Stop Waiting for Procrastination to End

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Kill Procrastination

Procrastination. One of the mind’s many emotional woes that we battle to overcome on a daily basis. Procrastination is a problem that the majority of people face, and only a small percentage truly conquer it. To wage war on procrastination, we need to 1) understand why we procrastinate, 2) accept our weaknesses and focus on our strengths, and 3) learn the skills to stop procrastinating and get our mind in gear. Let’s get started… right away.

Now, there are endless reasons of why we rationalize ourselves into procrastinating and reasons for distraction, but let’s talk a little about a few of the brain’s reasons for not letting you focus.

  1. The brains avoidance of a learned negative activity – How we have reacted in the past to a given task or situation will also affect how we react today. Our emotional brain has a far superior memory than our rational conscious brain, and if we have had a negative response similar to the one at hand, our brain will try to focus on a more positive activity… or at least try to change the subject! Your attitude before you start a project will be a big factor in your ability to focus when the time comes to actually doing it.
  2. The pain of uncertainty – The brain is always making new connections from experiences and continuously learning.  Additionally, the brain hates uncertainty!  Uncertainty is kryptonite to a brain because it can be quite painful or stressful, and the brain will always try to solve and/or rationalize it. Thus, the brain’s expectation for uncertainty can lead to undesirable emotions that prevent us from taking action. When beginning a task full of uncertainty, our brain will try to delay this feeling of uncertainty. Have you ever tried to give a bath to a dog that doesn’t want one? What do they do… perhaps run and hide under a bed knowing that it is futile. Delay delay delay. (learn how to avoid this by reading about Kaizen)
  3. More pleasant experiences are right around the corner – The brain has an easy time thinking of a million other things it could be doing that are more pleasant, if you were to decide to loosen the leash and let it run wild. The emotional brain is always trying to satisfy your physical wants and desires, and is only focused on the body or brain’s pleasure at any given moment (like right now). Unfortunately, it never looks out for your future or cares about a college degree. In college, I found it nearly impossible to focus on writing a paper because my room was filled with entertaining activities; my guitar on the wall, a keyboard in the corner, exercise equipment, a TV, and not to mention… my comfortable bed!
  4. Rational vs Emotional – You’ll hear me talking a lot of about the different processes of the rational and emotional sides of the brain (recommend reading:  How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer).  We are constantly battling between what we know we should do and what we want to do. Who will you let win? This is another reason why there is a large disconnect between what we aspire to do or plan to do, and what we actually do and accomplish. Intentions and actions are two separate processes, but productivity cannot be enacted without both.
  5. Clogged Pipes and Stress – Have a lot going on in your mind? Can’t turn it off? Too much clutter upstairs can lead to an inability to process new information correctly. Additionally, creativity shuts down when you are stressed and can’t open your mind for some free thinking. Life is full of stressors, and having the coping skills to deal with different stresses will help with your productivity, but it’s also proven that those who effectively deal with stress tend to live longer… and healthier.
  6. Multi-tasking – Don’t get me stuck on this whopper. The art of multi-tasking is dead. Sure, multi-tasking with menial tasks to speed up the process can be effective. But a solid train of thought produces higher quality and quicker results with fewer errors. The constant habit of multi-tasking gets your brain accustomed to switching tasks at regular intervals. This creates a problem when trying to work on the task at hand while fending off a constant stream of disruptive thoughts and urges to change the subject. Multi-tasking kills creativity, deep-thinking, and slows productivity and the quality of work. It’s said that it takes 15 minutes to gain focus on a project, and switching modes loses that focus. Stop checking email every 5 minutes, close your Facebook page, stop reading tweets, turn the phone off, and work on the art of single-tasking.

