Many people think procrastination is laziness or something, but it's actually not. Nature gave us procrastination to protect our lives and make our survival easier.
Procrastination is a human instinct just like craving food - therefore, you can't completely "eliminate" it or get rid of it.
However, you can decrease its likelihood to happen, but to do this, you need to understand why it exists.
Let me make this clear and explain to you why we procrastinate with an example:
Let's imagine we're in the stone age and live in a cage. The cage and its direct environment of a few feet are safe for us because we know the terrain and we can be quite sure that there are no major threats to our lives. This is our "comfort zone".
Leaving that comfort zone can possibly kill us because there might be predators hiding somewhere or other threats that we don't see.
So if we walked out of that comfort zone "just for fun", we'd probably get killed and we'd endanger the survival of humankind. That's not at all in the interest of nature because nature wants us to survive.
And here's where procrastination comes into play: Procrastination's job is just to keep us from going outside of our comfort zone when we don't have a good reason - just so we don't get in any unnecessary danger. Period.
So if we, as stone age person, sat in front of our cage and thought about taking a walk into the unknown wild, then procrastination would kick in and would prevent us from doing so for good.
Now the problem is this: nowadays, things that are outside of our comfort zone normally don't threaten our lives anymore.
Approaching that big and important project? Start working on that daunting task? Not dangerous at all... BUT it's a thing that's outside of our comfort zone because we're not used to doing it - and that's why we procrastinate on it.
So now knowing how procrastination works, here's the most effective way to trick this human instinct and decrease the likelihood that procrastination kicks in:
Get the thing you're procrastinating on inside your comfort zone
Imagine you had to write a book right now. Assuming that you haven't done this before, this will be a thing that's outside your comfort zone - and therefore, the likelihood is quite high that procrastination will prevent you from starting or from doing it efficiently.
Now here's the trick: break the big project of "writing a book" down into the smallest and easiest tasks that you can. The smaller the steps, the better.
This is so effective because these tiny steps are more likely to be inside of your comfort zone (or not that far outside) that it's easier for you to get started. Our mind always wants to go the easy way - so make the hard stuff as easy as possible.
Let me elaborate this with the book example: so what's the first and smallest step that you can take towards writing a book, assuming that you're just getting started right now and never thought about writing a book before? Well, I'd say it's probably finding a genre that you want to write about.
To do this, you first need to know which genres exist. And to find that out, your first step is to go to the Google and type in "book genres". Voila - how easy was that?
After that, the 2nd step is to write all down that might be relevant to you. Then 3rd, you might look at that list and narrow it down to three items. Then 4th, you decide for one... and on it goes.
So instead of sitting in front of your cage and saying "I want to climb the top of that mountain that I see on the horizon", you say "I want to go to the bush 2 feet from me" and then "I want to reach the tree I see right there" and so on - until you eventually end up on top of that mountain.
That way, you kind of "expand your comfort zone" slowly and steadily to the point where you finally want to get - without your procrastination instinct kicking in.
So in my opinion, this is the most effective way to avoid procrastination because you're keeping the procrastination instinct from being triggered.
However, even though your tasks and projects will be super easy to approach with this technique, there might still be things that are even easier (e.g. letting Netflix autoplay that next 45min episode).
Since our instinct always wants us to go the easy way, we need some systems to not only make the things we need to do easy but to also withstand all these other temptations.
So here are my 2 favorites that help me the most with this:
Make sure you have high mental energy
Well, what does it take to get up from watching Netflix and getting serious stuff done instead of letting them autoplay the next episode? It takes willpower.
Willpower is directly dependant on your mental energy. That means, the more mental energy you have, the easier it is for you to withstand distractions, interruptions and temptations.
But this also works the other way around. So if you're tired and exhausted, then your likelihood of procrastinating throughout the day skyrockets.
A great way to start your day with high energy and therefore decrease the risk of falling for temptations is a good morning ritual. I've made a 10-Step Checklist that you can go through every morning to boost your energy, get clarity on your objectives for the day and start your work fired up & motivated. You can get this Checklist here.
On top of that, make sure that you maintain healthy habits like enough sleep (7-9 hours), good diet, exercise etc. Everything that makes you more healthy and energetic will provide your brain with greater mental energy and will therefore increase your willpower.
Control your environment
Know the saying "Out of sight, out of mind?". This also applies for any kinds of temptations. Whether that's the remote control of your TV or your phone or whatever.
Just make it hard for yourself to access the things that are a temptation for you to procrastinate. Place your remote control in another room, put your phone in flight mode etc.
There are also software tools like RescueTime that can automatically block websites and apps like YouTube and Co, so you can work without letting yourself be distracted and be pulled into the world of cute baby-cat videos.
So when you've broken down your tasks into the smallest steps possible, you have a decent amount of willpower/mental energy left and when there are no temptations in your direct environment, then the easiest and most comfortable thing to do is the work that you should actually be doing. No procrastination, no doubt.
These are the things I find to be the most useful and effective. They helped me a lot in the past and they helped many many others also.
If you have questions, feel free to ask. And if you feel you have productivity problems that go beyond procrastination, then feel free to schedule a free 30-min call with me here.
Now go out and start beating your procrastination instinct.
Maurice Leibinn is known for helping people optimize themselves and their processes, so they can get more results in their given time and reach their biggest goals while enjoying more time off. He's a productivity coach serving overworked entrepreneurs and professionals.