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Do you often find yourself rushing to complete tasks at the last minute? Do you find yourself engaged in low-priority tasks or activities to avoid doing the ones that are actually important? Or do you regularly justify putting off tasks for 'later' even when they're important or time-sensitive?
If your answer to any of these questions is "yes," you might be dealing with procrastination.
Although we often throw this term around casually in conversations, the negative effects of procrastinating go way beyond simply missing deadlines. It has been linked to a variety of problems including poor performance, higher stress, depression, anxiety, and lower quality of life.
The good news is that there are useful, research-backed techniques and tools to help with procrastination. In this newsletter, we’re going to start you off with a few of those techniques and then link you to some helpful tools.
Techniques to Combat Procrastination
Practice Mindfulness: Research shows that being more mindful is correlated with lower rates of procrastination. For this reason, it is common to recommend cultivating mindfulness through meditation practice, to increase your concentration and your self-control. This can also help you to view yourself and the task you are procrastinating on in a more positive light and can help you reframe difficult experiences as a sign of growth rather than something to avoid.
Set Milestones to Avoid Short-term Bias: Setting milestones on your path towards a larger goal is an effective technique to distribute the amount of work you do more evenly, stay more motivated, and help you define what to do first. You can apply this technique by imagining what you want to achieve, what the path toward this would look like, and then taking a moment to imagine where you would like to be when you reach halfway (e.g., a two-week milestone for a one month goal). We recommend repeating steps one to three for every additional milestone you would like to set until you are clear on what your first steps should be.
Avoid Mental Fatigue: Lack of energy is a commonly-cited reason for procrastination (approximately one-third of students say that lack of energy is one of the main reasons for their procrastination). When you are tired, you become more impulsive and more prone to temptations. It becomes much easier to renegotiate your commitments and you become more vulnerable to bad habits. Also, the more tired you get, the more likely you are to perceive your work as aversive and effortful. This is important because it can affect your motivation to pursue the things you truly value. To deal with mental fatigue, sometimes it’s important to go through a checklist of basic things to help you deal with tiredness. For example:
Have you eaten enough?
Have you had enough to drink?
Have you taken enough breaks between periods of high concentration?
Are you currently getting enough sleep?
There might be other reasons for your mental fatigue, but double-checking these "basic requirements" is a good start!
Manage your distractions: Research on human attention shows that when you interrupt what you are doing with another stimulus, it takes the brain a certain amount of time to return to the peak concentration it had before the interruption. This space of time between your brain getting distracted and returning to focus is called an “attention lag”. Punctuating periods of deep concentration with many moments of small distractions (like constantly checking your phone) is bad for productivity because it reduces the quality of your concentration over an extended period of time. There are numerous of techniques and tips to deal with distractions, but we suggest starting with the Pomodoro Technique. It is a great way to train your mind to remain deeply concentrated for meaningful periods of time without distraction. The technique uses a timer to break down your work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short (usually 5 minutes) and long breaks (usually 15 to 30 minutes.
Imagine the peace that comes with being in control of your time and accomplishing your tasks without the dark cloud of procrastination hanging overhead. We hope these four techniques make it a possible reality for you!
If you have more time today, we have a few free, interactive and research-backed tools that might also help you.
Tools to Combat Procrastination
1. Overcome Procrastination (20 Minutes)
Provides tips for being more productive, for those who frequently procrastinate on personal or professional projects.
2. Achieve Your Goals (20 Minutes)
Create a personalized, step-by-step plan for your chosen goal and set a regular schedule of reminders so that you can keep track of the milestones that you achieve.
3. Pathkeeper (5 Minutes)
Keep track of your goals and your progress, so that you can more reliably achieve what you set out to do. Includes optional mechanisms for accountability.
Lastly, we leave you with an inspiring quote to remember when you find yourself procrastinating something you know is important:
"Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft."