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How to stop being lazy: 11 practical steps to be more productive

The more you sit around and do nothing with your life, the more you’ll want to sit around and do nothing with your life.

Even if you feel urges now and then to get up and get on with it, laziness makes it so that the allure of just staying put is far more appealing than the act of getting up and doing whatever it is you want to do.

It’s like wanting to lose weight, but you keep buying chocolate cakes. Sometimes, you just can’t fight the urge.

So how do you overcome laziness even when you want to be lazy?

Here are 11 steps you can use to improve your productivity and stop being lazy.

1) Understand why you’re lazy

To start being productive, it can be helpful to recognize why you’re failing to achieve your goals.

It may not have anything to do with “being lazy.”

For example, here are some bad habits that stop people from achieving their goals:

1) You’re making your goals too big or complicated.

We all want to achieve our big goals as quickly as we can, but most of us grossly underestimate how much work it takes to get there.

Our underestimation results in giving up because it seems impossible to get there.

As you’ll soon understand as you read further, this is easily fixed by setting smaller goals that eventually lead you to achieve a big goal.

And don’t worry if this is you, setting big goals is common. We do it for motivation.

But recent research in the field of artificial intelligence is showing that big goals are often obstacles to large feats of innovation.

(To learn how to get started setting up the right goals to create a life you love, check out our eBook on how to be your own life coach here).

2) Expecting yourself to be perfect.

Not everything is smooth sailing. It’s common to make mistakes on the way to achieving a big goal, but most of us stop when we realize the road isn’t as smooth and as consistent as we thought.

What’s more, sometimes perfectionists also stop taking action because they don’t want to make mistakes.

Author Mark Twain said it best:

“Progressive improvement beats delayed perfection”. – Mark Twain

3) Listening to self-criticism.

I’m guessing that if you’re calling yourself lazy, then you’re also saying other negative and critical statements about yourself.

You may even be criticizing yourself in an attempt to motivate yourself.

But this stops you moving forward because you’re focused on your failures and shortcomings, rather than the positive attributes that help you get stuff done.

According to Richard Davidson in the New York Times, director at the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, self-criticism can take a toll on our minds and bodies:

“Self-criticism can take a toll on our minds and bodies…It can lead to ruminative thoughts that interfere with our productivity, and it can impact our bodies by stimulating inflammatory mechanisms that lead to chronic illness and accelerate aging.”

But that’s not the end of the story. You can turn self-criticism into opportunities for learning, growth and more productivity.

(To learn 5 ways to train your mind to be more positive, click here)

4) Not creating a plan of action

Sometimes we can get so excited about a new goal that we forget to create a plan to get there.

We move fast, with a lot of passion, but then lose motivation when we find that it’s harder to get there than expected.

“When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.” – Confucius

2) See it for what it is.

Now you’ve worked out why you’re lazy, the next step in breaking the cycle of laziness is to call a spade a spade.

Don’t make excuses for why you weren’t able to get things done.

Say it out loud, “I just didn’t do it.”

Take ownership of it and feel the sting if you must.

Whatever you do, don’t blame other people for why your life is the way it is.

Tough love, we know, but it’s the best way to ensure that you can get moving.

Acknowledge that maybe you are lazy and that maybe things could be better for you if you got out of your way.

3) Break things down into super small chunks of tasks.

If it’s physically and mentally painful for you to get up and get things done, start with the smallest of steps.

Start with putting one foot on the floor in the morning, then the other.

Next, stand up.

Next, walk to the bathroom/kitchen/wherever you are headed and stand there.

Breathe.

Take the coffee mug out of the cupboard. Pour the coffee. Drink the coffee.

One thing at a time.

Often, we become overwhelmed by thinking about a million things that need to be done, but if we break our day into a million little chunks of tasks, and celebrate getting those things done, then it becomes much easier to get through the day and get things checked off your to-do list.

Robin Camarote, the founder of Work Life Lab, explains in INC that setting a big goal really means you’re setting thousands of small goals.

“When you set a big goal, you’re really assigning yourself thousands of small tasks. When people give up on these big goals, it’s often because they haven’t clarified what those thousands of small tasks are or planned for the time and work needed.”

