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I am a master of procrastination. Perhaps you are too. There are millions of people who suffer from crippling procrastination and it’s a real drain on productivity and efficiency. The weird thing is, many of us don’t want to procrastinate; we want to work at full capacity, but we just can’t. But with a few tips, I think you’ll be able to overcome this beast.
The thing about procrastination is that it can be caused by different factors in different people. Some people might procrastinate due to a lack of direction, others procrastinate due to a busy schedule or exhaustion. With that in mind, I present a few different ways to tackle procrastination from different angles. Use the ones that apply to you!
Perfection Is Impossible
On a personal level, this is the main reason why I procrastinate. I have a tendency to be a perfectionist, which means that I don’t like to do things unless I know I’m going to succeed. In other words, if there’s a chance that something will fail, I’d prefer not to do it at all rather than starting and risking failure.
This fear of failure can be extremely crippling – so crippling that these procrastinators won’t ever do anything. They appear to be lazy slacker bums to the average person, but they’re just suffering from this debilitating fear. This fear can affect everyone, but creative people seem to suffer from it more than others.
The trick to beating this kind of procrastination? Realizing that perfection is impossible. This is why we have things like rough drafts and prototypes. Learn to embrace failure. Make your task iterative; start with a rough draft full of errors, then go through multiple drafts where you fix those errors one by one.
Use To-Do Lists and Stay on Track
Another form of procrastination is caused by a lack of direction. You have a lot of things to do, but you aren’t sure where to begin. Or you have so many things to do that you feel overwhelmed by a big mass of work – how will you ever get any of it done?
This is why we have so many to-do list apps and programs on this site. To-do lists are extremely popular because they provide an easy way to keep yourself organized, they let you break down huge chunks of work into miniscule bite-sized pieces, and you can feel the satisfaction of work completed by checking items off your list.
If you suffer from a lack of direction, to-do lists are your best bet. Take big projects (write and publish my next article) and separate them into smaller tasks (formulate 5 main ideas, write intro paragraph, clean up conclusion, etc.). Then, whenever you look at your to-do list, you can just do one thing, cross it off, and come back later. That’s progress.
Set Deadlines For Important Tasks
Procrastination can stem from an overly busy schedule, a feeling of exhaustion, or just a general mismanagement of time. This is related to feeling overwhelmed or having a lack of direction, but it’s subtly different. You can know what you need to do but it’ll never get done if you don’t actually sit down and do it.
For something like this, you need to set hard deadlines for yourself. In order for these to work, the deadlines need to be very near in your future. If your thesis paper is due in 4 weeks, don’t set your deadline for 3 weeks from now. Take a small task and give it a deadline of tomorrow. Get it done, then reward yourself with a few days of no work.
Which brings up another point: these deadlines won’t work if you don’t take them seriously. To help you take them seriously, you may want to use a system of rewards and punishments. If you complete it on time, reward yourself. If you miss the deadline, pay your friend $50.
On that note, this works great if you can get a reliable friend to keep you accountable.
Schedule Times For Internet Access
Now we’re entering into the specific world of Internet-related procrastination. The Internet is probably the biggest personal distraction to ever grace human history. With just one click, you could be looking at cat pictures, shock sites, YouTube videos, streamed TV shows, forum communities, or anything else.
If you can’t be on the Internet without switching to your browser/email/chat every 30 seconds, then maybe the proper response is to temporarily shut off access to the Internet. Set aside a specific time period during the day when you can use the Internet, then unplug the router or modem at all other times.
The inverse suggestion is to set aside a time when you aren’t allowed to be on the Internet. Fool around with cat pictures as much as you want, but when 3 PM rolls around, buckle down and power through your work for the next hour. The cat pictures will be waiting for you when you’re done.
This is exponentially easier if you live with someone who can keep you accountable.
Disable Notifications and Close Programs
Maybe you have enough willpower to keep yourself from frequently switching to your browser/email/chat, but you instantly lose focus whenever someone sends you an IM or you receive a notification popup about that email you just received. Notifications are nice, but nothing says distraction like an alert that’s meant to steal your attention.
The solution? Turn off notifications! If you have the ability to focus deeply on a task at hand, take advantage of it! Prevent anything and everything that could rouse you from that concentration. Email alerts, IM sounds, blinking taskbar icons, popup notifications – turn them all off.
This goes for your phone, too. One text message could lead to your checking Reddit on your phone, which could end up in five hours down the drain…
Use Anti-Procrastination Tools and Programs
When all else fails, let technology do the hard work on your behalf. It’s somewhat ironic that we’re using technology to stave off technology-induced procrastination, isn’t it? But that’s where we are right now, so we might as well make due. Here are some programs and apps that’ll help you.
- Pomodoro technique. We’ve written about the Pomodoro Technique on MakeUseOf before, so I won’t go into too much detail here. Suffice it to say that it uses a system of work periods and break periods in order to boost your productivity – and it works.
- Silent time. There is a category of apps that can schedule “silent time” for your phone, meaning no sounds, vibrations, calls, texts, or anything else during certain periods of the day. These are fantastic when you don’t want to be disturbed.
- Nag scripts. There are programs that quietly sit in the background of your computer and nag you every once in a while. PesterMe is one of those programs and I find very useful. You can set a custom message that pops up every X minutes: “Are you slacking off right now?” is what I use.
- FocalFilter. FocalFilter is a program that temporarily disables you from accessing sites on your “blocked sites” list. If you can identify which websites are sucking away all of your time (Reddit, for example) then you can run this for however many minutes you need to kill those distracting sites and finish your work. Available for Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, and Safari on Windows.
Procrastination can be momentarily pleasant, but it’s extremely frustrating and stress-inducing over the long term. Hopefully the tips listed here will help you to overcome your own procrastination problems.
I cycle through all of these from time to time since I procrastinate for different reasons depending on my mood, so don’t feel too bad if you think all of these apply to you! What really matters is that you can identify the cause and then rectify it.