Procrastination – the word that haunts every student and working human. Sometimes that last-minute coffee run with friends is too hard to resist; other times your iPhone’s buzz gets your attention more than your laptop. Regardless of the reason, the big P is everyone’s greatest nemesis. Luckily, there are ways around this uninvited guest, and saying now – instead of later, tomorrow, or someday – is the first step forward. The move to a more productive lifestyle starts today.
Why do we procrastinate?
Timothy Pychyl, a professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, has proven through his research that procrastination is directly associated with emotions, rather than time management. Naturally, humans gravitate towards positive, engaging feelings and shy away from monotonous, anxiety-inducing activities. Don’t feel singled out by this, though. Nearly 95% of the American population has admitted to regularly procrastinating.
Instead of becoming the next person in this percentile, follow these habit-breaking strategies:
I. Baby Steps
Seeing an endless to-do list is a discouraging way to kick off your work session. Breaking each task into bit-by-bit pieces will not only help you maintain concentration but also feel more accomplished. Checking off one step at a time – as minimal as it may seem – is already a feat. Take this sample list as inspiration:
- Open Word document
- Name document
- Conduct research
- Format outline
- Write introduction of rough draft
Notice that by the fifth step, this student is only one paragraph into the paper. Though this method may seem ineffective, consistency is key; perhaps the student would not have made it past the second step with rampant interruptions.
II. “Done” List
This game plan may appear to be redundant… but have you ever visualized all your progress? Did you feel efficient and pleased? Our point exactly. Picture yourself on a Sunday, exhausted from a long weekend, and anything but eager to do your towering load of laundry. You decide to write up a “done” list that mimics the following:
- Sort out clothes by color
- Dark color load
- Light color load
- Put clothes away
Voila, problem solved. You look back an hour later and cross off all the steps, relieved as ever.
III. Five Minute Rule
Set your timer to five minutes.
It’s not enough time to write a best-selling novel but definitely an easy commitment to get your brain juices flowing. Scientifically, this is called the procrastination threshold. Our confidence increases as we begin to make progress. So, take our word, motivation will kick in after finalizing the start threshold.
Remember that small wins are still wins!
Although it seems obvious, setting is often overlooked. This doesn’t just mean you should work in a quiet library or coffee shop instead of an ear-splitting bar. You remove all distractions – whatever that may be. Delete phone games, set a timer to limit social media use, or block Netflix. Do what you have to do to keep your focus in check.
If you spend most of your time working in a mediocre environment, odds are your work will be mediocre too. Only keep the things that encourage productiveness around you.
V. Reward Yourself
Everything in life is a balance, and any accomplishment deserves a reward. Anytime you conquer the big P, it’s important to celebrate it – whether that be indulging in your favorite treat or watching an episode of that show everyone’s talking about. Reinforce the behavior you want repeated, and it will soon become a habit.
If you did feel so compelled by whatever came up, you can keep a notebook nearby to jot down anything of interest. But congratulations! In those 5 or 10 minutes, you took the time in your busy life to step out of typical thought loops, and step into gently being with the moment.