(If you’re looking for a structured, easy-to-follow framework to help you improve your life and achieve your goals, check our eBook on how to be your own life coach here).

4) Work in intervals.

In the same vein, when you stare down the barrel of your 8-hour workday, it can be overwhelming.

Rather than think about everything you need to do today, think about the next 10 minutes only.

If you work in 10-minute intervals, you will find that things get done much faster and without your brain even realizing you’re exerting much effort.

10-minute tasks can accumulate to a lot of productivity. Don’t worry about how much you get done, focus on staying focused for just 10 minutes at a time.

Start with an easy task.

Rather than bite the bullet and jump into a difficult task each day, start with something you want to do and know you can do.

Many people will say to “swallow the frog” which means that you should do the hard work first, but if you just keep putting off the hard work, do the work you want to do.

This can build some great momentum for you and show you that all work is not bad.

If you are avoiding cleaning the kitchen, try cleaning your favorite part of the kitchen first.

Maybe you’ll wipe off the table or island and then get to the dishes.

Perhaps you’ll make your bed before you pick up the clothes off the floor.

As Stephen Covey wrote in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, “The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule but to schedule your priorities.”

Do the things that provide the best and biggest result first and that you enjoy the most.

It will help light a fire under you to keep going.

And again, don’t forget to break it down into smaller chunks.

Work for 2 minutes, or 5 minutes at a time and go from there.

Making your bed is a great motivator for the rest of the day.

Doing something small, like making your bed means that you are ready to take on more things, little things, that add up to big results.

Spending 5 minutes making your bed provides a significant result: a clean bedroom.

And then every time you walk into your bedroom, it’s clean.

5) Take breaks.

Rather than decide at the moment when it’s a good time to take a break, schedule breaks that you can look forward to.

We say this because lazy people are going to look for any excuse to stop what they are doing and sit down, turn on Netflix and go back to being a slouch.

When planning your day, consider how many breaks you want, and schedule them.

Don’t feel bad about it. You are allowed to take breaks. If you are at work throughout the day, plan to work for 40 minutes and then take a 20-minute break.

Recent studies show that those who take a break once an hour performs better than those who just keep at it without a break.

“From a practical standpoint, our research suggests that, when faced with long tasks (such as studying before a final exam or doing your taxes), it is best to impose brief breaks on yourself. Brief mental breaks will actually help you stay focused on your task!” – University of Illinois psychology professor Alejandro Lleras, who led the study.

You’ll probably still get more work done than most people even if you are working only 40 minutes of every 60 minutes on the job, and you’ll feel more productive, have something to look forward to, and can maintain that momentum.

You might even find that you like working like that and things aren’t as bad as you thought they were in the first place.

A great activity you can do on your break is meditation. Research has found that meditation allows you to manipulate your alpha rhythms in the somatosensory cortex part of the brain to help you clear your mind.

(To learn how to meditate, check out ultimate guide to meditation here).

6) Remove the distractions.

Turn your phone off. Put it in another room. Disable notifications from your laptop. Turn off the music (unless it helps you focus).

Do yourself a favor and remove the distractions when you set out to work.

A 2017 study in The Journal of the Association of Consumer Research found that simply having your phone around — even if it’s powered off, and even if you’re successfully ignoring it — “reduces available cognitive capacity,” which the researchers call “brain drain.”

Likewise, if you are cleaning the house on a Saturday afternoon, don’t turn the television on for background noise.

Something will surely catch your attention and cause you to end up sitting in front of the TV for an hour, and suddenly, your house isn’t clean, and you are in a TV fog.

7) Exercise, just a little.

If you already exercising regularly, you probably understand that there many benefits to it besides just keeping in shape.

Exercise can help you improve several aspects of your life, including your productivity and ability to stop being lazy.

According to Live Strong, exercise can help boost productivity through alertness:

“When you exercise, you are also increasing blood flow to the brain, which can help sharpen your awareness and make you more ready to tackle your next big project. Exercise can also give you more energy. Having more energy means you will feel more awake at work.”

