8 tested methods for eliminating your procrastination habit

Magda Błaszczyk — №32 with Sean Platt

Let’s start with understanding that procrastination is a kind of a habit, or rather, a set of habits you have developed over time to protect yourself from the things you are afraid of or are not ready for…or things that conflict with your already established habits.

Habits vs. habits

In his book: 23 Anti-Procrastination Habits, S.J. Scott emphasizes that whenever you try to do something that’s not part of your daily routine, it takes effort and willpower to complete it. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Especially when the task is unpleasant.

The easiest and most proven method for eliminating procrastination is to use its own weapons against it. Instead of “fighting it”, simply replace it with good routines that will lead you to achieving your goals.

Here are several ideas and routines you might want to consider when dealing with your procrastination habits.

1. Identify 3 things that make you procrastinate

This is a base. You need to get to know your enemy. Spend some time on observing yourself when putting off important tasks. What is going on in your mind when there is a looming project that’s really important? You know you should focus on completing it, yet… What? What are your usual excuses? What do you think of during that time? What do you do? How do you feel?

It is crucial to analyze the mechanism that rules your procrastination and identify a couple of things that you could stop doing, and then replace with something that will motivate and reinforce you to help get you going.

2. Always start with determining your real priorities

Define your big goals – personal and work-related. If you are mum who feels she doesn’t spend enough time with her kids – that’s it. Your dream is to launch a blog and gain a decent audience? There you have it. If you are in a marketing department you probably want more people to know about you and buy your product or service, right? Once you know exactly what your priority is, find out what actions will take you closer to it.

These priorities will change, likely once you achieve one goal or when you come to a conclusion that the previous one wasn’t relevant. Be flexible, but make sure you have priorities defined at all times.

Remember, these are your priorities. Don’t let the others people’s priorities control you. Now of course there is your boss, manager, colleagues, and family who you depend on to some extent. It is likely a great idea to talk to these guys about your big goals to make sure they know and accept them. It will be much easier for you to manage your time and say no to certain things they would charge you with in the future.

3. The planning habit

Once you have your priorities, create a plan for achieving them :-)

Planning is great. When you have a plan for dealing with your goal, you get energized and happier. Most of all, having a plan gives you a sense of being focused on the solution. And that is when your life moves forward!

So choose a tool:

When planning, you may use the Pareto principle. If you get 80% of your results from 20% of your efforts, make sure you know which 20% of your actions will be crucial for achieving your goal or completing a project. Sometimes you will need to eliminate certain tasks. It would be great if you could delegate some of the stuff to people who are ready help you.

Note: Making a to-do list that is too long, and scheduling every minute of your day will surely increase your stress level and thus your procrastination. So don’t exaggerate, please :-)

4. S.M.A.R.T habit

One of the greatest anti-procrastination habits is making the tasks that need to be done less scary and unpleasant. There are two main methods for that. Both interrelated.

First – divide every task (not to mention a project) into smaller, actionable steps. This will result in lowering the “barriers to entry”. And believe me, once you get started and invest some of your time and effort, it will be much harder to give up. Also, with easier tasks you will get the results sooner. Additionally, a positive result will induce a sense of satisfaction, happiness, and will guarantee more energy to continue the work that still has to be done.

Second – make every task you set S.M.A.R.T. I’m sure you are familiar with this goal setting rule: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely.

These are questions you may ask yourself when preparing a list of tasks (meaning: your small goals):

5. Focus routine

To complete a task, whether it be a simple or a more complex one, you need to concentrate on it and give it 100% of your attention. If you don’t, the result won’t be as good as it could be or, even worse, there will be no result because you will give up halfway through due to distractions and losing focus.

So before getting to work, spend some time on your focus routine. Make it a kind of a quick ritual: turn off the phone, close the applications that can distract you, ask your colleagues not to disturb you for certain time and decide how much time you want/need to work. It is a good idea to create a sense of urgency as well. You might do this by setting a clock or working in a standing position.

6. Saying “no” routine

Once you’ve talked to your boss, colleagues, and family about your priorities, it should be much easier to count on their understanding and respect for your time.

Learn to say “no” to low priority activities regardless of whether they are part of your own to-do list or come from another person. Saying yes when you need to say no causes burnouts.

If someone’s query doesn’t match your goals, don’t be afraid to refuse. Honesty is the best policy. Setting the limits is absolutely fine, and if someone gets angry due to your refusal, it’s his or her problem. You have the right to say “no” if you feel it is possible in this particular situation. You do yourself and the person making the request a disservice by saying yes all of the time.

7. Finish-what-you-start habit

Single handling requires that once you begin, you keep working at your task, without diversion or distraction, until the job is 100% done. Try to keep urging yourself onward by repeating the words “Back to work!” over and over whenever you are tempted to stop or do something else.

By giving a task your full attention, you can reduce the time required to complete it by 50%! It has been estimated that the stopping and then restarting a task can extend the completion time even by 500%. It’s obvious, every time you return to a task you have to familiarize yourself with where you were, regain your focus and rhythm….

So, do everything (practice it and make it your habit) to finish what you start. Otherwise you will get demotivated and feel non-productive. Completing every task you begin will help you close the loops that drain your energy. To be sure you can achieve it, always divide your tasks into small steps and use the S.M.A.R.T. rule.

8. Reward habit

I know there are two different theories regarding rewards and whether they work or not. I’d suggest you try to reward yourself for your motivation and hard work anyway.

Plan and visualize the reward before you start working. Think of reasonable prizes that won’t take too much of your time and that will be really pleasant but also objectively good for you. It might be reading or watching something worthwhile, exercising, chatting to someone you really like and respect, listening to a good piece of music, etc. I wouldn’t “waste” my reward-time on browsing Facebook posts idly or something.

You might use this Nozbe.how template to make my article even more actionable and have the anti-procrastination steps listed within just a couple of clicks.

Photo: Flickr/fredwlangjr CC BY 2.0

Magda blaszczyk

Magda Błaszczyk

Productive! Magazine editor, Nozbe COO and assistant to Michael Slwinski.