How to Stop Procrastinating — A Guide on how to Actually Get more things done and achieve your goals
Procrastination, the act of delaying tasks or actions despite knowing the negative consequences, is a pervasive challenge that affects individuals across all areas of life. To effectively combat procrastination, it's essential to comprehend its underlying mechanisms. In this guide, I’m going to dive into the scientific and anecdotal aspects of procrastination, exploring what it is and why it happens, before providing evidence-based strategies to overcome it. What is Procrastination? Before we tackle how to deal with procrastination, it’s important to understand exactly what it is.
Procrastination is a complex psychological phenomenon rooted in behavioral, cognitive, and emotional factors.
According to scientific research, procrastination often occurs due to the interplay of impulsivity, self-regulation, and emotional regulation. It involves the postponement of tasks despite being aware of their importance, leading to stress, decreased productivity, and impaired overall well-being.
Or, to put things simply—you have important things to do but you take your sweet time to do them. The Procrastination Cycle Procrastination typically follows a cyclical pattern. It starts with the intention to complete a task, followed by delaying action due to various reasons such as fear of failure, lack of confidence, or the perception of the task being too challenging. This delay leads to guilt, stress, and increased anxiety, reinforcing the negative cycle of procrastination. Why You Procrastinate and What to Do About It Recently, I’ve come to realize that procrastination is a massive part of most people’s lives. I often see people with great ambitions whether that be a client of mine or someone sharing their personal story on the internet. They have goals and desires but can’t find the means to achieve them. T This is my two cents on the matter: Procrastination doesn’t need to be complicated. In my experience, the reason why people procrastinate comes down to 2 primary reasons. The first reason is because someone lacks the steps to achieve a goal. The second reason is because someone lacks the motivation to achieve a goal. Conceptually, procrastination is fairly simplistic. So let's dive into how you can fix your procrastination no matter which of these two areas you fall into.
Not Knowing the Steps to Accomplish: There you are. You have a project due in a month. It seems a bit complicated and overwhelming. “I’ll figure it out”, you think to yourself as you re-read the criteria over and over again. You put off the project for a day. A day turns into a week. 3 weeks fly by. And before you know it, your project is due tomorrow and you still don’t know where to begin. You’re overwhelmed. You question why you waited so long to start. You beat yourself up over it. Partially because you’ve learned from your mistakes. And partially because you haven’t learned anything. You know you’ll procrastinate again in the near future when you get another project just like this. But how do you stop this anxiety-producing cycle? One effective way to overcome this challenge is by finding a mentor or expert who has achieved what you aspire to accomplish. By emulating their strategies and reverse engineering their success, you gain a clear roadmap to follow. Avoid guesswork; instead, meticulously replicate their initial phases, learning from their experiences, as detailed in various studies on successful goal achievement. Imagine you’d like to be a great swimmer. Don’t try to guess and check the process by trying endless swimming routines you see online or in miscellaneous books. We often believe that we need more. But, in reality, having too much creates a paradox of choice. Having too many options causes most of us to use none of them. Or, at the very least, we use none of them proficiently. After establishing what you want, find someone who has done it. Then, find out what they did either by shadowing them, listening to them, or studying them carefully. Finally, do those things the exact way they did it. Will it work out for you the way it did for them? It likely won’t. However, having a starting point and a guide that has proven to lead to results will prevent you from freezing up and delaying any efforts at all. Do this when you don’t feel Motivated 1. Push Through The Pain
Have you ever had a goal but struggled to force yourself to do it? The essay that you have to write as a college student. The proposal you have to submit as an executive. The business plan you have to write as a startup founder.
We all encounter tasks that may be boring and demotivating. And this lack of motivation causes us to put it off. Either to never get done or to rush to finish it at the very last minute.
I usually teach my clients 3 key things that help them push through their procrastination. The first thing is understanding that motivation is unreliable and that simply getting the work done despite not being motivated is ideal. Rather than wait until the last minute, make your best attempt to do at least a little bit of work that isn’t difficult.
Use what I call the J-Curve method, a psychological concept supported by studies such as Carol Dweck's research on growth mindset. I created the J-Curve method based on a principle within economics. Essentially, you need to understand that a project or task will likely be boring for 10-15 minutes. However, if you can do some work toward that task and push past the 15-minute mark, you’ll find that the task is no longer demotivating. You begin to adapt to working and from there, you can increase your output.
Push through initial challenges, acknowledging that hard work is essential for progress. Over time, as you see results, your motivation will increase.
2. Evaluating the Necessity of Tasks
Evaluate whether the tasks you're procrastinating are necessary steps toward your goal. Years ago, as a college student, I noticed that many students I knew entered college intending to be engineers. However, when it came time to declare their major, most switched to something else.
Why is that? After speaking to many of them, I noticed something interesting. While engineers might believe that the other students weren’t intelligent enough to make it through the engineering program, the reality I discovered was that the students who transferred out of engineering never wanted to truly be engineers to start with. They procrastinated on their homework and studying because they didn’t genuinely desire the life of an engineer. This led to a lack of motivation to complete the assignments effectively or learn the material.
I’ve noticed this in my own life. As a student, I hated tests and homework assignments. Because of this, I tried to avoid doing them or I’d do them sloppily. This impacted how well I did in class, of course. However, in modern years, as I’ve grown an appreciation and fascination with those exact same topics, I find them to be much easier to study. I don’t procrastinate because I like the content and see it as a part of my growth and development—a mindset I didn’t have during my academic years.
If you find yourself struggling to perform a task, ask yourself if the task actively contributes to your goal. If not, don’t do it. Do something else. If you procrastinate or skip leg days at the gym because you believe you need to do barbell squats and you hate barbell squats, simply replace that exercise with another movement you enjoy that’s also effective.
In reality, there are multiple ways to reach a goal. Find the road that’s most suitable for you. 3. Adapting Goals
Sometimes, changing the goal itself can alleviate procrastination.
While it might not always be ideal, it helps to recognize that the necessary steps to achieve a goal might not be something you’re interested in. Imagine you work at a company and in order to get the position you desire, you need to make 2000 cold calls a week. However, you loathe cold calling. You find attempting even 5 cold calls to be anxiety and stress-inducing. The reality is that you’d have to learn how to manage the anxiety and jump from 5 calls to 2000, or you need to acknowledge that you can’t get to that position—assuming that’s the only way to achieve it.
But understand this—that’s absolutely okay. You can simply shift the goal to something else where the steps to success are doable.
Procrastination is a hurdle that everyone faces, but it can be overcome with the right mindset and strategies. By understanding the root causes and implementing evidence-based solutions, such as finding mentors, using the J-Curve method, reevaluating tasks, and adapting goals, you can stop procrastinating and start making significant progress.
Remember, mastering productivity is a journey that requires patience, determination, and a willingness to learn. By incorporating these approaches into your life, you'll be well on your way to achieving your goals and realizing your full potential.
P.S. I’m taking on a few more people for my beta group who want to be more productive in the next 30 days. If you’re interested, click the link and sign up for more details.