We all procrastinate to some degree, especially nowadays when we permanently have something way more fun to do than work (i.e., browse Instagram).
Procrastinating is the frustrating thing you do when you know what you should be doing but do a million other things instead. We often try to trick our brains by thinking along the lines of ‘I’ll start that important document soon, I just need to quickly spend an hour on Twitter, tidy my desk and make a cup of coffee for myself and whoever else wants first.’ Here are a few tried-and-trusted tips people use to get over this time-wasting habit:
Utilise the Zeigarnik effect
Play on the Zeigarnik effect, which is the theory that you are more likely to finish something that you have started, even if it’s just partially. We usually procrastinate from something big because we can’t imagine where to start. Try this: give yourself just five minutes to work on what you’re putting off. Then you’re free to go and do some other work, but the point is that you’ve made some progress. To do something partially is unsatisfying to your brain so you are more inclined to get back to it and make more progress. Usually you’ll find that the task seems much more manageable once you’ve started it too.
‘Airplane mode is the only way I get anything done. I set myself a task and my reward for finishing the task is putting my phone back on and browsing (but only for five minutes, then it’s back to airplane mode!). I’m addicted to my phone (not in a bad way, IMHO) so this really motivates me to hurry up with my task. It’s important to put a time limit on your scroll time, though.’ – Andrea, 26
Break up your day into chunks
Your brain needs a balance of work and relaxation. Trying to push through more than an hour of solid work is hard and it means your brain won’t be functioning at its peak. Section your day into periods ranging from 20 minutes to an hour. After each period give yourself a break, where you take a breather and do the things you were tempted to procrastinate with. Just remember to put a time limit on this breathing time, too.
‘This sounds hectic but I have found that it really works for me! At the advice of my therapist, whenever I found myself procrastinating I would stop myself in my tracks, close my eyes and envision a big stop sign. This used to work well to get me back on track, but when its effectiveness waned I started something else. I wear an elastic band around my wrist and I pull it back whenever I’m scrolling through things I shouldn’t be or putting off my main task. It shocks me back into action. You don’t get used to the pain, so it’s still effective for me. Also, it’s not debilitating or actually harmful.’ – Jane, 25
Be easy on yourself
Don’t beat yourself up for procrastinating – everyone does it. A study has shown that people who forgive themselves for procrastinating actually procrastinate far less in the future. Know that procrastinating doesn’t make you weak or lazy, it makes you human – forgive yourself for it.
Make a to-do list
‘While I’m working, I am constantly interrupted by my thoughts. I’ll suddenly remember that I need to make a dentist appointment or that I need to call my father. I used to act on these immediately, which I finally recognised was a form of procrastination because it meant getting out of my working rhythm. Now I put my phone on airplane mode and have a list by my side where I write down everything that springs into my mind. Once my work session is done (I work in hour-long periods), I do everything on the list.’ – Ondela, 27
Work on your internal dialogue
When putting off something, our internal voice says things like, ‘I have to do this’ or ‘I need to do that.’ This way of thinking makes you feel helpless and as though you don’t have a choice in the matter, which is scary! Look at the bigger picture and at how doing these tasks is going to make your life better in the grand scheme of things. Rather use phrases like, ‘I choose to do this’ or ‘I want to do that.’ It might not be 100% true, but it’s a case of ‘fake it ’til you make it’.
Multitasking isn’t doing two things at once – it’s giving two things your divided attention and is not the way to get good results. Commit to finishing one task at a time. It’s way more productive.
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