Why we procrastinate and how to stop
If you have ever had trouble persuading yourself to do things you should do or would like to do, you have experienced procrastination. When you procrastinate, instead of working on important meaningful tasks, you find yourself performing trivial activities.
If you are a typical procrastinator, perhaps you spend an excessive amount of time hitting the snooze button, watching TV, playing video games, checking Facebook, eating (even when you’re not hungry), obsessively cleaning or pacing back and forth through the office. Afterwards, you feel powerless and are overcome with feelings of guilt and frustration. Once again, you end up doing nothing. Sound familiar?
Lazy people don’t do anything and are just fine with it. Procrastinators, however, have the desire to actually do something but can’t force themselves to start. They truly want to fulfil their obligations but just can’t figure out how.
Don’t confuse procrastination with relaxation either. Relaxing recharges you with energy. In stark contrast, procrastinating drains it from you. The less energy you have, the greater the chances of you putting off your responsibilities, and, once more, you will accomplish nothing.
My dad always used to say, “Petr, you need to learn how to give yourself orders.” I would always answer: “What do you mean, Dad? I tell myself what to do, I just don’t listen.”
Seneca, the Roman philosopher, also warned: “While we waste our time hesitating and postponing, life is slipping away.” This quotation reveals the main reason why learning to overcome procrastination is so important.
The most extensive meta-analysis of studies on procrastination ever conducted indicates that failure of the ability to listen to ourselves is most likely the main reason why we put things off. The scientific name of this ability is self-regulation.
Self-regulation is the ability to consciously control your emotions. The more developed this ability is, the more often you will do what you tell yourself to do and the better you will resist temptation. Thanks to this, you will procrastinate less. Current research indicates that willpower can be compared to a muscle. It is possible to strengthen it through training.
To overcome paralysis, you need to start by setting the bar as low as possible. Creating habits isn’t about quantity; it’s about small steps and regular repetition. By making gradual increases once you learn a new habit, you can strengthen your willpower muscle. As you slowly raise the bar, your willpower will gain strength. The more powerful it is, the easier it will be for you to overcome more and more obstacles.
Learning how to wake up early, eat healthily, exercise regularly, or eliminate bad habits can all be achieved by taking small steps, too. Gradual changes are more pleasant than sudden, radical shifts. They are more enduring, and therefore the odds of success are much higher. Because you only have one willpower muscle for everything, if you train it to perform one activity, you can use its strength to do other things as well.
How to Create a ‘To-Do Today’ List
These ten guidelines will significantly increase the amount of tasks you are able to handle on a daily basis:
1. Lay out your tasks
Take a blank piece of paper and write down all of the tasks you would like to do on a given day. Give each task a concrete name. This enables you to better imagine what the task requires and thus decrease your aversion towards it. For example, labelling a task “Call the mechanic” does not evoke the same negative feelings as the too-abstract “Mechanic” might. If you are able to imagine your task, you will eliminate fear of the unknown and uncertainty.
2. Split large tasks up and combine small ones
Each task should take you between 30 and 60 minutes to complete. If you have something more complicated (such as “Writing a book”), always break it up into a set of smaller tasks (“Write two paragraphs of the book”). Large and complicated tasks are easy to avoid. By breaking large tasks up into ‘bite-sized pieces’, you will be able to significantly decrease the aversion you might have towards them. (Incidentally, check out these secrets to self-publishing.)