2 Ways to Fight Procrastination Effectively
When trying to get things done, we often have one big enemy: procrastination. Procrastination makes us feel mentally and emotionally unengaged and makes it hard for us to get things done efficiently. It feels like a big brake holding us back from getting the results we want. Or it makes it hard for us to even start.
Procrastination costs time and can lead to overwhelm because when we don’t get the things done we need to get done, we feel more and more pressure. This drains our mental energy and make us miserable.
The good news: procrastination has some psychological reasons. Reasons we can find and overcome.
Not enough engagement
A big factor of procrastination is that your mind is unengaged.
Whenever your mind feels unengaged, it will look for something to engage in. That’s when some people end up scrolling through Facebook for two hours, not recognizing how time is flying by.
That phenomenon has an evolutionary background.
Imagine this example: A person from the stone age who is sitting around unengaged all day won’t find anything to eat.
As a result, this person will die soon and won’t have a chance to ensure the survival of humankind.
Therefore, nature has given our mind the urge to always be engaged.
For a person from the stone age that meant: walking around, looking for food or spotting dangers etc. – so the person was more likely to survive and finally spread his or her genes.
Nowadays, that makes us prone to distractions and procrastination. We have so many things where we can engage our mind with that it’s often the wrong thing we finally choose.
And that’s a huge problem: as soon as we start scrolling through Facebook or something similar, dopamine gets released in our brain.
Dopamine makes us feel kind of “rewarded” and makes our brain want more.
That means, as soon as we start, we have a hard time stopping it and we’re more distracted when we finally start working, because everything that promises our brain a dopamine release will draw our attention towards it.
And that results in less and in worse work done.
How to overcome this
The best way to deal with this sounds simple: make sure you always engage your mind in things that bring you further.
But it isn’t as easy as it seems on the first sight. Think about this: how often in a day do you ask yourself what to do next?
Those are the points where our mind often starts to wander, and we end up procrastinating.
To solve that problem, keep a To-Do list with things you can, should or must do every day.
Whenever you finished a task, you just need to head over to your To-Do list and see what to do next. That way, you keep your mind engaged and prevent it from becoming distracted.
Ideally, those things should be a little challenging.
It often happens, when the things we do are not engaging, that our mind tries to find something more engaging. Here we can also end up checking Facebook or e-mail.
Thus, try to mix up things once in a while and step out of your comfort zone. You won’t believe how focused you can work when you’re solving problems and facing challenges.
Another root of procrastination
But that all is not the whole story: We also often procrastinate because we fear exactly that challenge.
When we think of approaching a challenging task, we often also end up messing around, trying everything to do something else than the original task we should do.
What we end up with, is a bunch of tasks we have done, but often the most important one remains undone.
Why? Because it was the most challenging one. The most challenging tasks always seem to be the ones that are the hardest to get done.
The first step is always the hardest – but when we made the first step, it’s relatively easy to go on and finish the task.
The reason for that is the Zeigarnik-effect. Psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik found that the human mind craves to finish what it started.
She found this by observing waiters in a restaurant: they could remember all the orders that were unfinished yet.
As soon as they served the order, they forgot what the guests had ordered. That’s because of said reason: the human mind wants to finish what it started.
Thus, every task you start has a way higher likelihood of being finished – because you feel the urge to do so.
That means, starting is the key. After you started, it will be relatively easy to go on and finish the task.
Fortunately, there are some ways that make it easier to start and therefore to hugely increase the likelihood of getting the task done.
How to start
One way that makes it easier to start is: breaking down the big project or task into small actionable steps.
This makes it easier to start, because then we know where and how to start, and you have a step-by-step outline that you can follow until you finish the task.
Breaking down the process itself is also a kind of start. Doing the thinking before doing the hard work is most of the time a lot easier.
A second little trick, for example when trying to go on a run, is: take your running clothes on.
Even if you have no idea where or how long to run, taking your running clothes on is kind of a start. From there you more or less force yourself to go on with the intended activity.
Every time you struggle to start, try to figure out an easy starting point. For example, when you want to write an article, start your computer and open the writing program. Or if you want to go to bed, turn your pajamas on.
There is a way most of the time.
As soon as you recognize that you’re working slowly, your mind is constantly distracted, or you just don’t get the important things done, it may be that you’re procrastinating. And that’s the time where you should ask yourself two questions:
- Am I not engaged enough?
- Am I afraid of doing the big, hairy and important work?
Most of the time, it’s one of those reasons. And as soon as you recognize them, eliminate them with the strategies you learned in this article: get your mind engaged or just start.
About the Author
Maurice Leibinn is the creator of Productive Energy Management – a method that helps people get a maximum amount of results in a minimum of time while sustaining their energy and avoiding any kind of overwhelm.
He is a productivity Coach serving serving overworked entrepreneurs and professionals. Read more...