Here Are 7 Effective Ways to Finally Stop Procrastinating

by | Oct 20, 2023 | Life

We all put off important tasks. It seems to be a habit hardwired into the human condition. For some reason, when the pressure rises, we have a strong temptation to do anything but address the most pressing tasks on our to-do lists. While procrastinating is a common problem, that doesn’t mean you’re doomed to struggle with productivity problems your entire life.

Firstly, procrastination isn’t about laziness. Instead, it’s been posited that we procrastinate because we’re unable to manage challenging emotions circling a specific task. As such, we associate the work or admin (whatever it is) with a cocktail of negative moods. Whether it’s anxiety, resentment or boredom, we would rather avoid splashing around in this mixer than start dealing with the hard work associated with a given task.

A 2013 study said that procrastination tends to involve prioritising short-term mood repair over a longer-term pursuit of intended actions. This aversion is irrational, but it’s also natural. However, with a bit of concerted effort, your procrastination problems can definitely be addressed.

Try one (or all) of these research-backed hacks to finally ditch your delaying ways for good:

1. Try Forgiveness

You had great expectations of slogging through four hours of work in one sitting, but that block of hard work was replaced by a YouTube marathon for the ages. The usual response? Regret. Especially when that deadline is steadily looming.

While it’s easy to be hard on yourself, some research says that a little bit of forgiveness can go a long way. A 2010 study found that students who gave themselves a pass for procrastinating when studying for a big test ended up being less likely to procrastinate in the lead-up to the next one.

2. Go Small

hourglass with three stacks of coins

With hours of work ahead of you, it’s no wonder you’d rather be doing anything else than tackling this gruelling marathon of hard labour. The solution: break it down. Using techniques like the Pomodoro Technique—a method wherein you segment your working hours down into 25 minutes of focused work followed by five-minute breaks—things can start to feel far more manageable.

The productivity gurus over at todoist say this method is effective for anyone who struggles with small distractions throughout the work day or has to deal with a glut of open-ended work to complete. (Think: projects that could, theoretically, take unlimited amounts of time to perfect.)

READ MORE: Achieve Better Focus (in Minutes) With This Early Morning Brain Hack

Best part? Pomodoro Timers have become super mainstream thanks to the effectiveness of this approach. So you’re spoiled for choice when it comes to apps that provide an instant cure for your procrastinating ways. We like Pomotodo which not only features a fully customisable timer but also allows you to create to-do lists and manage your bigger projects.

3. Keep It Even

Self-imposed deadlines don’t work. A recent study looked into the best way to manage your time, pitting three different methods against each other. In the research, a group of participants was asked to alphabetise a series of word jumbles, netting around R300 for each puzzle completed. The first group was given one overall deadline for all three puzzles, the second was given individual deadlines that were evenly spaced apart and the final group was allowed to set their own deadlines.

Ultimately, those adhering to self-imposed cut-off times ended up completing fewer puzzles than their counterparts. Researchers speculate that these homegrown time limits take the authority out of the deadline giving the participants less incentive to actually get their work done. The remedy? Past research has shown that committing to evenly spaced, non-negotiable deadlines is one the best ways to meet your mark.  

4. Limit The Meetings

Digital meetings are like kryptonite for productivity. In the digital age, we’ve become overly zealous about scheduling sit-downs—and according to research this overabundance of chats is taking big bites out of our ability to get things done. New research by Microsoft found that since 2020, people are sitting in three times as many calls and meetings, making this the number one workplace distraction. (Yes, it even beats out mindless browsing and YouTube videos.)

READ MORE: 3 Proven Tips from a Successful Startup That Will Help Your Business Thrive

5. Schedule Times to Check Your Emails

embossed email notificaiton

According to one study, the average person checks their inbox 15 times every day. However, as it turns out, that frequency of check-ins could be wreaking havoc with your productivity, causing you to procrastinate rather than accelerate through your to-do list.

A University of British Colombia study found that those who are constantly checking their emails tended to have the most trouble coping with daily stressors. Other research has also found that monitoring your inbox can derail your concentration, making it harder for you to focus on the work that desperately needs to get done.

The solution? Limit check-ins to certain times during the day so that you dedicate the other hours to deep focus. For example, some super productive folk suggest only opening your email client three times each day. Once when you arrive at work, once just after your lunch break and then, finally, just before you clock out.

6. Keep It Easy

When a task seems incredibly difficult, you’re far more likely to put it off. As such, many serial procrastinators of become huge proponents of the Minimum Viable Action. Simply put, this practice means tackling the smallest possible task you can for the day. That might mean shooting off an email response, loading up the first slide of your PowerPoint presentation or making a quick phone call.

The psychology behind this method is that these first baby steps will give you the momentum to fly through the rest of your tasks. Similarly to David Ramsey’s Debt Snowball (a method wherein you start paying off your debts by addressing your smallest debts first), you will eventually build up the acceleration to barrel through even the most gruelling day.

So, if you’re struggling with a big project, ask yourself: what is the tiniest step I can take to start getting this show on the road? Anecdotally, many have found that this can be an immediate cure for serial procrastination.

READ MORE: How to Embrace Your Fear Factor for Better Investments

7. Take Breaks

When you’re bored, your productivity nosedives. Fortunately, there’s a quick fix for this common problem. In one study, employees who took breaks for every 52 minutes they worked were the most productive in the office. (Yes, they even eked out those working flat out for the full eight-hour workday.)

The Lesson? Similar to the Pomodoro Method, you want to reward yourself for your hard graft by taking a few minutes to clear your head. We suggest skipping screentime for these breathers. Try going for a walk or doing a quick meditation session.

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