Procrastination is probably the single biggest reason we are not able to accomplish our tasks and fulfill our goals. The problem of procrastination is not a new one, either.
Procrastination is, undoubtedly, a huge problem. It is the cause of endless frustration. It can not only stop us from achieving our goals, but burdens us with stress, anxiety, and an unpleasant combination of self-loathing and guilt. Worst of all, procrastination prevents us from reaching our full potential.
Fortunately, procrastination is something that can be overcome and this post contains a carefully curated collection of techniques and approaches to overcoming procrastination and finally getting things done.
Let’s look at 15 ways on how to combat procrastination.
Take a tiny step
To stop procrastinating, you need to shift your focus from the entire forest to a single tree. If achieving your business goal is the forest, then taking a tiny step towards achieving that goal is like focusing on a single tree. Focus only on the next physical action needed to move forward and do it.
Depending on what the task is, take the first action. Open up Powerpoint and name your presentation, write the first few sentences of your next blog post, make that first call.
This is one of the most effective ways to combat procrastination because you shift your focus from something overwhelming to something your mind perceives as doable. Rather than feeling overwhelmed (and thus tempted to procrastinate), your mind enthusiastically thinks, “this is doable”.
Getting started is the hardest part. But once you get started, it’s much easier to continue to be productive.
One small step leads to another, and another. And before you know it, you have built a wave of momentum.
This is also why many successful people develop powerful morning routines. By having a powerful start to their mornings, they create a wave of momentum that lasts all day.
Make actionable to-do lists
Most people make to-do lists that are boring. Just looking at your to-do list makes you want to procrastinate. So how do you make your to-do lists more interesting?
The answer is to make your lists more actionable. Reduce your focus to no more than, “what is the very next physical action I can take?” —and then do it. Instead of putting something like ‘call 20 sales leads’, add the names of the people you need to call and then start calling.
Rephrase your to-do list tasks as questions
We are more likely to read something if it has a question mark attached to it. For example instead of writing ‘write a 1,000-word blog post’ write ‘Can I write a 1,000-word blog post by 8 pm?”
This phrasing signals the brain that there’s a reward to be had from finishing the task, and kick-starts the process of planning how exactly the laundry will get done.
The three benefits of writing to-do lists in this way are:
- The question-based phrasing transforms your to-do list into a challenge to be conquered, not a list of mundane obligations.
- Phrasing tasks as questions motivate you to look for answers, which fights procrastination.
- Actions with question marks next to them force you to start planning how you’ll accomplish larger tasks.
You can read more about this process here.
Follow the two-minute rule
One of the side effects of procrastination is that we often end up avoiding small tasks along the way. Things like not quickly answering a short email. This results in an inbox of hundreds of emails and we end up procrastinating even more.
This is where the two-minute rule comes in. If something takes 2 minutes to do, do it now and get it out of the way.
The two-minute rule also applies to habits. If you’re building a new habit, make sure it takes no longer than two minutes to execute. Otherwise, you’re unlikely to consistently execute that habit long enough for it to become automatic.
If you want to make a habit of eating healthier, just grab a piece of fruit and eat it—it’ll take less than two minutes. And do it the next day and the next. Similarly, if you want to develop the habit of reading, read the first page of a book – it will take less than 2 minutes.
Studies have found that committing to an activity by blocking time, is one of the most effective ways to combat procrastination. So if you need to do something important, schedule a location and time and block time on your calendar.
Without truly committing to doing an activity like specifying exactly when, where, and how you will do a specific task—procrastination just becomes too easy.
Have a procrastination power song
Do you have favorite songs that pump you up? Whenever you are procrastinating, play one of those songs. The song can act as a trigger for your brain and help you develop new habits. And if you feel good in your body, you will most likely follow through.
Get rid of all distractions
One moment you are searching for a video to get help on your project and the next moment you are bingeing on funny videos of Will Ferrell. It happens. To sole focus on your work, get rid of all distractions you can think of.
