This will be a question that will never stop being asked. No one likes the feeling of procrastinating, you feel ashamed and guilty for not doing the things you should. It is a slight uneasiness in the back of your mind that there’s something better you could be doing with your time. You want to improve your life and put in the effort to do so but there’s so many distractions that end up occupying your time. Can one learn how to stop procrastinating? Why do you do it in the first place? It is not because of laziness or bad time management, but because you are conflicted with how to think. There is a battle going on inside your brain which always seems to lose to pleasure and immediate gratification every time.
How to Stop Procrastinating
Procrastination isn’t an individual flaw, it’s a human way of life. It is impulse to be happy in the now even if it means we are letting things sit on the side to do so. Humans choose and will always choose instant gratification instead of putting in effort to reap the benefits later. We like to live in the moment and think about the future. It is the dream to idle even if we suffer consequences. But procrastination is really weakness in the face of impulse and a failure to think about thinking. How to stop procrastinating is actually harder than it seems and something we can never completely get rid of. Want never goes away so it’s up to you to make what you want important.
The fact is you are constantly conflicted with how to behave because there are actually two of you both trying to get their own way. The person you are right now will not be the same person you are 10 seconds or a minute from now. You might think differently and be influenced by a set of different ideas and desires. What you want right now won’t be the same as the things you want later and that’s why you have trouble getting things done later. Now-you might want to lose weight but future-you wants to catch up on the fourth season of Arrested Development. Later is a gray area, you don’t know what you might want later so now is what you focus on. But right now, right now, you might feel like changing, which is why you’re reading this. But as quick as that 5 minutes into the future after you’ve finished reading this you have become future-you, who might have forgotten what you just wanted just 5 minutes ago. Now-you and future-you are constantly clashing and it’s usually future-you that ends up winning resulting in where you are right now.
I’ll get around to it. I’ll start tomorrow. Soon. Are you a victim of this? It’s not all your fault actually, blame the other you, the one that listens to impulse and desires. Future-you is looking to sabotage you when now-you wants to improve and do something beneficial for a change. To stop procrastinating you are going to have to outsmart yourself, you are going to need a strategy. Planning and willpower aren’t nearly enough, you are going to need wantpower.
People always choose immediate gratification now and plan to be more productive in the future. There’s no stopping this madness, it is an endless loop. You decide you want to do something self-beneficial soon and when the time comes you push the deadline back again. Over and over again like New Year’s resolutions you fail to accomplish it. The future shows promise and perhaps circumstances will be better for you to work in but it’s all a lie. Right now yields the best circumstances to succeed in because you know what you want and you want it bad. It is a matter of sticking to these circumstances until you get it done.
You need to trick yourself into believing that the things you want now are the things you should be doing. As you’re sitting here desiring to improve yourself there will be another you sometime later that might think differently and want different things. Your goal is to make that you sometime in the future realize that what you want right now has to be done because it will essentially make you happier. The now-you can see what the benefits are of doing what you should but you need to trick future-you into doing what’s best.
Want never goes away. It will always be there. Everyone on the entire planet has a problem with procrastination, but the ones that are smart understand that it is an intrinsic weakness and so are better adept to overcome it. You are always going to want to procrastinate so instead you need to think about thinking. You need to realize that you are going to want to procrastinate and then take action to prevent it from happening, preferably with a solid strategy.
The Art of War Against Procrastination
The key is to fool yourself into doing a little of whatever you’re going to do. If you’re going to write an essay just start with the first sentence. If you want to eat healthier start with fruit and nutritious foods you enjoy. If you want to get toned do light exercises. If you want to finish a book start by reading the first page. When you decrease the scope of the task’s importance you will find it easier to accomplish and before you know it you will get swept up in it, accomplishing more than you imagined. Setting up reasonable goals is a great way to get the ball rolling but knowing that you are likely to procrastinate you need to make sure it gets done. Making the job seem smaller can make it seem easier to accomplish and will give you more incentive to work at it. Simply devote two minutes to a task or break up a larger task and see where it takes you. Often you will find that doing things in small steps will give you more motivation to finish it. When now-you decides to do something beneficial you will set it aside for later when the time is ‘right’, preferably when you have more “energy” and “motivation”. Forget that. There is no perfect time, you need to trick yourself into believing starting now is a better time than any and doing something small is better than doing nothing at all.
Another way to stop procrastinating is to increase the pressure. Up the ante by cutting things short. Say you have a deadline for a project due in 3 weeks. Minimize the deadline to a week and see what happens. People work better under pressure which is why you already wait until the last minute to finish things. Allocating less time to something will end up making you work harder. With a lot of time to finish something it will usually give you peace of mind effectively shoving it to the side for you to wait on. More time means more time for leisure and the longer you wait the bigger the job will appear.
You can also incorporate the method of creating an audience. Tell other people about the goals and things you need to do. Doing it alone often means you are only left with now-you and future-you (and you can’t trust future-you). Having more people to encourage you will push you to work harder and remind you of your pressing matters. Losing weight? You can often find a person that will do it with you. When you run with someone are they running faster than you? Of course not, they are running alongside you as the two of you help to push each other. People are always willing to help, you just need to ask for it. Having other people know what your goals are will also increase the pressure and help you to finish whatever you need to do in order to avoid the embarrassment of giving up.
Disconnect. By that I mean disconnecting from the online world. It’s probably true that the internet makes up the bulk of your inefficiencies. Social media, email, Youtube, all sorts of distractions can be found online at the click of a button. Future-you is easily tempted by all those distractions which is why disconnecting can help a lot. By disconnecting from the internet you will find more time to focus on everything else. Unplug your computer or turn off your network. Work somewhere without a connection. Go outside or leave your smartphone behind. Read Focus by Leo Baubata. If you really mean it try using SelfControl, it’s a free program that blocks access to mail servers and websites for a set amount of time. Don’t want Facebook, Twitter, or email notifications for an hour? Simply start the program and you won’t be able to access any of it for an hour, and what’s genius is that once started it can not be undone, even by deleting the application or restarting your computer. Systems like this are meant to work because they give no room for future-you to sabotage now-you’s plans. Want to eat healthier? Buy a bunch of healthy, really expensive food and you’ll be forced to eat it because you don’t want to waste money. Systems that force you to act are the most effective.
Remember, productivity is a game of cat and mouse and people are programmed to do things that are pleasurable and new, because its effects are more immediate. You need to subdue impulses and think about thinking in order to stop procrastinating. Focus on success and prioritize your wants and shoulds. It is better to outsmart yourself than to make empty promises to yourself each and every time.