1. Make The First 30 Minutes Of The Day Always For Work
Does this sound familiar: you start the work day/study session by telling yourself you’re “just going to check email/facebook/twitter/reddit for 5 minutes, then I’m going to get to work”. Before you know it, 5 minutes has dragged into 2 hours, and 2 hours has dragged into 4 hours, and you realize you’ve spent half your day sucked into a never-ending loop of checking email, social media, youtube, and your favorite viral news sites?
The first 30 minutes of your day/work day/study session should be spent doing work. If you need to check email or your social news sites, do it once you’ve established a good work groove and you’ll find it much easier to shut it off. Or better yet, block distractions out completely until you’re done.
Having trouble jumping into those first 30 minutes? Tell yourself that you’re just going to get 10 minutes of work done and if its just too painful, you’ll give yourself a break. That first 10 minutes is usually all you need to start getting focused.
2. Become More Realistic
As you establish your schedule, set yourself up for success. Projects often take much longer than expected, so bake in some extra time. And look for ways to make it easier on yourself: If, for example, you are not a morning person, don’t expect yourself to get up an hour early to start the exercise program you have put off for months. It might be better to schedule that activity during lunch or before dinner.
3. Become More Self Aware
Procrastination usually comes in two forms. There’s:
- Difficulty in starting a task
- Getting distracted while working on a task
They both follow a similar pattern of self rationalization.
- You tell yourself “I really need to get started on this.”
- You feel stressed.
- You feel an urge to do something else, so you tell yourself “I’ll get started soon, but I can afford another 5 minutes doing this one other thing.”
Giving yourself this little reprieve relieves the stress temporarily and reinforces the neural pathways associated with procrastination, making it just a bit easier to fall victim to procrastination again, 5 minutes later.
Try this next time you find yourself facing this never-ending cycle. Next time you’re about to start a task and you feel a voice in your head telling you to “check your email, it might be important!”, or “I wonder if anyone commented on my Facebook status”, resist the urge. Tell yourself you’ll just resist it this one time.
You’ll find that the urge does pass once you acknowledge it for what it is – a sudden impulse driven by your reptilian brain.
4. Block Out Distractions
Distractions come in many forms. Sometimes, it isn’t Facebook or Tetris or cat pictures, but it’s work itself. Certain tasks are less important than others, and if you’re spending more time on those tasks, then you should treat them like a distraction from the work you should be doing.
To avoid distraction, use software like Rescuetime, StayFocusd or Freedom to block distracting websites, or block the internet out altogether. Not having to deal with the temptation of constant distractions will not only make it less likely that you’ll succumb to momentary temptation, but it will actually give you more energy to focus on your work and avoid procrastinating when you’re tired.
5. Embrace Imperfection
One of the reasons we procrastinate is to avoid having to make tough decisions and deal with a difficult task. If you’re trying to write the perfect paper, coming up with the perfect thesis can be so intimidating that you don’t even want to get started.
Instead of always aiming for perfection, start intimidating projects by just getting started. Can’t come up with a perfect first line for your essay? Just start writing anything that comes to mind on the topic. Can’t think of a topic? Just start writing down anything vaguely related to the subject matter.
The same can be applied to studying. Is the thought of reading that thick textbook too intimidating? Just start by reading the table of contents, or the first page. Too tired to take notes or really process the concepts? Just skim through what you need to get through and come back tomorrow to re-examine the material when you’re refreshed. Getting something done is better than doing nothing, and once you get started, you’ll often find you have more energy than you thought you did.
6. Make Yourself A Date
Human beings can be strange – if we’re meeting a friend, we’ll set a fixed time to do so, and we show up. Most of us would never make an appointment with a friend and simply avoid showing up for no reason. Yet when it comes to important tasks like going to the gym, or getting another chapter written for your novel, we’ll just set vague goals and feel perfectly comfortable pushing back our self-imposed deadlines.
Start scheduling your important tasks and showing up every time, no matter what. You wouldn’t bail on a meeting with a friend just because you feel a little tired, would you? So why do you do it with the gym? If you want to go to the gym 3 times a week, instead of just telling yourself you’ll go 3 times this wekk, pick 3 days and 3 times that you’re going to show up, and don’t miss those appointments no matter what.
7. Chunk Your Tasks
When a task seems overbearing, procrastination often follows. So how can you break that task into smaller, more manageable parts? For example, if you want to write a book, you may choose to make an outline, identify each chapter, figure out the sections in the chapters, and then commit to writing one segment at a time. Chunking it down like this will help you feel less overwhelmed and more empowered.