Procrastination has been defined as the act of ruining one’s life for no apparent reason. Why are we doing it? Why is it sometimes so difficult to get to do what we have to do?
The craziest thing is that procrastination doesn’t just apply to things we don’t like to do, like washing dishes. Sometimes we have a hard time doing what we love to do, like reading books, playing sports, or starting a business.
Instead, we spend hours researching underwater life, following lost acquaintances on Facebook, and watching YouTube videos about Taylor Swift’s mother.
Meanwhile, all of our ambitions and goals are on hold.
Yet we know that in order to have the happy life we dream of and fill it with meaning, we absolutely have to stop procrastinating.
By reading this article, you will finally know what procrastination really is, how it works and what causes it. You will also discover 11 strategies to stop procrastinating, to take control of your life, and to unleash your potential.
Is there a difference between laziness and procrastination?
In short: yes.
Although often thought of as synonymous, procrastination and laziness are very different phenomena. And this difference is important to understand.
Dr. Neel Burton writes in Psychology Today: “Laziness and indolence should not be confused with procrastination. Procrastination, from the Latin cras , “tomorrow”, consists of putting off certain tasks until the next day, for the benefit of others, perceived as easier and more satisfying, but typically less important and urgent ”.
In other words, laziness is an inactive process. It consists of apathy and indicates a lack of will for any action.
But procrastination is an active process, in which people deliberately avoid doing what they have to do.
This leads us to the next point:
To understand how to stop procrastinating, we must first understand precisely what procrastination is and why we are victims of it.
Now, as Sun Tzu wrote in “The Art of War”: “Know thyself, know the enemy”.
So we know that putting things off until tomorrow is not just laziness. And in recent years, scientists have found that procrastination is not due to poor time management.
Rather, it would emerge from negative emotions that disturb your morale.
Joseph Ferrari, professor of psychology at DePaul University, told Psychological Science “Telling a procrastinator to just do things is like telling a depressed to be happy.”
How does it work?
Procrastination takes place when these negative emotions cause the following feelings:
- We are not in the mood to complete a task
- We think this mood will change shortly
It doesn’t change the fact that deep down inside we know that athletic people or successful entrepreneurs get to their training or get down to business, no matter what their mood is on the day.
Ferrari also says “Procrastination is more of a delay than an expectation. It is the decision not to act ”.
Now, once we decide not to act, we postpone the task in question, and that’s where the cursed loop of procrastination sets in.
The psychology of procrastination forms a vicious circle.
Avoiding tackling a task when it should, causes feelings of guilt, anxiety and even shame.
These feelings affect our already low emotional and cognitive energies, even more, making us even less able to start the task in question. So we postpone again, and again, and again …
We’ve all been there. It is anguish.
“I think the basic notion of procrastination as a self-regulating system of failure is pretty clear,” says Dr imothy Pychly, of Carleton University, Canada. “You know what you have to do, but you are not able to do it. There is a gap between intention and action. ”
So how do you stop acting like a procrastinator?
11 techniques to stop procrastinating and unleash your potential
Now that we have a better understanding of the definition of procrastination and why it occurs, let’s take a look at the solutions to procrastination that are available to us.
1. Start slow and find your rhythm
Getting started is often the hardest part.
But without mastering the art of starting it will be very difficult to beat procrastination.
In his book “Solving the Procrastination Puzzle,” Dr. Pychyl advises “just go for it and set the threshold for that startup pretty low.”
The 5-minute technique
This strategy has worked very well for Kevin Systrom , the founder of Instagram. He is the champion of the 5-minute technique against procrastination: “If you don’t want to do something, make a deal with yourself to do at least 5 minutes of this activity. After 5 minutes, there’s a good chance you’ll do all the work. ”
Simple, but very effective.
Why does this technique work so well?
Dr Timothy Pychyl explains: “Real good humor comes when we have done something that we intended to do, the things that are important to us.”
So that encourages us to continue.
