And it may have even helped a little, but shortly – whoosh! You’re back where you started – wasting your time on silly things instead of getting on with the job at hand. Worse – now, you feel like you failed again.
Don’t! It’s not your fault! You’ve tried whatever you could think of, and good on you for trying! But stop using the cookie-cutter solutions, you deserve something more powerful – a bull’s eye targeted approach.
Let’s admit it – fighting procrastination is a war, and it’s your goals, whatever they are, that are at stake: your happiness, your money, professional fulfilment, quality time with your family – all depends on how quickly and effectively you can deal with the jobs you’ve got on your to-do list.
And to win the war, you not only need an arsenal of weapons. You need to know exactly what will work for which situation.
A master-procrastinator in one of my past lives, I’ve gathered a collection of weapons. I’ve tried and tested all of them. Some of they worked for some context, and some not. But I’ve learnt to recognise which approach is best for that scenario. I want to share my learnings with you.
1. Develop a smart anti procrastination strategy
Strategies are longer-term approaches that address the underlying cause. This is your ultimate procrastination weapon: very powerful and target-specific, but requiring time and effort to set up. A well-designed strategy will do the job every time, but only works for one procrastination cause. So if you procrastinate for a number of reasons, you will need a number of strategies to target the various root causes.
Strategic approach is best when:
– you have time and energy to develop and implement it
– there is a clear pattern to your procrastination
– you understand why you procrastinate or are willing to explore it
– you have tried tactics with limited success.
How to do it:
Step #1. Know your enemy – Explore the underlying cause
Identify why you procrastinate. Most common reasons for procrastination are:
– feeling overwhelmed by the task
– feeling bored or under-stimulated
– lack of motivation (usually overlaps with the previous one)
– fear of failure or success
– skill or knowledge gap
– your own thoughts or emotions.
Step #2. Target the issue head-on
Once you understand why you procrastinate, target the root cause. If the size of the tasks makes you feel overwhelmed, break it down in small, manageable chunks, (here is my advice on how to do it) If you’re struggling with motivation – revisit your motivation for the task. If it’s emotional factors, deal with your emotions. Close the skill or knowledge gap, or get organised – you’ll know what to do.
Step #3. Develop a habit
To truly get rid of procrastination, you need a truly long-term approach. And the best way to develop a long-term approach is through building habits. Habits take the pressure off your willpower and create an autopilot response. Design your new, good anti-procrastination habit with the trigger-behaviour-reward strategy (Charles Duhigg described the process in a really simple, easy-to-follow way).
2. Deploy a quick procrastination annihilation tactic
If you’re time poor and desperate for a quick fix to get that project report finished by midnight deadline, pick one of the many tactics.
Tactics are good because they are low-fuss, don’t require much up-front effort, you can make them work immediately and some of them can be used for various situations (flexible). The downsides are that tactics don’t address the underlying cause and hence may not work for you. They heavily depend on willpower and overused lead to willpower depletion, which means – it will not work for long! This is not an approach for habitual procrastinators then!
Tactics are best when
– you need a quick fix now
– you don’t have a particular pattern to you procrastination
– it’s a limited problem (and you are not a habitual procrastinator)
– you have strong willpower you can rely on
Tactic #1. Be target-specific:
To successfully deploy a tactic you need to target it at your specific procrastination behaviour. If the Internet is your poison – cut off or limit your access with one of multiple apps/tools. If it’s rearranging knick-knacks/books/your collections of cars on your shelf – change rooms or sit with your back to the shelf o get away from the temptation. If it’s playing a game on your tablet, lock your tablet in a drawer and put the key on the highest shelf you need a ladder for.
You get the gist – make it harder to access the [whatever you use to procrastinate].
Tactic #2. Boost your motivation through peer pressure (a.k.a. social accountability)
Admit it, if you make a promise to someone who matters to you, you’re more likely to keep it than if you do just ‘seal a deal’ with yourself. Use the power of peer pressure and social accountability and tell people who matter to you – friends, family, your boss (!) that you will do [task] by [date], and ask them to hold you accountable., and nag until you’ve done it. If you’re a student, team up with someone, find a study buddy or a study group – you’ll get that needed boost in motivation and emotional and practical support gratis!
It is a risky tactic though – there is a social price you pay if you don’t deliver on your promise…
Tactic #3. Just get on with it
This is the simplest and also the hardest approach: it’s cold turkey, although you may want to sweeten the pill with some sort of reward for completing the task.
The secret of succeeding at it is… to just get on with your task. Do it first thing in the morning, or at night when you not disturbed by anyone. Set up a Pomodoro (or just an ordinary timer), put your favourite (instrumental only!) music on, or your favourite ‘lucky’ t-shirt. You can also try scheduling the task (like Cal Newport, an ultraproductive blogger at Study Hacks) and turning up on the day&time, like you would do for an important appointment. And – get on with it.
3. Mix’n match as appropriate
The best way of dealing with procrastination is to use a mix of approaches. I’ve managed to get my procrastination under control by devising a strategy to deal with my short attention span (I usually procrastinate when I feel overwhelmed by the task, because it is too big) (and this is how I deal with it:) and using some tactical tricks (getting on with it with Pomodoro technique) in the meantime, while working on getting into the habit of planning.
And while I can’t claim I’m completely procrastination-free, having an arsenal of weapons has catapulted me into much better productivity with less stress.
There is no easy trick, and it will take some effort, but once you’ve mastered a bunch of various techniques, mix & match them with your situations, you’ll be able to fight procrastination and get on with your job like a pro.
The bottom line is –be prepared for the war. Pick a few weapons from the list and keep practising. Test if they work for you and when.
Try new things.
Don’t let Procrastination kill your goals.