If you’re a beginner to exercise, keep in mind the above principles regarding achieving goals. Don’t start training for a marathon on day one of your exercise routine. Walk for 10 minutes.

Remember, 10-minute chunks of time can help you get a lot done.

Set the timer on your phone and head out for a walk for 5 minutes. When the timer goes off, turn around and head back home.

If you feel motivated to go for a long walk, great, but don’t push it.

Running out of the gate instead of easing yourself into an exercise routine can backfire.

You’ll skip tomorrow’s 10-minute walk because you’ll be easily able to tell yourself, “I walked for 20 minutes yesterday.”

(If you’re looking to learn how to make exercise an unbreakable habit, check out the 10-step guide I wrote here.)

8) Work somewhere else.

If the thought of working in your home office or at your cubicle is making your crazy, grab your project and go to the cafeteria, coffee shop, or a co-working space.

There are many benefits to changing your environment. A recent study in the Applied Cognitive Psychology Journal demonstrated that a change in environment improves memory retention.

Many businesses offer flexible working environments these days, but if yours doesn’t make sure that you are taking frequent breaks and getting up to stretch your legs.

Just looking at a different part of the office can help stimulate some motivation, even if you aren’t physically able to work there for any length of time.

9) Find a buddy to work with.

If laziness is taking hold of you, find someone to help get you going.

Whether you are trying to kickstart a healthy lifestyle or you are struggling to get work done on the weekends, find yourself, someone, to help you.

Call a friend and head to the local coffee shop to pound out some work.

A change of scenery, as we already discussed, as well as the company of someone who is far less lazy than you, can help to drive your progress and productivity.

10) Put on something nice.

Want to stop lazy in its tracks? Get out of your yoga pants or sweatpants and put on real pants. Do your hair. Wash your face. Put on nice shoes and a clean shirt.

Believe it or not, a study by Cody Delistraty found that “Wearing different clothes can influence your analytical skills.”

Another study found that wearing formal clothes at a test gave students an increased ability to think analytically and empowered them to give correct answers.

When you are dressed and ready for the day, you are more likely to get things done. This is especially true of people who work from home, where they pretend to be living the pajama lifestyle.

It’s difficult to do that day in and day out. Our minds prepare for work when our bodies are ready for work.

Get dressed. It will help you trick yourself into getting things done and out of being lazy.

11) List the pros and cons of getting/not getting your work done.

For some people, doing the work is the reward.

For others, getting the work done and getting back to being lazy is the reward.

If sitting on the couch scarfing a bag of potato chips is the reward, then so be it. Let that fuel your drive to get work done.

If you can just get this project done, you can take the rest of the day off. If you finish your housework, you can have the chips.

Write down, or at least think about, what happens if you do get the work done and what happens if you don’t get the work done? Then get to it.

Getting the work done is always the best way to make yourself feel better and provide you with more time to do whatever you want, or nothing at all!

Sum up

To stop being lazy:

1) Understand why you’re lazy. Is it because you’re setting goals that are too big? You’re a perfectionist? Or you’re focusing on your limitations, rather than your strengths?

2) Take responsibility for the fact that you’re lazy. Don’t blame others.

3) Break your tasks into smaller chunks of tasks. They’ll become more achievable and your motivation will stick.

4) Work in intervals. 10-minute tasks can accumulate to a lot of productivity, and your motivation will be less likely to wane.

5) Take consistent breaks. You’ll look forward to them and will get more done because you know you’re only working for a limited time.

6) Remove distractions: No phone. No notifications. No worries!

7) Exercise: Small amounts of exercise can get your blood flowing to your brain and improve your productivity.

8) Change your environment for more motivation.

9) Find a friend to work with (who is less lazy than you).

10) Dress for success and you’ll improve your ability to think analytically.

11) Write down what happens if you do get the work done and what happens if you don’t. The benefits of getting the work done should then be obvious.

For more inspirational articles on mindfulness and self-improvement, like Hack Spirit on Facebook.

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Lachlan Brown

Written by Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 6 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. If you to want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Twitter or Facebook.

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