I’ve been a master procrastinator for as long as I can remember. I’ve had my share of ups and downs — sometimes, I overcome the obstacle. Sometimes, I just feel stuck.
We’ve all been there at some point. We all know it can take a toll on our happiness and well-being. So how do we break the cycle?
In this article, we’ll talk about creative tactics that can help you rewire your brain and beat procrastination.
Check out how you can use these tricks to feel empowered and accomplish what you set out to do.
Let’s get started.
1) Break it into baby steps
Ok, I know what you’re thinking: This advice is totally cliché.
But what many people seem to overlook is that we’re putting off a task because it’s too overwhelming.
Simply thinking about the magnitude of a task at hand makes us experience that nagging feeling of dread.
It helps to break things down into smaller, more actionable steps. When you start small, you’ll also start to feel like everything is more manageable.
How about spending the first five to ten minutes creating an action plan or writing down the steps needed to finish the task?
Perhaps the task won’t be so intimidating after all.
2) Take that first step
Nike said it best: “Just Do It.”
This mantra is easier said than done, but it’s worth repeating. Jump in, no matter what.
Again, it’s all about taking that first micro-step. Ask yourself: What’s that ONE thing I can do RIGHT NOW that I can finish in less than five (or maybe two) minutes?
If you need to write something, don’t just stare at that blank Word document. Write one sentence.
If you need to clean your whole kitchen, start by taking out the trash or emptying the dishwasher.
Little progress is better than no progress. Many studies have shown that once you get started, you can build momentum and keep going.
That first step leads to the next, then to the next, and before you know it, you’ve finished the task.
3) Plan your day in advance
Think about this for a minute: How can you reduce the number of decisions you make in a day?
The thing is, even the most minor decisions take up a lot of time and energy. Regain your time (and willpower) by mapping out your days.
For example, figure out which decisions you can make the night before. This may include what meals to eat, what clothes and shoes to wear, and whether you’ll hit the gym or not.
Plus, you can also try to maximize your power hours, or the times of the day when you’re at your most productive.
Be intentional about when you’ll finish that project, take that daily walk, meditate, or spend time with your family and friends. This will help boost your confidence and gain more control over your day.
4) Reward yourself
Think that this tactic is yet another cliché? Think again. Rewarding yourself for making progress is still one of the most effective ways to build good behavior.
Rewards can be small — like treating yourself to that second cup of coffee or going for a run or walk — or big — like going to that art event or a much-needed vacation. The important thing is to give yourself something fun, exciting, and new to look forward to.
And who says rewards can’t be challenging?
Try this. How about giving a family member or friend something that you don’t want to lose, like money or a favorite shirt, or anything valuable to you?
If you get the task done, you’ll get it back. If you don’t, the family member or friend gets to keep it or give it to someone who’ll find it useful.
You’ll be amazed by how much this reward system can increase your commitment and motivation.
5) Change your mood
Many studies have suggested that at the core of procrastination is an emotional regulation issue, an inability to cope with difficult emotions like insecurity, anxiety, and fear of failure.
In other words, we tend to procrastinate to avoid negative feelings.
One way to address this is to change your mindset. Keep in mind that putting off the work only adds to the overall negativity.
Pay attention to how you’re feeling when you find yourself avoiding tasks.
Do the little things that keep you positive and help you manage your mood throughout the day. This may mean taking breaks now and then to recharge and relax, then going back to your task with a new sense of motivation.
You can also try finding a fun way to do the task. Switching on some upbeat music or collaborating with a friend may make the task more interesting.
6) Change your environment
Is your desk covered with a lot of distractions — cues that trigger your procrastination habits in the first place?
More often than not, I find that keeping a clear desk helps when you need to get a ton of work done. The key is to work in an environment that keeps you focused and disciplined.
This may mean finding a place that’s free from all the noise and constant movement.
Stay away from time suckers — those that quietly mess up your productivity. Stop yourself from multitasking. Focusing on one thing at a time will help you complete tasks much faster.
Unplug and get rid of all distractions — disable or mute all alerts and notifications, don’t check your social media, or better yet, put your phones away.
7) Visualize “success”
Consider this: What will “completing a task” or “finishing a goal” look like? How will your future self feel when you get things done?
Here’s the deal: Imagining brilliant outcomes can certainly give you that extra push so you don’t wait until the last minute to start a challenging task.
But it also helps to redefine success.
Ask yourself: What are the lessons I’ve learned along the way? Did I discover new things about myself? How can I do better?
Remember that it’s not just about failing or succeeding. The journey to getting there is just as important as the outcome.
This brings me to my next point….
8) Forget perfection
The harsh reality is, many of us find it difficult to get started because we worry that we won’t do the “perfect” job. As they say, perfection is the enemy of progress.
Instead of worrying about perfection, why not make progress?
This is easier said than done. Trust me, I know how it feels like to freeze up when I feel anxious that what I’m about to do is something short of perfect.
But sometimes, just running half a mile is all you can do that day. And that’s okay. Getting something done is better than not doing anything.
Any kind of progress, no matter how small, is worth celebrating. All these small wins are helping you move toward your valued goals.
9) Find an accountability partner
Having someone who can help you stay accountable for tasks that need to be done is also a great way to beat procrastination and increase your motivation.
Find someone — a friend, coach, mentor, or even a group — who’ll be steadfast in tracking your progress and following up with you.
Sharing your goals with someone else will empower you to come through. Your accountability partner may even help you in assessing your situation and coming up with strategies and tools to achieve your goals.
10) Be kind to yourself
Yes, being a little kinder to yourself about why you procrastinate makes a difference.
Wait, isn’t this counterintuitive? Are you letting yourself off the hook and stepping away from your responsibilities when you’re being forgiving toward yourself?
Here’s the kicker: Beating yourself up when you procrastinate is not going to help you avoid procrastination. It actually makes things worse — when you criticize yourself, it backfires.
Your negative thoughts will lead to negative feelings that will hurt your morale. Before you know it, you’re back into the procrastination cycle.
So how do you turn that criticism into kindness?
You need to accept and take responsibility for your procrastination. You’re more likely to overcome this if you have a greater awareness of your tendencies.
Next, acknowledge your negative emotions about procrastinating.
Most importantly, challenge your limiting beliefs.
Give yourself a pep talk and be your biggest cheerleader. Practice daily affirmations like:
- “My ability does not define my worth.”
- “I have procrastinated in the past but I choose to change my behavior.”
- “It may take a while to feel accomplished, but I’ve got this.”
- “There’s a lot that I need to work on, but I’ve come this far. I believe in myself.”
I hope this article provided you with some useful tips on how to be as motivated and productive as possible.
And remember, don’t be too hard on yourself when you procrastinate. We all have those bad days.
With enough practice and self-compassion, you’ll be able to conquer procrastination and not let it get the best of you.
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