Success and sanity have a mutual mortal enemy that is capable of destroying them both.
It comes in all sizes and shapes and accompanies us ever since we were born. Or at least ever since we got our first responsibility, like putting our toys back in the box.
Many people think that they need better time management skills for beating procrastination. But that’s not entirely true. Trying to fix your procrastinating issue with tips for improving your time management is like eating only soup instead of going to the dentist when you have a toothache.
You cannot fix a problem effectively if you don’t find its root cause and deal with it. Of course, it’s possible to find a temporary solution which, most probably, will only make things worse.
Adopting a better routine and managing your time more efficiently will help you only after you have found the reasons why you postpone certain tasks. In this article, you can find some ideas on how to increase your self-awareness and some practical tips on what to do in order to beat procrastination.
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What is the root cause of procrastination?
Avoiding a certain activity by constantly postponing it is your mind playing tricks on you. There are only two scenarios for this situation
Scenario №1: The activity is not obligatory or there are no bad consequences if you don’t do it.
For example, you’d like to adopt a new habit like jogging in the morning. This goal can be appealing and daunting at the same time. The reason you want to achieve it is to feel better which means you want it with your heart. The reason your mind wants to avoid it is that it requires too much effort.
– Is it obligatory to go running this morning?
– Are there any bad consequences if we don’t do it?
– Not really.
So you stay in the warm and cosy bed for half an hour more, day after day, until you lose all hope that you will ever start jogging in the morning. And to spare yourself the inconvenience of admitting that you failed to adopt the desired new habit, you never even try to understand what caused this failure in the first place.
Scenario №2 The activity is obligatory or there are bad consequences if you don’t do it.
I remember the first time I had to fill my taxes report. I had just started my company in The Netherlands, so I had never done such a thing before. Everything was in Dutch – a foreign language that I was (am) still learning. Furthermore, I couldn’t afford an accountant, so I had to do it myself.
The deadline was due in a month so I kept saying to myself that I had plenty of time. I was aware that I had to put a lot of effort in this task – it definitely is obligatory and there are a couple of thousand euro consequences if I don’t do it properly or on time.
Day after day I was pushing this task somewhere in the back of my mind. I started having nightmares about it. I was feeling overwhelmed and frustrated by the inevitability of this action.
Five days before the deadline I decided that I had caused enough stress to myself. It couldn’t be that difficult, right? I read a lot, I made notes, I read some more and I filled it in. After I sent it, I felt a mixture between relief and indignation because I had caused to myself so much trouble that could have
How to overpower your mind?
I spent a good deal of time analysing the causes of this situation.
Fear of the unknown and lack of trust in myself were the main reasons for going through a three-week-long postponing cycle.
Practising self-awareness after the unpleasant experience helped me change my behaviour in future similar situations. Better late than never!
Once you develop a system that helps you overcome your mind, you’ll be able to stop postponing. This will make you feel less overwhelmed and anxious. It will make you feel that you are in charge of your actions and you don’t let your mind overpower you.
Procrastination is usually expressed in doing something else in order to avoid what needs to be done. Recognising this behaviour is half the battle won.
If you would like to (i.e. jogging) or have to (i.e. tax report) do something, but instead, you are doing something else, you should ask yourself why. If the other thing is a top priority, way more important than the postponed activity, then it’s fine. But if it’s not, then… you are procrastinating.
Procrastination is really dangerous. When postponing a task, you might feel temporary relief. But remember: this action makes you truly frustrated on a subconscious level.
Here’s the catch: procrastination leads to procrastination. If you postpone a certain task, it stays in the back of your mind. It steals your focus away and doesn’t allow you to pay full attention to any other task. Not being able to fully concentrate on something is among the reasons you could decide to do it later. Which is… procrastination.
Among the things that make beating procrastination so tricky is the feeling of relief you have when you make the decision to postpone a task. So you have to choose between struggling with something that requires your effort and energy, or… simply ignore it and put it in your To Do list. The choice seems quite obvious if you are not aware of the tricks your mind is playing on you.
When you learn to recognise all of the above, you’ll realise that procrastination is more of a curse than a blessing. Only then you will be able to be its equal opponent in this never-ending battle.
How to beat procrastination?
There are various tactics you can apply at the moment when you recognise that your mind tries to tempt you with procrastination.
The good, the bad and the ugly
Probably you have multiple tasks to deal with on a daily basis. Your natural impulse is to start with the “good” or the least unpleasant assignment. But if you want to minimise the possibility of postponing, you should do the opposite.
Begin with the ugliest task. The most difficult or boring one. Get it over with. Don’t push it to the end of the day as the end of the day will become “tomorrow” which will become “next week”.
Finishing the pleasant or easy job first inarguably gives you a feeling of accomplishing at least something today. It makes you feel good about yourself. Until the negative sensation of the procrastination hits you.
And if you postpone one “ugly” task per day, at the end of the month you have an enormous loathsome pile of unfinished business. Its presence will lead to either giving up on your goals (remember the jogging example?) or to horrible consequences (the tax office is watching you…).
Conquer the mountain
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. How do you tackle a complicated project? The exact same way.
