Do you find yourself wasting a lot of time on unimportant things you should not be doing and then having no time for the really important stuff?
If your answer was yes then you are officially a procrastinator, but don't worry because in this guide I am going to share with you some tips on how to overcome your procrastination and venture into a more productive and fulfilling life, but before doing that let me explain to you what is happening inside your brain.
The reason why many people struggle with procrastination is that our brains are always looking for activities that release dopamine (the happiness hormone). The problem with our brains is that sometimes they don't see the full picture.
The brain does not realize that doing some actual productive work will eventually produce huge amounts of dopamine in the future but instead focuses on instant gratification activities that release dopamine in the heat of the moment.
We embark on small momentarily indulging activities like video games or checking social media for distraction and some fun and then end up feeling very guilty and unhappy once that small amount of dopamine has been released.
Guilt-Free Fun vs Guilt-Rich Fun
We enjoy things more when we know that we finished the things that you were supposed to do and enjoy things less when we know that we have important unfinished tasks.
Now that you know what causes procrastination, let's dive into some solutions.
1. Avoid Vague Plans
Vagueness and lack of clarity are one of the main reasons why we continue delaying things and never actually start doing anything.
Writing down "Build a mobile App" on your to-do list is not good enough. It is too vague and general. It is not clear where and when to start. This project is not going to happen anytime soon.
What does proper planning look like?
Two things you have to do:
- First, break up a big task into tiny tasks not more than 30 minutes in length.
- For each of these very small tasks, set an exact date, time, and place.
You might say but at this rate I'm not going to finish anything. First of all, you are already not doing much anyway so 30 minutes a day is a huge improvement. Second, more often than not you will find yourself doing more than just the planned 30 minutes. The joy and excitement of seeing something important unfold will push you to continue beyond the allocated duration.
2. Avoid working on too many things
Ideally, you should not have more than one major project running in your life at any moment of time.
You can have several minor activities running simultaneously but there needs to be that one target that is the most important and most contributing to your prosperity.
The activities that correspond to that very important goal must not be skipped or compromised under any circumstances.
So important projects run in sequence, minor projects can run in parallel.
3. Create Deadlines or Commitments
Deadlines are very important to get procrastinators to do some actual work. Exam deadlines, project deadlines, etc.
It is remarkable how we manage to deliver results, albeit of low quality, when a deadline is involved.
How do we do it? Well, we wait until the last moment, feel the heat and then panic! When we panic we do whatever we were supposed to do at light speed in order not to miss the deadline, hence the low quality work.
So you are able to deliver when a deadline is involved but what about when things don't have a deadline, like your own future business, the book you plan to publish, or that album that you wanted to create.
Those tasks have no deadlines because they are your own personal plans.
So how do you push yourself into doing something when there is no deadline?
The answer is to attach a commitment to the task at hand.
Allow me to explain: a friend of mine wanted to open his own marketing company. He would always make plans in his head but never actually did anything. He had a day job that he didn't like.
One day he just decided to quit his job. Coming to the realization that he no longer has an income, he had no choice but to start working on his dream marketing company because he was forced to.
He had to generate some income and he didn't want another job. By leaving his job, he created a commitment to push himself to work on what he was supposed to do all these years and now he has no option but to do it.
The moral of the story is that when there is something on the line, your drive to do something increases dramatically.
Now leaving your job without an alternative is crazy and I'm not telling you to quit and pursue your dreams, but I wanted to give an extreme example so that the idea is super clear.
So go on and put something at stake for each and every task that you continue to delay and has no deadline. If there is absolutely nothing at stake then probably it is not as important as you might have thought.
Remember that my friend already had a job and an income, so what was at stake for him? His happiness. He was miserable. Your prosperity and wellbeing are always at stake. Consider that.
4. Minimize distractions
The obvious. Stay away from the things that distract you and waste your time.
Making them harder to find and access. When distractions are easily accessible, the probability of indulging in these time-consuming unimportant activities increases drastically.
For example, uninstall addicting apps from your phone, turn off unimportant notifications, or change your browser homepage.
Previously, I had YouTube as my browser homepage. Any time I wanted to browse the internet I was greeted with the YouTube homepage and you know what happens when you see YouTube's suggested videos. You are right, you binge for hours hopping from one video to another endlessly. What I did is that I changed my homepage into just a blank one. Things have changed drastically since then.
If it is difficult to eliminate distractions from your surrounding, consider going to a place where procrastination is not possible.