These are but a few of the many reasons why our mind will pursue alternate activities to the one we are working on (or trying to work on). But before you get too distracted to read on, let’s discuss some effective methods and techniques to quit (or reduce) procrastinating now. These ideas can be applied to all areas of your life where you have difficulties starting and finishing an activity:

  1. Make a Plan, Chunk, and Start Simple – This is common one, but a big one. A big project is too overwhelming to dive into. Break it up into manageable chunks and start tackling each one until completion. Challenge yourself to stay focused and productive for one goal at a time, and if you have the focus to continue, do it!Sure, it makes sense that some projects cannot be broken into linear parts to be completed one-by-one. Some are time sensitive and/or you could be waiting for other pieces from other people (ugh). Make a list, and be as detailed as you want, and stay organized… if you can see the project lain out, then your brain can process it without any uncomfortable uncertainty. Stay diligent and keep your mindset on successfully completing these small projects that will eventually lead to the completion of your larger project.
  2. Reward Yourself – Some projects, are simply NOT fun or challenging and can feel impossible to MAKE that way. This is where a little outside stimulus can play a big part. Just as your mom told you that as soon as you eat your broccoli you can have dessert, or you treat yourself to a movie and popcorn after a long day of work, we can still use some positive reinforcement. If you are unable to summon it internally, then by all means, use some creativity. Some may use food or relaxing as stimuli but I recommend a more hearty reward that doesn’t encourage inactivity of the brain, a few examples could be:“When I complete this, I will…”
    • “…Have time to go exercise (or walk around the office).”
    • “…Play with my kids (or wife, girlfriend, or loved one).”
    • “…Go outside, to a park, and enjoy the beautiful day.”
    • “…Learn something I want to learn.”
    • “…Feel so relieved it’s completed.”
    • “…Be able to call it a day and do what I want!”
  3. 15 Minute Challenge – I read about this 15 Minute Challenge from Steve Pavlina , and have found success with it. If you’ve noticed that starting a project or getting into the right mindset is the most difficult part for you, then do this 15 minute challenge.Get a timer, and set it for 15 minutes. Rid yourself of all distractions, turn off all electronics or technologies that could alert you of anything, close the door, let people know not to bother you, and mentally challenge yourself to do a solid 15 minutes of complete focus on one task… only 15 minutes! This isn’t easy (that’s why it’s called a challenge), so consider it a game against yourself and when your mind wanders, gently bring it back to attention and complete the 15 minutes.
    You may be surprised with how much you can accomplish in 15 minutes, and typically after the 15 minutes are up, you are ready and focused for more. If not, then come back later and do another 15 minutes. This works for me, go ahead and try it.
  4. Tidy Up – This is referring to both your physical workspace and your mental one. The brain doesn’t like clutter and thrives on organization. For your physical workspace, keep it clean and put everything away in its own specific location, everything has its own place. Less visual stimuli on a workplace will leave less opportunity for visual distractions… your visual sense trumps all other senses and can easily pull you away from your intended task.Tidy up your mental workspace. Everything that is currently keeping your mind busy needs to be released or set aside. Write everything down that you are worrying about, block thoughts about last night’s episode of Grey’s Anatomy, settle an argument, and work at a time/place that is most suitable for your thinking needs.
  5. Take care of all emotional and biological needs – Similar to tidying up. Clear your mind of all emotional attachments or thoughts so you can more thoroughly use your rational mind. Prepare mentally and physically to work on a task for a solid duration by using the restroom first, putting sustenance in your belly, and hydrating yourself. It is also said that having an oral fixation while working can help when completing mental tasks and learning; having a beverage nearby, chewing gum, snacking on grapes, etc.
  6. Get Excited – Psyche yourself up! Find something interesting, fun, or challenging about the task. Get excited about completing a challenge or learning something new. Keeping a positive mindset about a task can prevent you from feeling dread when it’s time to begin. Not all activities can be fun, but there is always something to be gained. Find it, focus on it, and look forward to it.

This is a short list when it comes to combating procrastination. When procrastinating, investigate within and try to find what is preventing you from starting. Where do your thoughts take you when you try to start? What feelings do you have towards the project? How will you feel when the project is completed? Always investigate your own thoughts and become the master of your own mind… a challenge that may take a lifetime!

So. Why do you procrastinate? Difficult to focus? Poor work habits? Do you strive for perfection and have trouble starting?? Is the project overwhelming? Study yourself and determine which technique(s) could help you!

This post was written by

Greg has written 69 articles on Student of Me.

Greg is the creator and primary writer for Student of Me. He probably spends way too much time on the computer writing, researching, programming, and working on his photography. He loves escaping from screen-time to travel, ride his motorcycle, experience the outdoors and spend time with loved ones. You can contact him at greg (at) studentofme.com!

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