How To Stop Procrastinating and Start Destroying Your To-Dos
Are you a procrastinator? Do you find you keep putting off the task at hand? It happens to everyone. You get distracted, overwhelmed, or feel lazy and delay doing things you know you should.
Let’s look at overcoming distractions, getting started on your to-do list, and how to stop procrastinating.
You don’t necessarily need to build a productivity system like Getting Things Done (GTD) and track every moment of the day. Recognizing when to refocus your attention may be enough.
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Is Procrastination a Fear of Failure? A Lack of Self Control?
Procrastination is putting off things you feel you should do. Sometimes it may involve doing something else to avoid what you should be doing, but not always. You can procrastinate by playing video games, watching Netflix, or going to bed.
Procrastination differs from purposefully delaying a task, which is saying no to an action and removing it from your to-dos for the day. Procrastinating means you want to complete a task or accomplish a goal, but you just don’t do it.
You can put off breaking out your favorite chocolate, but no one would say you are procrastinating. On the other hand, if you have work, chores, or some additional unpleasant responsibility, delaying doing it is procrastinating.
Examples of Procrastination
- You need to clean the house, and you play solitaire instead.
- You have a sales call to make and scroll through Facebook instead.
- You must hand in a report to your boss, and you waste time changing the font, moving sections around, and adding a logo instead.
Psychology Today explains, “Procrastination tends to reflect a person’s struggles with self-control.” The core of procrastination is the disconnect between what you want to do and what you actually do. Often self-control issues are to blame for being unproductive, but it’s not the only cause.
Procrastinate comes from the Latin word procrastinationem, which tells you one thing for sure – you aren’t the only one! People have been procrastinating since ancient times! But why do you do it?
Why You Procrastinate
You Haven’t Finished Your Thinking
David Allen, author of the best-selling productivity and time management book, Getting Things Done, tells us, “People procrastinate because they haven’t finished their thinking on something.” In David’s experience, the number one reason for procrastination is people know they must do something but have yet to decide exactly what.
He gives this example, “Have you ever written something like ‘Mom’s birthday’ on a to-do list and then done nothing about it for a week? Mom’s birthday is not something you can do, you need to finish your thinking, do you want to buy her a gift? Throw her a surprise party? What do you want to do about Mom’s birthday?”
Thinking things through and deciding what action to take can often be more exhausting than the actions themselves, so you procrastinate and avoid doing it.
Tiredness at The End of The Day
I’m typing this with a cup of coffee beside me, it’s still early morning here, and there’s a reason for that – by the end of the day, I don’t have the energy to write.
When you’re feeling good, you can plan to do the tasks you know you want to, but if you only have free time at the end of the day after work, exhaustion creeps in, and you lose motivation.
In Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, Roy F. Baumeister explains how our willpower diminishes throughout the day, like an energy bar in a video game; every decision you make, and every task you do draws from a pool of energy that fuels your body, brain, and willpower.
When this energy pool is low, you’re much more likely to do things you know you shouldn’t. So late at night, you’re more likely to have junk food and alcohol and make other bad choices. Similarly, you’re much more likely to put off doing what you know you should do at the end of the day.
You’d Rather Do Something Else
The third reason people procrastinate is simple; you want to do something else.
You don’t feel like studying French; you want to keep reading the novel you bought. You don’t want to finish that report; you want to practice martial arts at home with your friends or some other hobby you love.
Why You Must Beat Procrastination
How bad is it that you procrastinate a little here and there?
The occasional procrastination over things that are challenging or unenjoyable is entirely understandable. Still, the following symptoms will appear if you procrastinate more than you feel comfortable with.
Negative Feelings of Stress and Guilt
Guilt is the most common symptom of procrastination, appearing in even the smallest of procrastinated tasks. We’ve all been there, it’s late, and you still need to tidy up the kitchen, but you’d rather stay on the couch and watch one more episode of your latest favorite show. You know you should do the washing up, and you feel a little guilty, but not enough to get up and do it.
That pang of guilt from putting off something boring you should get done could snowball and create powerful negative emotions down the road.
A January 2023 study shows students who procrastinate are more likely to show symptoms of anxiety, stress, and depression, even nine months later.
