you’re bingeing Tiger King all while your material sits untouched. Each second you get deeper into the Carole Baskin conspiracy is another second closer to looming deadlines and cut-off dates.
Why do we do this?
It turns out there’s some pretty great neuroscience out there that states that procrastinators are more influenced by distractions and emotions when it comes to tasks than non-procrastinators. In other words, task anxiety.
Procrastinators feel overwhelmed by the enormity of their tasks. Think sweaty palms and high stress levels. They pretend it doesn’t exist all while feeling guilty for ignoring it and then say yes to that social event to ignore the impending doom even further.
How to stop procrastinating in 5 steps
If you feel a little better about your procrastination because there’s science to back why you’re doing it, you should also feel encouraged that the science suggests we can reverse this bizarre loop, and learn how to stop procrastinating.
1. Be brutally honest about your priorities
This is that conversation you have with yourself — call it an intervention. You know that your behavior is toxic and will only lead to regret, so it’s time to set the wheels in motion for change.
The only thing is, if you’re looking for someone to save you out of this dilemma then you’re going to wait a really, really long time. In fact, that day might never arrive because everyone is busy doing their own things and sorting out their own stuff.
There are constantly things seeking our attention and avoiding procrastination becomes more and more difficult. However, when you’re clear on what are the important tasks, those distractions can be effective motivators during your reward time.
The only person who can get your shit together is you.
2. Stop feeling guilty
Create space within your schedule for chill time, downtime, me time. Whatever the heck you want to call it. It’s that thing that you divert to when you should be getting stuff done. If you know that you’ve scheduled to do that thing later, you’re far less likely to mess up your productivity. Also, when you do get to do that thing, you won’t feel guilty.
It’s not just chill time that can leave you feeling guilty. If you’ve ever experienced work guilt because you know you’re relationships are suffering, this is made even worse if you’re twiddling away hours of work time to procrastinate.
Work when you’re at work so you can chill when you’re with your loved ones, guilt-free.
3. Learn how to stop procrastinating with the right systems
The reason you’re not even getting started with your big project is that it just seems too big to do. You might also experience a bit of perfectionism which means you’re waiting for the conditions to be right before you can get started.
We say screw that! You’re going to be doing it anyway right?
So, whether you decide to break it down in workable chunks or cram it at the 11th hour, you’re still going to have to get it done. But here’s the thing. A system can alleviate some of the pressure for you.
Build systems when your motivation is high. When you have a system, you only have to do baby steps to see some form of progress. However, without a system, it will always feel like you’re starting from the beginning again.
As BJ Fogg puts it in an interview with Ramit, when you’re inspired to do something big, putting a system in place while your motivation is high will allow you to take on a tough task more readily. It will allow you to put a system in place that will allow future projects to start more smoothly. Then, when the motivation is low, you’re system is already in place so it’s that even difficult tasks are much easier to get started.
For instance, if you have a health goal to do 30 minutes of pilates every day before work, you’re far more likely to succeed when your workout gear is set out, pilates mat is easily accessible (or even better, set up the night before), and you have your desired program ready to follow. Take this a step further and create a permanent workout space that simply needs you to show up.
Train your brain to increase your focus capacity. Let’s face it, we log on to social media with good intentions, like researching a client’s page or getting information together for a project. But we simply can’t ignore the bright red notification bell that tells us something happened. FOMO, amiright?
Before we know it, we’ve watched every possible Harry and Meghan interview including the one by Ozzy Man.
Simple solution, time your project. The Pomodoro Timer is based on The Pomodoro Technique which creates 25-minute work blocks. How many of those work blocks will you need to finish your task? If you spend time in mindless rabbit holes instead of doing your work, you’re not going to get through the day’s 10 Pomodoros.
By breaking your tasks into smaller chunks, you can set deadlines within your deadlines to complete tasks and beat procrastination.
Purge distractions. Do you really need to check your emails every 10 minutes? Do you need to read instant messages the minute they ping on your phone? Probably no. If you have an assistant, tell them to keep certain time slots free unless it’s an absolute emergency, and define those emergencies (and no, judging the hotdog eating contest is not an emergency!).
4. Reward yourself for your work
Smashing those items on the to-do list? It’s time to take a walk down to the coffee bar and soak your soul. Finished a project on time, with the next one already planned out? Go play Halo with your friends. The point is, our brains are wired to respond to rewards. You’re far more likely to achieve your goals when there are little rewards to nudge you along the way.
5. Change how you describe yourself
Yep, there’s far more psychology to this than you may think. When you start referring to yourself as a project smasher, goal list slasher, or overall productivity champion, you’re going to start believing (or at least tricking your brain into believing it).
The dark side of this, and one you’ll need to watch out for, is that every time you agree to a project or a course and you don’t make the deadline, you’re telling your body it’s okay to lie. Over a period of time, you might even justify your behavior. In the long term, this could affect how you feel about yourself and whether overcoming procrastination will be on your horizon, or whether you’re joining the chronic procrastinator’s social club. Get out of this loop and stop lying to yourself.
Getting off the procrastination rollercoaster for good
Motivation isn’t going to get you out of your dilemma, and that’s because it’s extremely hard to keep the same level of motivation every hour of every day. Instead, you need to find ways to stay focused and on track even when motivation is not there. Learning how to stop procrastinating doesn’t happen overnight, but small, consistent steps will get you there.
If you’ve had enough of your procrastination getting in the way of your best rich life, we’ve got you covered. Ramit has a system called the 3 Tiers of Productivity that is a great kick-butter to get you going in the right direction. Best part? You can start right now.