How often has the inability to get things done held you back in life? Overcoming procrastination can be one of the most significant things to take back control of your life.

Procrastination can throw a wrench in your ability to work, create, and progress. We all know the feeling; the longer you put something off, the worse it gets. It can reach the point where even the simplest task feels overwhelming and monumental. When you learn to overcome procrastination, you can take back your life.

This article will look at 4 strategies for overcoming procrastination that use science to back them up.

Why Do We Procrastinate?

Why do we put off the simplest tasks? It could be doing the laundry or calling about a dentist’s appointment, but when you are faced with these minimal assignments, they feel like having to move a giant boulder. Why are we more likely to put off even the simplest thing?

Procrastination isn’t about laziness, or being bad at time management – it goes a lot deeper. There are many fields of psychology that all look at procrastination in a slightly different way. Neurophysiologists say it can be more about execution function and failing to do that. This basically means you have a mismanaged way of how you plan ahead or prioritize things.

Social psychologists may consider it more related to emotional regulation problems. It could come down to simply wanting to avoid stress. If you peel back the layers on the human experience, everything we do comes down to two approaches:

  1. Gain pleasure
  2. Avoid pain

Calling to make a dentist’s appointment isn’t a massive trauma, but there is still an obligation, expectation, and responsibility to do it. This is enough to create a bit of stress. And even a little stress is still stress. Your body will avoid it at all costs, and this may be why you procrastinate. From an evolutionary perspective, this may all be about self-preservation.

What Does Science Say about Procrastination?

The one good thing to consider when you look at overcoming procrastination is to know you’re not alone. Procrastination impacts almost every person at one point or another. The issue is how severe it gets and if it becomes a debilitating condition.

Procrastination might even be part of our evolutionary makeup. Researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder looked to see if this issue may be genetic. They asked pairs of twins what specific work habits they had. They looked at fraternal twins (who only share some of their DNA), and identical twins (who share all of their DNA).

All the sets of twins grew up together, so the researchers looked to see if genetics had some influence in their procrastination. They found that about half the time, the differences in procrastination could be because of differences in genetics. What this all means is that procrastination might be built right into us.

So how do you start overcoming procrastination? Here are 4 ways:

1. Start Very Small

Have you ever noticed when you start cleaning up something very small, you then realize you have cleaned the whole house without realizing it? This is the importance of starting small with any task, and it’s probably the most important strategy for overcoming procrastination.

Don’t feel you have to take on the whole thing at once, but break it down into smaller, more manageable chunks. When you start with the smallest thing first, it has a spillover effect that creates momentum and motivation to keep you going.

There’s science behind this too: the research shows that when you start a task, your brain continues to process it even when it’s not finished. You’ll be more likely to return to it and complete it. We remember the tasks we haven’t completed more than the ones we’ve finished.

2. Break Up the Tasks into Timed Intervals

They call this the Pomodoro method, and I’m using it right now to write this article. The brain can only fully focus on so much before it needs a break. Francesco Pomodoro invented the technique in the 80s and it uses timed intervals to help keep you on task.

Every 25 minutes you take a break for 3-5 minutes. This gives your brain a chance to “breathe” before stress sets in. After you have done 4 cycles of 25 minutes, you would take a 15-20 minute break before starting again.

Not only does this help you become more productive and improve your time management, but it also makes you more motivated to start. If you know you have breaks coming up very soon, it’s easier to begin a task or assignment. The prospect of having to work 4 hours straight is an easy way to talk yourself out of doing it.

Another benefit of this technique is that it tells your mind that there is a sense of urgency. Because there is a timer, there is the sense that you better get started. If you feel you have endless time during the day, it makes it much harder to start.

3. Overcoming Procrastination by Understand Your Limitations

If you are someone who can read for an hour, that’s working within your limitations. If an hour seems overwhelming, consider the effort you’re willing to commit to that task. They call this “finding your resistance level.” If the hour seems too much, what about 25-30 minutes? Narrow this amount of time down until you get to the point where you feel more willing to undertake the task.

4. Look at the Costs of Your Procrastination

Some procrastination doesn’t have significant repercussions – but some can be extreme. If you’re putting off bigger tasks, make a list of the things that will happen if you do not get this thing done. When you see this list looking back at you, the consequences of not completing it appear more clearly.

This can work on a small scale too, such as not doing your laundry. Issues from this could be:

  1. The build-up of more and more clothes to wash and more time to have to commit
  2. Nothing clean to wear to work
  3. Having to wear the same thing on multiple days which can lead to embarrassment
  4. Wearing clothes that smell which is even more embarrassment and shame

A simple task can spiral out of control. So take a few minutes and write a list of how not getting started on something will hurt you in the long run.

Final Thoughts

Overcoming procrastination won’t happen overnight, but it is very achievable. Another bonus tip is to free yourself from distractions before starting a task. There are so many things vying for our attention, so make sure you limit what can reach you. This could mean turning off your phone or turning it to airplane mode to avoid distracting notifications that prevent you from starting (I’m also doing this right now while writing this article).

Procrastination is nothing to feel bad about. It’s natural, part of the human experience, and also appears to be genetic. By getting a better understanding of procrastination, and using these strategies, you will be more likely to overcome and conquer it.

References:

  1. https://www.psychologicalscience.org/
  2. https://www.psychologytoday.com/
  3. https://www.researchgate.net/
  4. https://hbr.org/

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