The ultimate guide on procrastination

Photo by Nubelson Fernandes on Unsplash

Before I start this, I’d like to make one thing clear: I am far from a master at not procrastinating.

I face it daily. Sometimes I lose. But sometimes, I win. I believe that those victories are due to tools that I’ve learned from experiences and others. I’d like to share those tools.

Before one can try and defeat procrastination, one must understand what procrastination is and isn’t. Procrastination is not something you can get rid of.

If it was, I’m sure I would’ve found out the key to that after my long YouTube binges on “how to be more productive.” Unfortunately, I haven’t found the key and based on my experience, procrastination has not been something that you can get rid of.

Procrastination is part of me, you, and humanity. It’s not entirely bad either. To oversimplify, Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist, has said there are benefits of procrastination and has stated them in his book, Originals.

However, this is not a guide on the benefits of procrastination. This is a guide to controlling it:

  1. Make doing your work feel easier.

There’s a key word there. Feel.

Work isn’t easy. The essays we have to write, the tests we have to study for, it is hard and grueling. They are hard things to accomplish. But we can make accomplishing them feel easier. How?

A video from Tim Ferriss, who is an entrepreneur and several other things, suggested one technique while trying to build habits. Instead of trying to work out, just try and get to the gym. Just arrive there. Instead of trying to floss every day, try to just floss four teeth. That’s it.

Once you’ve done that, your internal dialogue says, “now that I’m here I might as well work out.” “Since I’ve already flossed 4 teeth, I might as well floss the rest.”

We can utilize this when trying to accomplish work. When you’re trying to edit an essay, you don’t have to make it a herculean task and impossible to incomplete. Just open the essay. Or just read the essay.

If you can put in that minimal effort to just start the task, the hardest step is over.

2. Make it harder to be distracted

It’s easy to be distracted. It’s not hard to unlock our phone and open Instagram or Snapchat.

Work, on the other hand, is hard.

While we can make work a bit easier, we can also make being distracted, a bit harder. Before I explain how, know that while this might seem a bit extreme, the rewards are worth it.

Okay here’s how you do it.

Delete all social media on your phone.

Before you react, note that I didn’t say the word permanently.

Social media has its benefits, but its primarily distracting. The amount of time that we spend simply scrolling doesn’t help us with the work we’re trying to accomplish.

If you really want to check social media, you can re-download the app and sign back in. You’re probably asking why? If I want to check social media, then what’s the point of having an extra step to do so?

Because that’s exactly the point. Having to go through an extra step to be distracted, makes it harder to be distracted. If it’s harder for you to be distracted, you’re more likely to open Word or Google Docs and start writing that essay.

Now you might also be asking, if I want to make being distracted harder, why don’t I just remove it from my home screen?

The answer to that question, is while placing an app in the App Library makes accessing it harder, it’s not hard enough. There needs to be a certain level of extremity that comes with this. This forces you to work. If you take away the extremity, then this becomes pointless.

On your laptop, this could mean blocking Gmail until you’re done with work. With your phone, you can also take it a step further and turn off notifications when you’re working.

About 99% of the time, if the notification isn’t for a text from your family, it’s not urgent enough to distract you from your work.

3. Use the 5 second rule.

Another tactic to avoid distractions is a technique created by Mel Robbins called the 5 second rule. Whenever you’re doing something that isn’t helping you accomplish the day’s goals, simply follow this:

  1. Notice that what you’re doing isn’t helpful. If you’re scrolling on social media, when you should be writing, that isn’t helpful. Notice these distractions
  2. When you notice a distraction, set a countdown of 5 seconds
  3. Start counting down
  4. By the time you get to 0, you have to stop being distracted. In this case, you have to get off social media in 5 seconds.

Now, this is probably what your parents did when you’re younger. You might hate the idea of that. The catch is, this works.

You’ve put time constraints on your choice to be distracted. For reasons I don’t fully understand, that’s extremely motivating.