Plus, research shows that once we start something, we are much more likely to end it. Thanks to the psychological phenomenon called the Zeigarnik effect, which causes unfinished tasks to naturally clutter our minds. Our brain cannot forget the tasks that we wanted to put off until tomorrow.
So ask yourself, “What is the first step in this task?” Then tackle this first step for 5 minutes.
The lego technique
The Lego technique involves breaking down large tasks into several smaller pieces. This allows you to tackle the whole without being discouraged by the magnitude of the work.
This technique is commonly used in agile processes, which are very popular in project management and IT.
2. The power of deadlines to fight procrastination
No advice to stop procrastinating would be valid without an analysis of the power of deadlines.
Deadlines create a sense of external urgency. When a deadline approaches dangerously, what the American blogger Tim Urban calls the “Panic Monster”, wakes up and allows us to surpass ourselves to complete most of our commitments on time.
It is thanks to the panic monsters that students who have avoided writing their thesis for months, will finally be able to write it in three days.
Tim Urban demonstrates it brilliantly in this hilarious TED talk on procrastination :
This is the magic of the deadline.
Business coach Kitty Boitnott says in Forbes: “The best way to master a natural tendency to procrastinate is to set deadlines on yourself and put them on your calendar. Scheduled deadlines will make it easier for you to accomplish your tasks. ”
In other words, by author Diana Scharf-Hunt: “Goals are dreams with deadlines”.
3. Expose yourself as much as possible to external deadlines
Ok, so we know deadlines are pretty good at scaring procrastinators. But we also know that our personal deadlines are less powerful than those imposed by the outside.
Let me explain.
In one experiment , Dan Ariely and Klaus Wertenbroch hired 60 students to proofread three texts. Students were rewarded for mistakes they found and penalized with a dollar for each day they were late.
The first group received a deadline for each text, while the second received a deadline for all three texts. The third group chooses its own deadline.
The second group obtained the weakest performance. The first group, which had the most deadlines, obtained the best performance.
In other words, if we create the rules, we can always change them. And we do, over and over again. While a tax deadline for doing your accounting is always effective.
So, do not hesitate to ask for more deadlines from your boss, your colleagues or collaborators.
4. Don’t be left alone to procrastinate
Pressure from our employees is another tool we can use to avoid postponing some important tasks.
As we’ve seen, it’s the fear of dramatic consequences that gives deadlines the power to push us into action. And if people don’t give us deadlines with consequences, we have to create them ourselves.
David Laibson, professor of economics at Harvard University, says in the Huffington Post: “It is in our power to create these constraining structures, which prevent us from having the privilege of postponing what we have to do.”
A great way to do this is to find some kind of mentor. This is someone who pushes another person to meet their commitments, coming to the news regularly and providing psychological support.
Why do you think that people recovering from addiction are always accompanied by support? Because it works.
Talking to someone about your commitment to a task or project can improve your chances for action. The research shows that we attach great importance to the respect that people may have for us, including the people we do not even know.
Try to choose someone you admire.
The consequences of appearing lazy or ineffective to people we respect can be a serious weapon against procrastination.
Business executive coach John M. O’Connor says in Forbes, “Ask for help and let these people know you would do the same for them. Responsibility comes with commitment and if you fail, you also let your partner down. ”
5. Create real negative consequences if you put it off until the next day.
If you’re still struggling to overcome procrastination, maybe now is the time to take things up a notch.
StickK is a creative way to stick to your goals. It’s a community, with which you share your goals, set a deadline, choose an arbiter, and apply real consequences if you don’t follow through on your plan.
These consequences can be very motivating. For example, you can plan a donation for an anti-humanitarian association: an association or a political party that you sincerely hate.
If you get the job done, you keep your money. If you don’t, you lose money and fund a cause you disapprove of. Devilish, isn’t it?
StickK says that adding a financial factor makes you three times more efficient and productive.
