Tomorrow- a mystical land where 99% of all human productivity, motivation, and achievement is stored.
So, it goes something like this; you know you need to get something important done, but you don’t do it right away. You first check your email, then your Instagram feed, next thing you know it’s two hours later and you find yourself watching cat videos on YouTube. Meh, I’ll just do it tomorrow. Happens to the best of us, doesn’t it?
Procrastination is all about instant gratification- we’re putting off our less urgent tasks in favor of those that are not only less urgent, but also more pleasurable (if you are not yet familiar with instant gratification monkey, you NEED to check out this article on waitbutwhy.com). It’s all about feeling good right now.
Truth is, most of us procrastinate; some to a greater degree than others.
TACKLE YOUR MOST IMPORTANT TASKS, FIRST THING IN THE MORNING
Or… as soon as your schedule permits. When you have a lot of work to do, try to take care of most important tasks right away. The things that are on top of our to-do list are pretty much always most difficult and time-consuming ones and probably… less pleasant than others. This is also why we always put the important stuff off, for as long as we can. Because they’re “blah” and often feel uncomfortable. BUT, the sooner you start working on those “big” tasks, the sooner it’ll all be over with (realizing this a few years ago would have definitely saved me a couple of all-nighters I pulled off back in college).
I also like this strategy when it comes to working out; as soon as I get home, I wash my face, change my clothes and start my workout. It doesn’t matter if I don’t feel like it, I know that once I start doing something around the house or sit down, I’ll go from “ehh, I don’t feel like it” to “I’ll just do a double session tomorrow” and skip my workout. Do you know how many times I’ve told myself this? And can you guess how many “double sessions” I did the next day after making that promise to myself? You got it. Zero.
For the first couple of weeks it felt almost as if I was forcing myself to do this (well, I kinda was) but after a while, it simply becomes a habit. Your willpower is like a muscle: you can train yourself to control those immediate “wants” and “needs”.
WRITE THAT STUFF DOWN
In an era where smartphones have pretty much become extensions to our limbs, I still love me some pen and paper (remember those?). Sure, there are quite a few apps you can download with all sorts of list-making, task-reminding, alarm-ringing capabilities, but I still like to write my to-do lists on my planner. Old school style. You don’t have to be a very busy person to create a to-do list; it can include tasks as simple as: do laundry, take the dog to the vet, finish that English essay, get groceries, etc.
Because you write those things down you can focus on the important tasks, keep yourself organized. To make things even better, you can always make your last point “have a glass of wine” or “read a book”, so you know that once you complete your to do list, you’ll get to reward yourself by doing something you like.
REMEMBER that making the list alone just isn’t enough. To some of us, the simple task of writing a to-do list feels like an accomplishment. Sorry, it’s not. You need to plan effectively. Give yourself realistic goals. The key is to actually get the work done, so that you get to cross those tasks off your list. Starting is the most difficult part and in order to not feel overwhelmed, you should aim for slow progress. There’s no need to be perfect. Whatever it is you have to get done, remember that you don’t necessarily have to finish it, you don’t have to do it extremely well- you just need to start. That’s the important part.
THE 20-10 METHOD
As soon as you start working on that most important task, spend 20 minutes “unprocrastinating”. During those 20 minutes, you are not allowed to browse the internet, check your phone, or turn on the TV. After the 20 minutes are up, you can either continue working, or allow yourself a 10-minute break, during which you can check your email, Twitter, or Instagram feed. This will be your reward for doing your work. Once the 10 minutes are done, go back to working on your task for the next 20 minutes, and so on.
To help you with this, you can set up the timer on your phone or use a tool like this one, that will let you know when the time is up. When doing this, it’s important to stay mindful of any distractions or urges to stop, and not let that Instant Gratification Monkey take over.
Telling yourself things like “I work better under pressure” or “I don’t feel like doing this right now, I’ll just do it later” shows a lack of responsibility. Do you really think you work better under pressure, or is it something you only tell yourself as an excuse? The main reason why we procrastinate is because we love that comfort of distractions, that escape. We don’t know how to postpone pleasure. One of the ways to overcome this, is to let go. What’s the worst thing that can happen? Let go of that fear of discomfort, do what you need to do, and once all your work is completed, you can indulge in as much comfort, as you wish.
This is not easy to do- especially if you’re a life-long procrastinator. Try doing this with something simple, like washing your dishes right away after dinner, instead of telling yourself that you’ll do them tomorrow morning. Start today. What’s one small thing that you can take care of today, to make your tomorrow less stressful? Maybe you were putting off the task of sorting through your mail? Does your email box need cleaning up? Something as simple as prepping lunch or your outfit for the next day is a great place to start.
Whether it’s something as simple as not washing your dishes right away, or putting off writing that college paper until last-minute, believe it or not, you can stop procrastinating. All you need to do is focus on some self-regulatory skills. What’s in it for you? Less guilt, less worry about not getting things done on time and gaining control over your life. The feeling of going to sleep at night knowing that you took care of every single thing you needed to take care of that day, is pretty amazing. That can be something you can use as your motivation, something to look forward to at the end of each day.
When I think of procrastination, I don’t only think of “tasks” or my responsibilities. I also think of how many times my sister has asked me out for dinner and how many times I’ve told her “let’s do it next week” over and over again, because I’m too busy working or doing something else. There are many things in our lives that are priceless. Time happens to be one of them.
Ask yourself this: “if I’m procrastinating right now, what am I doing to my future-self?”
If you’re interested in learning more about procrastination, I highly recommend you watch this lecture by Dr. Pychyl.
This is a revised version of a post I published a few years ago.