Researchers have conducted studies into procrastination and I’m certain its because its virtually every human being procrastinates at some point.
Procrastination is the habit of putting off important tasks for more enjoyable ones. My procrastination acts of choice include checking my Twitter, Instagram, shopping online and checking out hotels I’d like to visit.
Why DO We Procrastinate?
Procrastination not simply being lazy or disorganised. Sure, a prioritised to-do list or schedule will help. But doubting that you have the skills or resources you think you need to get the tasks done, so you seek comfort in doing tasks that you know you’re capable of doing.
Procrastination as Stress Management?
Mel Robbins in her new book the 5 Second Rule, suggests that procrastination may well be a form of stress management. The act of procrastinating and putting off tasks gives us a sense of control when we’re feeling overwhelmed or under stress.
Here are 6 tips to overcoming that daunting task you’ve been avoiding, based on science:
1. Break it down
The key to procrastination is focus, when we have a mammoth task in front of us its very easy to feel like we’re trying to literally move a mountain. Break down the task into smaller tasks so that it feels more manageable. It is scientifically proven to be easier to get going with a smaller piece of work.
2. Just Start Anywhere
Research has shown that when breaking a task down, it’s not necessary to start with the easiest task, it’s just to start with any task – just to get some momentum.
A trick of mine when I’m struggling to focus to listen to the right kind of music whilst I’m working. I have used classical music since my school days to help me focus which is scientifically proven to create the ‘Mozart Effect’.
A colleague recently introduced me to brain.fm as an alternative and I love it! You’ll be amazed at how well you just get your head down and avoid procrastinating when you’re listening to it. Just make sure you select the tracks for “focus” and not “sleep” otherwise you’ll probably fall asleep under your desk.
3. Set a Deadline
Setting a deadline for a task is a powerful tool in the fight against procrastination. The old proverb ‘the work expands to fill the time’ is an adage coined by the twentieth-century British scholar C. Northcote Parkinson and is known as Parkinson’s Law. Parkinson’s Law states that people usually take all the time allotted (and frequently more) to accomplish any task.
Ever noticed how pretty much everyone is writing up until the last second of an exam? Or that the deadline set on that project your boss set for you to complete has you racing to complete it literally at the time its due? There’s a science to that.
Setting deadlines that are well before the completion date or better yet, set the deadline as one that is due to be completed now and this has a power over your procrastinating habit to get things done.
4. Eat that Frog!
If you haven’t read the book by Brian Tracy you really should. With a subtitle like, ’21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time’, this book has great tips for beating procrastination.
My favoruite is to ask myself the question, ‘What action can I take in less than five minutes that can move me closer to my goal’? I set a timer for 5 minutes and work on the task for that long and then stop. Gradually building up to 30/60/90 minutes at a time.
Even starting for a short period of time means that you’re much more likely to finish a task because it stays in our minds. This is due to a psychological phenomenon referred to as the Zeigarnik effect, which says that unfinished tasks are more likely to get stuck in your memory. This is precisely the reason why we remember a cliffhanger, because its unfinished. (Game of Thrones anyone?!)
5. Kill It With Kindness
Research has shown that the more you can forgive yourself for past procrastination, the more likely you to get things done. The idea is to unburden yourself from the past transgression of procrastinating so that you can focus on the task at hand.
Research following university students who did this during their studies showed a difference in exam results in the second exam when they exercised self-compassion. for procrastinating when studying for the first exam.
Saying something like “I forgive myself for procrastinating, I can now focus on the task at hand” is enough to give effect to this powerful tool and if you feel silly, just remind yourself that this is back by science!
6. Give Yourself a 5 Second Countdown
This is my favourite tip-plus-tool-in-one; I recently discovered this reading ‘The 5 Second Rule’ by Mel Robbins mentioned above. Essentially, counting down “5,4,3,2,1” and after which getting up and moving, physically taking action to do something to move you towards completing what you need to work on. Even doing a little thing. It really does work.
Mel Robbins recommends setting your morning alarm half an hour earlier and instead of snoozing (she talks about exactly why you should never hit snooze in the book too) you count down “5,4,3,2,1” and get out of bed. I’ve been using it and it really helps to form new habits.
The 5 Second Rule, decreases your propensity to procrastinate because it develops a bias towards action. To help you stop thinking and start doing.
I wanted to finish on a popular Instagram post of mine, which is a quote I say to myself frequently and one that I once heard one of my most successful friends say:
If ever I need to motivate myself, I question myself on how I am spending the most finite resource on earth: time. Everyone has the same 24 hours. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. Spend it wisely.
Share your tips for beating procrastination below!