When I want to write, I usually go to the coffee shop at the seaside that does not have internet. With no internet, I have no choice but to actually do something useful.
5. Slow a steady
Don't force yourself into big tasks and promises.
Big long tasks are the enemy of productivity. They are scary and intimidating. Small and steady is the key to success.
It is easier to carry yourself into doing something when you know that it is effortless and takes little time.
If put just 20 minutes of effort a day into your dream goal, you would contribute 120 hours in one year towards that goal, the most important thing to you.
Well, it is excellent considering that you are not doing much now.
Do you have any idea what can be accomplished in 120 hours of continuous work?
6. The fear of failure
One of the reasons for procrastination is the fear of failure.
We delay important things because we are afraid that we might fail or not meet our or other people's expectations.
So as a defense mechanism we end up doing nothing. If we do nothing then we don't fail. Well, that's what procrastinators think at least.
The fear of failure is magnified when the outcome of a task is beyond our control. The more the outcome depends on other people's reactions the more we are scared.
YouTube content creators know exactly how that feels. The whole outcome of the video depends on public reception.
What you need to do is reduce the acceptance of others. You can achieve that by simply caring less about how others prrceive your actions and focusing more on the benefits of your work.
Do it for yourself and remember that there is no such thing as perfect. The more likely you think you are going to be successful, the less you procrastinate and the more you will achieve.
So care less about success and just do it. Failing is better than not doing anything.
Because you already have an issue with procrastination and find it difficult to put yourself into a productive mode, it is vital that you prioritize your objectives and work on the most important thing in that small window of time that you have been able to spare.
To know what is the most important thing in your life, look for the thing that you resist doing the most.
The more reluctant you are to do something the more important it is.
8. Things are not as hard as they seem
We think that things are harder than they actually are. In reality, they are easier.
Doing the work is not hard, starting the work is.
The first five minutes are the most difficult.
The hardest thing about writing an article is actually sitting in front of your computer and opening a word processor program.
The hardest thing about going to the gym is actually getting into your car. Once you start something, it becomes easy and automatic.
Put all of your energy into actually being in position, ready to start. That is the only thing that you truly have to fight.
The brain of a procrastinator: I don't know where to start, so I am not doing anything.
9. Be Organized
Chaos is the number one enemy of productivity. If you want to reach your maximum production capacity, it is very important to organize your life first.
- Unclutter your environment.
- Remove unnecessary items.
- Organize your home, desk, and office.
- Keep it clean and simple.
- Unclutter your phone, laptop, and desktop.
- Embrace minilimisam.
10. Mornings are best
Morning is when you have most of your energy and should dedicate that time to doing the most important thing in your day.
The relief of knowing that you have accomplished what you have set to do for the day in the morning leaves you with a feeling of joy and fulfillment that you can carry over the whole day.
11. Time your distractions
If you really must do unnecessary time-wasting activities, at least time them. Want to play video games or check your social media accounts, put an alarm and stick to the duration you allocate to these activities. Keep it reasonable.
12. Search for dopamine releasers
I have explained at the beginning of the article why we procrastinate.
We seek to release dopamine, the pleasure hormone.
In order to achieve that, we turn our attention to activities that release dopamine instead of doing important activities that do not release dopamine because we perceive them as boring.
We don't want to do boring stuff because they don't give us a sense of pleasure.
Well, what happens if we could magically make the boring not boring? Is that possible? Yes, it is but it requires some practice.
Scientists have determined five characteristics of activities that release dopamine and stimulate us to be engaged in them.
- Risk: we enjoy things more when things are risky or may have dramatic effects. How to exploit this? Attach an element of risk and importance to the things that you want to accomplish.
- Novelty: we enjoy and appreciate change. Switch locations to increase your productivity.
- Pattern Recognition: we like it when a previously recognized pattern emerges. We feel that we have successfully employed our ability to learn.
- Complexity: we love to be challenged and care less about the easy stuff.
- Undpredictibility: we love surprises and love to work on things that have unpredictable outcomes.
Your job is to try to incorporate each one of these elements into your targets and you will magically feel more compelled to spend your valuable time on the important stuff.
13. Dopamine Detox
The idea of Dopamine Detox is to avoid highly stimulating activities to the extent that what you perceive as boring suddenly becomes fun.
Choose a day in the week and purposely deprive yourself of instant gratification activities.
Once in a state of boredom, you will automatically feel inclined to do what you were supposed to do because it will certainly feel better than being idle. The borning suddendly becomes less borning.