You can even assign notifications to your friends, which they’ll receive in the event that you don’t complete your project on time, leaving you open to a little teasing session.
To great ills, great remedies.
6. Avoid overwhelming yourself
When we talk about the means to fight against procrastination, it would seem that the solutions are in the inflexibility and hardness towards oneself. This is valid until you start to actually procrastinate.
Indeed, research shows that once this process is set in motion, self-criticism becomes totally counterproductive.
In a study titled: “I Forgive Myself, Now I Can Study: How Forgiving Yourself for Procrastinating Can Reduce Procrastination in the Future”, it is shown that students are lenient with themselves for procrastinating when procrastinating. first exam, did much less on the second exam.
The study’s authors state: “Forgiveness allows individuals to move past their maladaptive behavior and focus on the next exam without the burden of their past actions that hamper their studies.”
In other words, the more you are able to forgive yourself for procrastinating, the more you will be able to stop procrastinating and act accordingly in the future.
It ultimately makes sense when you think about it.
If you indulge in the guilt of procrastinating every morning, you will feel bad, which doesn’t allow you to deal with procrastination every afternoon.
And you fall back into the vicious cycle of procrastination.
Another American coach, Kristen Bentley says, “If you tend to think of yourself as a procrastinator, start by letting go of that definition of yourself. Whatever your past experiences, focus on accomplishing 5% of your goal and allow yourself to be human every now and then.
Basically: forget about the mistakes of the past and focus on what you can do now.
7. Be realistic and avoid perfectionism
Unrealistic expectations and perfectionism can suffocate us and condition us for failure.
According to the philosopher and author, Alain de Botton , the only solution to procrastination is to give up perfectionism.
He writes: “We only start working when the fear of doing nothing at all exceeds the fear of not doing well enough. And that can take a while. ”
Ok, but how do you give up perfectionism? Remember: “Done is better than perfect”.
It is much better to finish a task than not to do it just because you are anxious that it will not be perfect.
You will always have the opportunity to do better in the future.
And as award-winning short story writer Jodi Picoult puts it : “You can always edit the wrong page. You will not be able to edit a blank page ”.
Researchers Hendrie Weisinger and JP Pawliw-Fry write in their book Performing under Pressure : “The point is that in our lifetimes we have multiple opportunities. Keep this in mind and you will find your life much less stressful. ”
Look out for those moments of anxiety about not doing a task well enough.
If you catch yourself saying “my job sucks”, “I can’t do this project well”, or “It must be perfect”, question your doubts.
Science shows that when you do this, you reduce your anxiety.
But how can you doubt your own doubts?
A very simple way is to shake your head when negative thoughts accumulate in it. Remember: if you want to get rid of procrastination, you have to get rid of perfectionism first.
8. Focus your efforts on long-term benefits.
Common sense tells us that it is much easier to tackle something that we value.
“You will have to dig a little deeper and find something in your task that matters to you,” says psychology professor Fuschia Sirois at Bishop’s University in Canada. “This is what our data suggests”.
A good solution to procrastination is to tie our efforts to a long-term goal that matters to us.
Coach and consultant Christine Huerber said in Forbes columns : “To combat your tendency to procrastinate, focus on the rewards that await you for success.”
Let’s take an example.
The researchers found that people tended to save more if they were shown portraits of themselves old.
Because it makes their future more palpable. This forces the brain to connect the current saving process with the long-term benefits of a comfortable and secure retirement.
We can reproduce this effect by taking a moment to identify the meaning and imagine the benefits of a completed task.
In other words: don’t lose sight of why you want to complete a task.
However, there is a catch to be avoided with this technique.
9. Don’t just fantasize about the rewards and visualize the process
In learning to stop procrastinating, it’s important to understand that hopes and fantasies are two very different things.
Let me explain:
A study on motivation and fantasies showed that positive expectations lead to great effort and great performance. But positive fantasies lead to low effort and low performance.
So what is going on here? It all has to do with the way we visualize things.
