Battling Procrastination

Do you share the same nemesis as I do? The Dreaded Dr. Procrastination? I guess you do. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be reading this post, would you?

In the past year or two, I have been trying to understand where procrastination comes from. This, in an effort to combat the affliction. During that time I have learned lessons that are especially useful, albeit not always easy.

My current approach to defeat procrastination, as I am still learning myself, is two-fold:

  1. Add, plan, and prioritize anything that I need or want to do using
  2. Apply 5-minute rule.

The second part is probably the easiest but let’s start with the first.

Write it down

At this moment I write down everything that I want to do. Even if I have just done it or are going to do within a couple of minutes. This gives me insight into how much it is that I am actually doing. It also prevents those pesky moments where you want, or promise, to do that one thing and subsequently forget it because you were too preoccupied when you said you would.

The downside to forgetting is also that it lures you into another counter-productive behaviour: blaming yourself or feeling embarrassed. Let me tell you, that behaviour sucks the life out of you and increases the chances of procrastination.

There is another upside of writing down the things you do. You get to choose what you do and do it with intent. Many of us, including me, are sometimes ‘going through the motions’. We do not aim to accomplish a feat but instead just do our job and ride the waves. Although this can be comfortable, it can also be a cause for dissatisfaction and a feeling of aimlessness in one’s life. By writing down the things you plan you get a moment to consider: do I want this and is this helping me?

So by writing things down you can focus on the things that matter to you, celebrate that you do those things, and decrease the chances of feeling blue for forgetting (no more midnight wake-ups with that ‘Oh F*ck’ feeling!) .

Plan and prioritize

Now, as you are writing things down you may experience anxiety because the list keeps growing and growing. This is normal. There is no need to worry.

To relieve this feeling you plan any activity for a given day, and prioritise it. Planning ensures it gets done and you can park the activity in the back of your mind until that day comes. By giving it a date you can relax and pick a moment for it that works for you. It may sound weird but most things are not that important to do today or even right now. Make use of this and reduce the stress.

If you really want to put some focus in your day, start your day by reviewing your plans and re-prioritise or shift tasks for maximum effect. Bonus: you don’t need to wonder throughout the day what to do next! You can use your list just like you would a shopping list; preparation to minimise the time and effort needed to think of when to do what.

Second: prioritise. The truth is you will seldom get everything that you had planned for that day done. This too is normal. A trick I learned is to prioritise my tasks with a P1, P2 or P3.

  • P1 items must be done on the day that you planned them and are the first and only things you work on. If you plan well, these are the tasks that will further your life goals the most. If they are not, reprioritise these tasks or you may want to reconsider your life goals.
  • P2 items are things that would be awesome if that gets done on that day but only if the P1 items are all gone. If I don’t finish my P2 items on one day I shrug and reschedule it.
  • P3 items; well, you get the gist. You only do these after all P2 items are done and if there are more tasks left than the day is long. Reschedule to another day. You made these P3 for a reason.

Apply the 5-minute rule

The 5-minute rule means that you pick the hardest and highest task from your backlog of the day and promise yourself that you will work 5 minutes on it. No matter how much resentment and hesitation you have for that task, what harm can 5 minutes do?

This is where some magic lies. The 5-minute rule tricks your brain in two ways:

  1. Your brain does not like unfinished work and so you tend to finish it (this is sometimes called the Zeigarnik effect).
  2. Your brain does not like to discard work that you have already done (this is a variant of the sunk cost fallacy).

So what happens after five minutes is that you probably do not want to stop but instead finish that thing on your list. And if you prioritised well then chances are high that that item is your most important and scariest thing on your list; and: you. did. it.

Bonus: avoid quick wins on your list

This advice seems strange and honestly, some time ago I may have said the opposite. Quick wins can increase your procrastination level. You get a short boost in energy from completing one, but that lasts just a short time and you have just spent valuable energy. Energy, that you could have used to do that one super-important thing that you have been avoiding.

Quick wins are also frequently one of the least important things on your list. If they weren’t, you would have probably done them long ago.

Conclusion: Do it with intent, and bite the bullet.

Whatever you do, make sure it is a conscious decision and do the hardest thing first. Plan and prioritise your days, and do the thing first that will help you achieve your life goals.

And the best part is when you have done that hard thing it feels far more rewarding than all the little quick wins combined. How’s that for a reward?

I hope these tips help you in overcoming your procrastination.