How to stop procrastinating

I am quite fascinated by procrastination, mostly because I am a chronic procrastinator but also because I find it very interesting that people can decide for themselves (i.e not that they are told) that course of action A is best for them but then pursue course of action B instead.

I would highly recommend the iProcrastinate podcast (which was recommended to me by Write to Reach), but, after listening to this, and reading a number of other articles, it seems the main thoughts on procrastination (and other failures of willpower) are:

  • Procrastination is when somebody puts off something they know that they need to be doing. For some people, it is a real problem, and for me, at leats, it goes hand-in-hand with the Internet.
  • Some scholars think that people who procrastinate particularly often are not very good at looking at what they want to achieve in the long term (we’ll use the example of writing a novel – so, finishing the novel being the goal) when compared with short term (going on Twitter and not writing the novel). The same applies to most failues of willpower – people who cannot stick to a diet or a budget, for example, will eat the cake or buy the dress despite knowing that it is contrary to what they want to achieve.
  • Resisting procrastination requires willpower. Willpower is something that can be improved the more you exercise it. Things that make willpower deplete are tiredness and being hungry. So, you are more likely to spend money/eat cakes/procrastinate at the end of a long day, which is certainly true for me. I think a lot of people also believe that there is a finite amount of willpower in a day, but that this amount can be increased if willpower is exercised regularly, like a muscle.
  • Some people are more prone to procrastination than others. MindReader, for example, doesn’t often procrastinate at all. However I procrastinate an awful lot. Likewise, there will be people who, when faced with a cake on a diet, simply cannot say no. That being said, there are things people can do.

Various studies have shown the following techniques to be of use when trying to stop procrastinating:

  • Removing the temptation from view can help a great deal (for me, this involves removing Twitter from view and, in some situations, blocking access for a period of time).
  • Creating a specific intention – so rather than saying “I will lose a stone,” or, “I will write a novel,” say “I will eat X calories per day” or “I will work on my novel every day from 6 – 7pm”.
  • Do the first fifteen minutes. Often starting the thing is daunting, but once you start, you can continue easily. So I often say to myself that I will do the first fifteen minutes of a large task and then see how I feel. On a similar note, make a promise to get yourself in a position to do the thing you wish to do, so, an example used on the podcast is that if a man wanted to pray every morning he would make a commitment to kneel down after brushing his teeth. The praying would naturally follow. So you might make a commitment to sit at your computer with Word open every day at 6pm.
  • Reciting your values or goals to yourself when tempted – for example, if I waste time on Twitter I will never write my novel.
  • Viewing a potential self-regulation failure (or potential slip up) broadly, so, instead of taking the view that one Mars bar or ten minutes on Twitter won’t hurt, take the view that one slip up may lead to another, and how would that affect the end goal.
  • Getting enough sleep and food can increase willpower which in turn should decrease procrastination.

4 thoughts on “How to stop procrastinating

  1. I like that one about doing the first 15 minutes. A bit like the advice that if you’ve lain awake for 20 minutes at night with the light off it might be worth doing something (reading, getting a drink etc). Often I find it impossible to start, but 10-15 minutes in I’m going well and can keep going for a good couple of hours. If, after 15-20 minutes, it’s still not happening, my brain is probably too tired to focus and I might be better off doing something else!

    For some reason the one about doing things at specific times of day doesn’t work so well for me. I think it’s because if I get a phone call and miss 5-10 minutes of the time, I become completely put off and demotivated. After years of sleeping in, I had to teach myself to work with whatever time I had (working late if necessary), and that seemed to work a bit better for me.

  2. This is a great post, I might have to actually get off my bottom and put some of these into practice. I especially like the last part: “…instead of taking the view that one Mars bar or ten minutes on Twitter won’t hurt, take the view that one slip up may lead to another, and how would that affect the end goal.” Wise words.

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