It’s Tuesday night, you’re working relentlessly to turn in the task you’re due for tomorrow morning’s deadline, and the clock is running fast. You’re also mildly pissed at yourself for not taking care of it sooner.
“I swear I won’t let this happen to me ever again.”
But that’s what you said last week… and the week before that.
It’s like a never-ending cycle.
You’re well aware that you have a task to finish, but instead, you’re scrolling through social media and switching other apps on a continuous loop. You don’t start working until the panic of the deadline sets in.
Moreover, things that don’t specifically have a deadline are open invitations to procrastination.
That’s because not having a deadline puts us under the impression that we have more than enough time to get it done.
And as a result, we try to push things for as long as we can and later regret not starting them any sooner.
The fact that we procrastinate to this extent and still manage to get most of our work done in time till the very last minute is the sole reason why we still continue to procrastinate.
And that needs to change.
Below are some practical ways to break out of the procrastination cycles, and prevent them from lurking back into your daily habits ever again.
These are a few steps that helped me beat procrastination personally, but I’m positive they will apply to you, too:
1. Start With a Changed Surrounding
Has this ever happened to you?
You sat in the same place to “work” like yesterday, started to work, and then suddenly you got hungry, or got curious about a show, or became eager to know about the new MacBook Pro that has just been released or had any other distracting reason like that.
And in no time, you’re off your track, like yesterday. And then you promise yourself to start tomorrow, like yesterday. Do you see a problem here?
The thing is, having to work in the same spot as you did forever will trigger the same thought process.
Start – Get distracted – Will do it tomorrow – Repeat
So what do you need to do when this seems to happen a lot, like a cycle?
Change Your Surroundings.
What do you mean? Let me explain,
Have you ever done that one thing that most people do before the New year arrives?
You begin listing things that you want to accomplish the next year.
Why? Because you are about to get a new beginning, a new chance where you can start without the guilt of any previous failures. You will be regular to the gym for quite a while, you’ll be eating healthy for a longer time.
This feeling of “new beginning” motivation can easily keep you in check for at least a month if not the whole year.
A change of scene or new surroundings can trigger a sense of new beginnings in your subconscious, you might not feel it as a whole, but it’s definitely there, and thus you’ll be more elevated not to repeat those lazy habits again.
What do I mean by a change in the surroundings?
Work from a different room of your house, switch where you sit while working (chair, couch, or bed), work during a different time of the day, and similar things like that.
These changes will break those distracting thought patterns and let you be more focused.
Moreover, if you’re procrastinating way too often, that means you’re making it too easy for yourself to procrastinate.
- Working on a fairly comfy bed? No wonder you’ll get sleep after a while.
- Do you eat heavy meals very often? Brain fog/ food coma will hold you down.
- Phone notifications keep buzzing? You’ll be inclined to check social media constantly.
Change these things in your surroundings, and witness the change they bring to your productivity game.
2. Put up a low-fi background noise/music
According to Teresa Lesiuk, associate professor of music education and music therapy at the University of Miami, it has been proven that not only listening to music while working helps with productivity, but it can also make you more creative.
Of course, this is all about personal preference about whether you like music while you work or not or you find it way too distracting, but for the most part, the statement holds true. I am a testimonial to this.
Fun fact: As I am writing this, I actually do have music playing in the background!
So I guess if you have not been involved in music while you’re working, I suggest you give it a try.
A few things to remember before selecting your work playlist:
If the work requires acute concentration and creative thinking, you should select the type of music that is less stimulating.
Hour-long music playlists that are free from any vocal sounds, lyrics, or any catchy beats are perfect for this.
While this prevents you from getting distracted easily, soft and calm music can actually help you stay occupied with your work without making you feel stressed.
There are times when I get so absorbed with work that the only time I do get distracted is when the hour-long playlist ends. “I’ve been working for over an hour? barely noticed how the time passed away“.
On the other hand, if you’re up for the type of boring work that you can do mindlessly, an upbeat music selection will be apt.
It can be your favorite song on repeat, a popular pop song, or the “liked” playlist on your Spotify, as long as it can keep you mentally energized.
3. Start the flow
Louis L’amour, an American Novelist once said,
“Start doing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet (tap) is turned on.”
If you start now (even if it’s a little late) there is a good chance that it’ll be done at some point in time, but there is also a 100% chance that nothing will be done if you don’t even start it.
But no matter how straightforward the statement might sound, there are many who will still struggle to start.
Not because they are lazy or exhausted, but the thought of starting is often paralysing.
And it is certainly not the amount of work that is the issue here, it’s the thought of doing this large amount of work, which can be overwhelming.
One way to cope with it is breaking the workload into bite-sized pieces, small enough to make you go “hmm, I can do this easily” and then knock the remaining tasks one by one.