Change your perspective and try to see the enormous project that freaks you out as a set of smaller and doable tasks. If you struggle to see the details in the big picture, try writing down all the necessary steps you have to take in order to achieve your goal. Each step is an actual assignment you can start working on.
Once you accomplish a small task, you will feel the power and courage to deal with the next one, and the next one, until you conquer that mountain imperceptibly.
The 5-minute experiment
When you don’t want to do something, the feeling of resentment encompasses all your consciousness. Your soul shrinks at the thought of doing it.
But you most probably have experienced how relieving it can be to deal with a long-postponed task. And usually, the process of working on it is not that bad either.
The next time you really don’t feel like working on a certain task, try conducting the following experiment. Start working on it anyway and check how you feel after five minutes. Most probably you won’t be that afraid or anxious anymore. And a great deal of the initial resistance would have gone away.
If you feel good, just keep on working until you’re done. At the end of the day, instead of having postponed an obstacle, you’ll have overcome it.
Early bird or night owl
Planning your day according to your peak times can do you a world of good. When do you have the most energy during the day? When do you have difficulties concentrating? At what time are you most creative?
Taking into consideration your natural rhythm, plan ahead – your day, week or month. Try to accomplish the most important tasks during the time of the day when you have a lot of energy. Leave the tasks that require inspiration for your creative hours. And deal with manual or easy assignments during your drop in concentration.
Scheduling a certain time to get various types of tasks done will open a whole new world for you. You’ll start working more efficiently and this will affect your overall state of mind. Furthermore, when you’re moving according to a plan, it’s easier to find time for the things you enjoy doing.
If you’re struggling to create your own schedule, you can also use The Productivity Planner (affiliate). It will help you to prioritize and accomplish the tasks that really matter. This way you’ll become productive instead of overwhelmed!
Don’t miss planning sufficient breaks in your schedule. They are an important part of the workflow and skipping them might make you feel overwhelmed. And how will your mind try to deal with it? By postponing the unpleasant and difficult tasks.
You start seeing the vicious circle clearer, don’t you?
The miraculous single-tasking
“The power of multitasking is a myth”, Jason Fitzpatrick writes in his incredible article A Case of Singletasking: The One-Task-At-a-Time Method. “Human beings are, essentially, single-core processors. We can’t effectively check our email, listen to someone asking us for feedback on a project, and take notes simultaneously. We can do it, sure, but everything suffers. Juggling tasks divides your attention, increases the time spent refocusing on important tasks (making you less productive), often gives people the impression that you aren’t completely focused on them (because you’re not), and robs you of a powerful focus you could be directing towards a single important task.”
The Why Single-Tasking Makes You Smarter article published in Forbes suggests that “Multitasking is a brain drain that exhausts the mind, zaps cognitive resources and, if left unchecked, condemns us to early mental decline and decreased sharpness. Chronic multitaskers also have increased levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, which can damage the memory region of the brain.”
The ultimate skill of today’s business world, multitasking, is actually counter-productive. Switching between different tasks is exhausting and prevents you from focusing on problems that require uninterrupted and elaborate thought.
It will be difficult to change the way you approach your tasks but it’s definitely worth it. Adopting single-tasking as a habit requires a lot of time and effort. We’re so used to switching from activity to activity with or without a reason that this impulse is already built in our subconscious.
Blocking larger periods of time for one activity can help you change your routine. For example, when I want to write an article for The Zen Freelancer, I know I can easily get distracted or do multiple things at a time. But I also know that if I sit and just write for a couple of hours I get the best of my workflow.
So how do I deal with the desire to check my email or phone while I’m on the “writing” mode? I recently started tracking my time. This means that when I stop doing something in order to start doing something else, I’m writing this down. You can use time tracking software, I prefer the old school notebook way. That’s how I found out about The Productivity Planner and that’s why I immediately fell in love with it.
According to me, it’s the best personal assistant. The Productivity Planner is combined with the Pomodoro Technique so it leads to avoiding distractions and performing better in less time. Or, in other words, it can help anyone to work smarter, not harder!
Before switching to this planner, I was using a regular notebook. Here’s how the time tracking process looked like…
Let’s say that I have decided to write for two hours. If I get up to make myself a cup of coffee, the interruption in my writing block should be indicated in my time tracker.
The thought of it gives me an unpleasant feeling and I keep on writing instead. Time tracking works as a gentle slap that reminds me that I am busy with another thing right now. And I will get a cup of coffee when it’s the proper time for that. Not now.
You can also try batching similar tasks together in order to get the best out of the peak in your focus. Only after you’ve finished everything related to this particular aspect, you can switch to something else.
Procrastination is a disease that makes your life more difficult and affects your overall productivity. Of course, there will be situations when you can’t avoid postponing a task. Self-awareness will help you understand the root causes of your procrastination. This is the first step to quitting it.
After you’ve found out what makes you keep away from certain assignments, you can use the tips mentioned in this article to beat procrastination once and for all.
Do you have any other ideas on how to beat procrastination and be more productive? Don’t hesitate to share them with me!
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