Charles Dickens once wrote that “procrastination is the thief of time,” but it’s not your fault. Procrastination is actually hard-wired into your brain.
When you procrastinate, your brain becomes a battleground between your unconscious and conscious minds.
Your unconscious mind is one of the most dominant parts of your brain. It’s constantly running to automatically protect you from perceived risks. For example, it pulls your hand away from a flame and tells you to flee from unpleasant tasks or a charging rhinoceros. It’s an established area of the brain that’s been protecting the human race for millennia.
Your conscious mind is the area of the brain where you consciously make a decision whether to do something or not. For example, you may be reading a menu and trying to decide what to eat. You’re aware of this decision. This area of the brain separates humans from animals, who are just controlled by stimuli.
However, your conscious mind is not as dominant as your unconscious mind. It also does not run automatically. So, you have to kick the conscious area of your brain into action.
As a result, when you’re faced with a dull task, your unconscious mind may surreptitiously take over and direct you to a more favorable activity. Procrastination ultimately wins because your brain automatically avoids those tasks that you don’t want to do and guides you towards what feels good.
There’s even evidence that some people are genetically predisposed to procrastinate more than others.
So, can you ever beat procrastination? Yes, you can. Here’s how:
1. Identify your procrastination weaknesses
What stops you from working? As a first step, identify the sources of your procrastination and take them out of the equation. For example, if you’re prone to aimlessly surfing Facebook, you may want to try an online tool to block your social media sites. Alternatively, go offline and remove all those technical time sinks from your environment.
However, there could be deeper reasons for your procrastination. If you don’t like what you do or feel like you’re stagnating in your current role, then it could be time for some bigger life-changing decisions.
2. Get an audience and a change of scene
Different environments will impact your productivity differently. If you work alone and face the same four walls every day, you may want to create a study group, find a mentor or consider a coworking space to beat procrastination.
These approaches will surround you with people who inspire you to take action. In fact, research reveals almost three-quarters of coworking members claim to be more productive in such spaces.
You may also want to make yourself accountable to a friend or colleague. Then, you’re less likely to shirk your responsibilities if you have to explain yourself to someone else.
3. Set a deadline
It may sound like a simple solution but writing down your goals and giving yourself a deadline can help focus your mind. Also, try to schedule your deadlines as near to the present as possible to give them meaning and a sense of urgency.
4. Break it down
If you feel overwhelmed by the scale of a specific task, try breaking it down into manageable chunks.
You could also try the Pomodoro technique to break down your day into specific blocks of time. This is a time management method where you use a timer to break down your work into 25 minute intervals, separated by short breaks.
5. Write an extensive to-do list
If you don’t know where to start when it comes to your work, a to-do list can help. However, make sure you only list achievable goals and take the right approach when prioritizing these tasks.
If you want a non-technical solution, you could use the “ABC 123” technique. Here, you write down your list of tasks. Then grade each task as either A, B or C, where A is the most important and C is the least important. You can assign as many tasks to one letter as you wish as this is just a quick way to broadly prioritize your tasks.
Then, rank each alphabetized subset of tasks using numbers, where 1 is the most important, and so on. You should end up with a list with tasks assigned of A1, A2, B1, B2, B3, C1, C2 etc.
You’ll be left with a prioritized list of tasks where you start at A1 and move down to the Bs, and then the Cs.
6. Do what you fear first
Try to complete your hardest task first. Procrastination is ultimately your brain trying to protect you from a perceived threat. If you remove the biggest threat, you can start nailing the rest of your to-do list and stop worrying about that dreaded task.
Also, by attacking your hardest task first, your energy levels are higher and you have a strong chance of success.
7. Schedule in breaks
While it is important to address procrastination head-on, moderation is required. If you push yourself too hard, you’re at risk of burning out. As a result, you’ll give up on your goals altogether because you feel overloaded with pressure.
So, make sure you include intermittent periods of rest and recuperation in your schedule. Grab a coffee or go for a jog. You could also reward your achievements every time you tick off another item on your to-do list.
8. Reboot your day
Instead of waiting for 5 pm to roll around, assess your day after lunch at around 2 pm. List your achievements and reprioritize your remaining tasks. This can help you maintain momentum throughout the day and prevent procrastination rearing its ugly head in the afternoon.
Also, if you’ve had a particularly unproductive morning, there’s no reason to strike off the rest of the day as a failure. A 2 pm reboot can help you refocus and start afresh.
Is there ever a right time to procrastinate?
Yes. While procrastination may be “the thief of time”, it could sometimes be good for you. It gives you the time and space to take a measured response to certain scenarios and can help foster your creativity.
However, procrastination is not your friend if it leads to a cycle of self-loathing as your deadlines and goals continually slip through your fingers. So, keep that unconscious mind in check, be brave and face your fears.
Try to commit to stepping out of your comfort zone and build momentum in your fight against procrastination. You don’t have to achieve anything monumental, as long as you are moving forward in the right direction. Take small steps toward your goals.
Complete your tax return. Deal with that awkward co-worker or client. Face that task you really don’t want to do.
The ultimate way to beat procrastination is simply to begin completing the task your unconscious brain wants to avoid. With procrastination, taking the first step is half the battle.