In a UCLA study , researchers found that participants engaged in visualizations that encompass all the steps necessary to achieve their goals were more likely to be successful than others.
This means that, instead of imagining that we are able to play the guitar, we also need to visualize practicing 30 minutes a day.
This technique works for two reasons:
- Visualizing the process helps focus our attention on the steps necessary to achieve our goal.
- The path to achieving our goals becomes clear, making it more affordable, reducing our level of anxiety.
Without the visualization of the process, fantasies alone only make our goals unattainable and increase our anxiety.
So, keep in mind the long-term benefits of the tasks you have to do, but don’t just focus on the rewards. Be sure to include the steps that lead you to the completion of your project.
10. Have no mercy on distractions
A point that procrastinators will immediately recognize as crucial.
Distractions can cost you dearly.
In fact, Dr. Gloria Mark, professor of computer science at the University of Irvine in California, found that it takes about 23 minutes to return to the state of concentration you were in before you were distracted.
And if you admit that we can be disturbed by notifications every 5 minutes, it is easy to understand why procrastination is so prevalent.
This is the reason why it is essential to cut out all distractions.
Career coach Laura DeCaro says mindfulness is like strengthening any muscle. It is therefore important to put in place the ideal conditions to achieve this.
Block out all distractions with a “Do Not Disturb” ritual:
- Switch off your phone
- If you are working on a computer, close any windows that are not necessary for the performance of your task.
- Close your mailbox, your Skype account and any project management software
- In the office, clearly display your unavailability: close your door, put on headphones, isolate yourself.
- Set yourself a reasonable time to complete this task.
When trying to fight procrastination, do everything in your power to focus on your project as much as possible.
11. Use apps and tools to fight procrastination
The Internet is perfectly optimized to grab and hold your attention. In other words, he’s a distraction monster.
Fortunately, there are many apps and tools designed to block disruptive sites and mobile apps.
And they work!
In a Cornell study , students used software to put limits on their time spent on fun sites like BuzzFeed or Facebook. Once the time limit is reached, the software blocks all sites.
Students with these limitations and being forced to concentrate performed better and completed more work.
How to stop procrastinating?
Dayboard is a software and a Chrome extension that allows you to constantly display on your browser, 5 tasks of your choice, to be performed daily. The app also allows you to keep track of the time spent on disruptive sites and possibly block them. The free version allows you to block up to 5 sites per day.
PomoDoneApp , is an app based on the Pomodoro method, which consists of timing any work. It is a question of dividing this time into slots of 25 minutes, followed by a 5-minute break. These regular breaks make it possible to optimize intellectual capacities. The PomoDoneApp therefore inserts a stopwatch in all the tools you can use, from word processing to collaboration tools like Asana or Slack or even clouds like GoogleDrive or OneNote. The tool is chargeable.
Freedom allows you to block distracting sites and applications on your mobile phone or computer (Mac or PC). Paid tool.
Ommwriter is a Mac and PC compatible application that creates a calm and productive environment. Scenery in the background, soft music and satisfying little clicks while writing, a very pleasant tool to use. Fixed price around € 7.
Fabulous is a research-based mobile application. She helps you achieve your life goals and fight procrastination, encouraging you to do a little bit every day and focus on fulfilling the action.
Conclusion: how to stop procrastinating
In this article, we have therefore seen:
Different ways to stop procrastinating
Tools and Apps to Help You Be More Productive
Fighting procrastination can sometimes seem impossible.
But you can do it.
To take control, you have to admit that you can’t always be trusted to do the right thing at the right time. This is why we need to establish a system and habits to overcome our own resistance.
To achieve this, start by applying the above strategies one by one.
Remember: start slow, just 5 minutes a day can make all the difference. And whatever you do, always have a deadline and a responsibility.
Consider forgiving yourself for the times when you procrastinate. What’s done is done and all that matters now is getting back in the saddle and moving forward.
You can do it. Just do it.