It feels really simple, but it’s extremely effective. Simply count till 5 and tell yourself by the end of those 5 seconds, you’re going to stop using your phone.

4. Hold yourself accountable

Sometimes, these tactics aren’t enough to help you get work done. Sometimes, you’ve tried everything, and you just continue to go back to being distracted.

This is where you can bring an external person to help you reach your goals.

Tim Ferriss (again) also suggests sharing your goals with others. The catch?

Put some stakes on them.

For example, if your goal is to finish a rough draft of an essay by the end of the day, tell a friend you’re going to do that, and then pay him a $1 if you don’t accomplish that.

Since most students in high school, including myself, are broke, this is usually a high enough risk to get you to start working. But if it isn’t, feel free to raise the financial stakes.

The power in this, is that now, when you choose to be distracted, you’re increasing the consequences of that choice. You’re not just losing time to accomplish work; you’re also losing money. Consequences and rewards are extremely powerful and its why parents ground children or take away their devices. Use them.

5. Change your schedule

Now even though you may be able to successfully combat procrastination, you can still be burnout. If you end up finishing your homework at 2 AM because you have clubs and sports, and then you have to wake up at 6 AM, that’s not a long-term solution.

The alternative to this, is to do your homework in the morning.

Before the start of 10th grade, I, like any other student in high school, did my homework after school and went at it for about 3 hours daily. It was not efficient to say the least.

Meanwhile, I had already built up the habit of waking up early and was currently using that time to read.

But going into 10th grade, I considered that I might use that morning time to do my homework instead. Then I’d have a free afternoon to work on whatever extracurriculars I would need to.

But you might be asking, what’s the difference between starting in the morning vs. starting in the evening?

The difference is that for most people, our energy levels are higher in the morning. We don’t recognize that, because getting two hours of sleep doesn’t allow you to have a healthy morning. When your energy levels are higher, it takes less time to accomplish work.

And, if you’re doing homework at 5 AM, and the assignment is due that day, you’ve made it impossible to procrastinate. If you do, the assignment won’t be completed, and you’ll probably get an F.

But if you’re working at 2 AM, then you still have another 3 hours to waste before you have to actually start working on your homework.

Now, some of you might say, “I can’t wake up at 5 AM.”

The thing is, you can. You just have to build that habit.

If you’re willing to, there’s two ways you can do it:

  1. You can immediately change your sleep habits. This means that from now on you just start setting an alarm, multiple alarms if needed, at 5 AM or whatever time is enough to accomplish the day’s homework.
  2. You can gradually build up the habit of waking up early. Let’s say you currently wake up at 7:30 AM. Then you can set your alarm for 7:00 the next day. You stick with that for two days and then move to 6:30. At the same time, you’re also going to bed 30 minutes earlier. You keep moving your wake up time about 30 minutes every couple of days and slowly you’ve built up the ability to wake up early. During this transition, you’ll probably have to do some homework in the evening and some in the morning until you have enough time to do your homework only in the morning. Both of these solutions are practical and work if you decide to commit to them.

6. Allow yourself to be distracted

After everything I’ve said, you’re probably thinking that this doesn’t make sense.

The whole point of this, is to defeat procrastination.

At the same time, we’re also humans.

Social Media isn’t entirely bad. Neither is email. Or text. Yes, they usually don’t help us get stuff done, but I’m not asking you to remove them from the rest of your life.

If you’d like to, feel free to do so. But if you want to have those things in your life, acknowledge that you need to control how you use them, and then set time for them.

Set 30 minutes aside to scroll through social media. That’s okay. Just don’t do it in between your work. Maybe consider it your reward. After you’ve finished your work, you can check social media.

Defeating procrastination isn’t about being a workaholic. It’s just about making sure you treat work as something that’s more important than distractions.

So, with that said, here’s your guide to fighting procrastination. I hope it helps.

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