Your Life Will Start to Trend Downward
There are two types of tasks you can take
- Tasks that stop your life from getting worse
- Tasks that make your life better
Most of the tasks that stop your life from getting worse we think of as chores – things you don’t want to do, but you do them anyway.
Cleaning your bathroom isn’t something anyone wants to do, and it won’t make your life better; it won’t get you more money or change your life. But if you procrastinate and don’t follow through with cleaning it for too long, your life will get worse. It will start to smell, mold will grow, and you’ll feel gross every time you go in there. It could even make you sick.
In physics, it’s called the second law of thermodynamics – entropy. It states if you leave things alone, they can only get worse.
You Won’t Fulfill Your Potential
The second type of task is the one that will make your life better. If you go to the gym, you get healthier and feel better. If you learn an instrument, you can spend hours joyfully playing music. If you do well on the report, you might get a promotion.
Procrastinating on these types of tasks won’t necessarily make your life worse, but it will stop your life from improving.
The “do it tomorrow” mentality is hard to break, but postponing your accomplishments out of laziness is self-defeating. So employ the methods below to work more efficiently, become more effective, and improve your life.
Overcoming Procrastinating With Examples
Perfectionism isn’t the goal here. You want to overcome procrastination to help get things done. So instead of searching for the perfect solution, take action and use one of these ways to stop your bad habit of wasting time.
Create a Productivity System Like Getting Things Done (GTD)
When asked what the most valuable part of a productivity system like GTD was, David Allen said, “I unhesitatingly reply, ‘What’s the next action?'”
Allen asserts those four words will reduce procrastination more than any other tool, app, timer, or solution. Here’s how it works.
Using the example of tidying the kitchen, when you’re sitting on the couch, it can seem like a mammoth task: things to clean and put away and deciding whether to throw out the leftovers. The idea of ‘tidy the kitchen’ seems too big for the end of the day.
But instead of telling yourself to tidy the kitchen, you can break it down by asking, “What’s the next action?”
The answer may be, “Take the dishes into the kitchen.” That doesn’t seem so bad; you can grab the dirty dishes on the table and put them in the kitchen in a few seconds. Now you’re taking action!
Then you ask, “What’s the next action?” you answer yourself, “Put the leftovers in the fridge.” Again it only takes seconds to complete, so you have no excuses.
At this point, you could stop and go back to the couch if you wanted to, but you’ll likely ask yourself for the following action, and reasonably soon, the kitchen will be spotless.
Other excellent time management methods to be more productive include:
- The Pomodoro Technique
- To-do Lists
- Eat That Frog
Unconscious procrastination is the worst kind. A notification pops up on your phone, and before you know it, 45 minutes have passed, leaving you feeling anxious and overwhelmed. You must deal with distracting apps and other common triggers for procrastination ahead of time.
- Delete apps that cause interruptions
- Silence your phone when you have deadlines or during your workday
- Turn off notifications the night before or when getting work done
Take Notes and Set Goals
Asking yourself what the next action is, is excellent for making progress on the tasks in your time management system, but how do you know what you should do in the first place? It would help to write things down when they come to you and then use those notes to set goals.
Among productivity masters, self-help gurus, and millionaires, a common theme is goal setting and its importance in success. But without taking notes every day, you will forget everything you want to achieve. Without clarifying your goals, you may spend your life doing tasks you don’t care about.
Many people have jobs they don’t like, for example, but it’s the goal-setters who learn new skills and change careers. You’ll likely stay in a position you don’t like and accept without a goal.
Remember To Be Kind to Yourself
You will have days when you feel exhausted and can’t complete everything you want to get done. You mustn’t treat yourself too harshly. Jordan Peterson puts it this way, “You have to understand that you’re not your own servant; you’re someone that you have to negotiate with.”
So be kind to yourself. Schedule time off. Forgive yourself when you do procrastinate. And if all your tasks turn you off, reconsider whether you really need to do them.
This article originally appeared on Wealth of Geeks.
Gregory J. Gaynor (Face Dragons) Originally from the U.K, Greg has lived in Asia for over 15 years. Fluent in a handful of languages, he ran a management consultancy before creating FaceDragons, a site dedicated to facing challenges and getting stronger. He travels around Asia, writing, taking photos, and drinking coffee.