Put your mobile devices on airplane mode. Take advantage of website blocking tools and productivity tools like forest. A good way to avoid most of the distractions is to turn your internet off while you are completing a task. Too often, it’s too easy to fall into the trap of “researching” more than you really need to, or just “researching” unrelated topics.
Make a to-do list for your distractions
When we are working, many ideas pop into our heads and we start searching for more information, leaving our work unfinished. A study has shown that once we get distracted, it takes an average of 25 minutes to get back to focus.
A good way to overcome this is to make a list of all your distractions i.e things you want to do which lie outside the purview of your current task. Once you finish your task to-do list, you can go through your “distraction to-do list” guilt-free.
Use the power of deadlines
In college, have you faced a situation where you completed an entire syllabus from start to finish the day before your exams? And when we do something like that, we don’t even realize how we managed to complete so much in such a short time frame.
The answer is – deadlines. Deadlines force us to work hard to complete the task.
Set yourself a deadline for completing a task. If you don’t complete the task within that deadline, donate a pre-determined amount of money to a charity, a cause, or even a friend who can hold you accountable.
Don’t be a perfectionist
We often get lost in “analysis paralysis” i.e. the constant need to analyze the task we are doing, or in other words, trying to be a perfectionist.
In fact, a study found that perfectionist psychology professors are significantly less productive than their not-so-perfectionist peers. But what’s more shocking is the fact that these perfectionist professors produce fewer publications, get fewer citations, and are far less likely to have their work published in high-impact journals.
In other words, these perfectionist psychology professors—counterintuitively—end up hurting their careers as a result of their perfectionism.
You might not like to hear this, but nothing is perfect. Everything is in a state of continuous evolution. We constantly learn, gain experience, and improve—but we’re never perfect.
When it comes to productivity, something is always better than nothing. Or, as the big red posters plastered around the Facebook offices say, “Done is better than perfect. It just means learning when to stop. At a certain point, the law of diminishing returns kicks in and it becomes far more productive for you to move onto the next task.
If you don’t feel like doing the hard things on your list, focus on the easier jobs. By doing this you are still being productive. This is also known as the redirect technique.
Rather than giving up for the day and indulging in not so useful activities, learn to utilize the redirect technique. In other words, procrastinate productively.
Do the small tasks that still need to be done, like returning calls, replying to some emails, doing some simple planning or research, or finishing up some edits on an article. Then return to more productive tasks once you feel you’re ready.
Stop visualizing success
We often like to visualize success and this is a huge cause of procrastination. Instead of working and getting to success through small steps, we trick our minds to believe that we have already achieved our goals.
Several studies have found out that we are less likely to achieve what we visualize. That positive visualization of success resulted in the draining of energy and ambition.
So, the solution is – stop visualizing success. Instead of visualizing the outcome, visualize the process of achieving that outcome. For example, rather than visualizing getting a good job, visualize applying for lots and lots of jobs, going through job interviews, and taking all the necessary steps to achieve your goals. Visualize the process, not the outcome.
Replace “can’t” with “don’t”
Researchers have discovered that swapping the word “can’t” with “don’t” can have a huge psychological impact on our outcomes.
When we say “I can’t skip classes”, it impresses upon our minds that we would like to skip classes but are unable to as you are denying yourself of it. But when we say “I won’t skip classes”, you impress upon your mind that you are not the person who skips classes.
So if ever you catch yourself telling yourself that you can’t have this or do that, simply swap for an “I don’t do this”.
If in the end, you can’t stop procrastinating because your tasks are mundane, repetitive or things you don’t know how to do. So the best solution, in this case, is to outsource them. It is better to focus on more important and productive activities.
If you’re burdened by tasks that are not only easy to procrastinate on but are also huge time sucks and not all that productive, it might be worth considering outsourcing them. Spend your time instead on engaging, high-value tasks.
Hope you found our post on how to combat procrastination interesting. If you are building a startup business, do read our other posts in our blog.