That daunting work project, a home renovation that’s been waiting to happen, a really difficult conversation. Everyone has things that they put off until the very last minute. The good news is: Procrastination is normal. The even better news is: There are ways to shift this habit and stop procrastinating for good.
In this 13-minute video, Tim Ferriss from Big Think shares 11 approaches he has found useful for overcoming procrastination.
11 Ways to Stop Procrastinating for Good
1. Focus on Long-Term Happiness
Dan Ariely, a Psychology and Behavioral Economics professor at Duke University, says we often choose to do things that will offer momentary happiness before working on a more long-term goal—a goal that is difficult or complex to achieve. Once we shift our focus on those long-term achievements, we can start the meaningful process of working toward them.
It’s like running a marathon, Ariely says. While you’re running, you may be in pain and look miserable but when you’re finished, you get to reap the benefits of feeling accomplished and successful.
2. Give Yourself Mini Assignments
When a music artist is stuck on writing lyrics or producing a melody, music producer Rick Rubin asks them to come up with one line by the next day, Ferriss says.
Very small homework assignments can seem more manageable than an overwhelming task like writing an entire hit song in a day. Ferriss says that when we put too much pressure on ourselves to produce, we give ourselves a kind of performance anxiety. If we can focus on small, achievable tasks, we’re more likely to avoid procrastination.
3. Differentiate Inspiration and Motivation
Fitness trainer Jillian Michaels suggests that the desire to complete something has to come from within. That’s where motivation comes into play. Motivation is the “why” that comes from you. It’s the meaning behind your work that will help you stay on course. Inspiration, on the other hand, is an external source or catalyst for change, Michaels says. Inspiration often appears in the form of a person or an endeavor that you admire, and it can jumpstart your efforts but won’t sustain your progress on a project.
Motivation is the “why” that comes from you. It’s the meaning behind your work that will help you stay on course.
4. Try the Pomodoro Technique
suggests turning off all distractions (including messages and emails on your computer), setting a timer for 25 minutes, and focusing as intently as you can on the task in front of you. At the end of the timer, give yourself a reward for your work—a break. Then, repeat the cycle again.
5. Build in Time for Procrastination
Sometimes, no amount of work-related success will compare to the bittersweet feeling of procrastinating. If you’ve tried everything else, don’t fight the feeling. Instead, build set times into your schedule to procrastinate. If that means giving yourself five minutes to scroll through your social media feeds, author Charles Duhigg says, you have to give yourself that time. “If you allow yourself five minutes every hour, it won’t explode into 45 minutes because you’ve been trying to suppress it.” Duhigg says.
6. Recognize When You Fall into Patterns of Structured Procrastination
Structured procrastination is giving yourself the sense that you’re making progress without actually making any progress, Ariely says. This may be, for example, diving into a full email inbox when you have a bigger task to work on. Checking off the tiny boxes in your inbox gives you momentary feelings of accomplishment when in reality you’ve still put off a larger task.
7. Set Fixed Amounts of Time for Important Tasks
It’s very easy to spend an entire day responding to emails or performing menial tasks that add up in hours, Ariely says. But it’s crucial to make sure that we set time for ourselves to work toward goals that will give us a sense of accomplishment in a month, six months, and a year. Ariely does this with writing. He sets aside allotted amounts of time every day to write. Not all of his sessions are useful, but by consistently writing, he says he can track his progress over longer periods.
8. Hold Yourself Accountable
We can hold ourselves accountable with powerful performance drivers like having our accomplishment recognized, aversion to letting someone down, or even friendly competition.
We are more likely to deliver when there is someone waiting for us to give them something, Ferriss says. That’s why it can be useful to set incentives or consequences for met or unmet goals. These can include check-ins with a friend or even monetary bets. We can hold ourselves accountable with powerful performance drivers like having our accomplishment recognized, aversion to letting someone down, or even friendly competition.
9. Keep Distraction Out
Duhigg encourages us to start our days by envisioning what the day will look like. If you commute in the morning, use that time to run through the series of events you plan for yourself. By doing this we can prioritize more easily. For example, if your boss poses a question that you were not prepared for, you’re less likely to drop everything and find the answer if you already have a set list of tasks on your plate. You can acknowledge that the question was not anticipated and that you will need to schedule time for research to answer it properly.
10. Reflect on the Root Causes of Procrastination
The easiest causes of procrastination to identify are physical distractions in your workspace. Try removing these distractions from your environment. Know that you won’t be able to stifle all distractions (like the internet, for example) so start small. Michaels also encourages us to look for outside help when needed—whether it be through your own research or counseling.
11. Make an Appointment with Yourself
While trying to write a screenplay, comedian Mike Birbiglia found that when he had a standing meeting with someone, he was never late. In fact, he was early. But when he set deadlines for himself, he would blow past them without a second thought. So, he started scheduling meetings with himself, Ferriss says. This method worked for him. With a set date, time, and place to prepare for, Birbiglia was able to keep himself on track.
These are just a few ways that may help us reframe procrastination. How do you deal with the urge to put things off?