Also, make a checklist of all those micro-tasks that you want to be done. As you finish those tasks, mark the checklist points as well.
This will keep you motivated as you’ll be able to physically see the amount of work you’ve done so far.
4. Don’t get up until a personal goal is reached
While working, it is easy to get distracted no matter how firmly you believe that you should be focusing on a particular task.
Which results in multiple empty boxes in your to-do lists.
Set a goal to finish selected things before taking a break, and try not to get up until it is done. Doing this will prevent you from getting distracted easily and wasting time.
You’ll know that the more you push it the longer you have to wait to enjoy that break. So it’s better to just do it now and get this over with.
When and if you get up after finishing a certain goal, you get up motivated, along with a sense of accomplishment.
And at times, the very pride of “finished goals” makes you want to work even harder the next time.
5. Set a timely deadline
As I mentioned before, having more than enough time to finish something is an invitation to procrastination.
And even if there is an actual deadline that if far away, it won’t stop you from waiting until the very last minute.
Which is why you need to set some personal deadlines.
Remember the thing about splitting your work into micro-tasks?
Set specific deadlines for each micro-tasks, and make sure to treat each of those deadlines as you would for the final deadline.
Having smaller-sized workload makes it easier for you to complete. This way you’ll be more inspired to knock one small deadline after another and crossing them off in the checklist.
What if you miss a deadline?
If you miss a certain deadline, avoid any tendency to feel guilty. You’re behind your schedule, that’s totally okay.
But having the weight of guilt on your shoulders won’t help you either, it’ll only make you feel bad and hence will affect your productivity.
When and if you miss a deadline, don’t set any unrealistic timeline to finish two hours’ worth of work in just one and then continue with the original schedule. It probably won’t work either.
And as a result, you’ll be stuck in a never-ending guilt cycle.
Divide the remaining work by the amount of time you have left and this way the remaining workload will spread up evenly and hence you’ll not be facing an explosion of labor work at any point in time.
6. Avoid Fake productivity
Let me tell you an incident that happened to me a few months back, I was looking for a relevant stock image for an article like this.
So I went down the rabbit hole to find the perfect header image for the article, must not take more than 10 minutes, right?
While looking through dozens of images, I was being too selective for apparently no reason.
- “Is this good enough?”
- “Are the readers gonna like it?”
- “Does it look cheap?”
- And eventually, “maybe I’ll find a better one if I just keep looking”.
By the time I found my “Perfect Image”, 2 hours and 26 Minutes had already passed… just for a single downloadable image!
And to top all that, I was mentally exhausted at the end of the process so I called it a day. ZERO words were written, and ZERO work was done!
I thought I was being useful!
This is the prime example of Fake Productivity!
Of course, I got a decent image but at what cost, I could have finished my article in that time frame, I could’ve prepared the article plan for the next month, and the entire day was misspent.
Anyway, you get the idea!
My takeaway from this experience was – Sometimes you may feel like you’re busy where you’re actually not, be aware of those phases. And pick up work that is actually worth being busy for.
7. Watch productivity/work-related stuff, if you must
It is totally alright (and even advised ) to take a break after long stretches of work sessions but what you do/watch in those intervals as a means of entertainment can influence how you’ll feel the next time you’ll be working.
For example You started working and after completing one micro-task you chose to take a “Netflix episode” break or decided to watch YouTube while eating.
But have you ever noticed that after that break session is over, the motivation to work is just not there anymore, not one bit?
One thing I’ve found useful in this situation is to watch and indulge in things that keep the motivation juices flowing. This will help you to stay on track until the workload is off your shoulders.
I recommend you to consume something that does not distract you or make you feel bad about your own life.
Yeah, some shows can do that to you. I mean, after watching them you might realize how boring your life is. Just stop.
Watch something that’s inspiring and positive, they’ll keep you energized till it’s needed.
For example, have a look at Tom Bilyeu’s YouTube Channel (Impact Theory), where, there is a load of knowledge related to motivation, work ethics, and productivity.
And once you’ve completed everything you have scheduled for the day, you have the liberty to watch anything you want guilt-free.
And that’s it, these were some of the key steps that I personally took to get a hold of my procrastinating habits.
And if you follow these steps long enough, the Domino Effect will eventually take over…
Domino effect: The Domino Effect states that when you make a change in one behavior it will set off a chain reaction of similar behaviors, even without you thinking about it.
What does that mean?
It means that once you’ve got into the flow of productivity it almost becomes a habit where you don’t have to struggle to get your mind on the right track, it just happens and continues to happen.
The habit of being productive- doesn’t that sound too good to be true?
Yes, it does, but it’s true nonetheless.
Productivity isn’t a once-in-a-blue moon incident, it is like a muscle, the more you practice it the more effective it’ll be.
Get to work!