The Ultimate Guide to Stop Procrastinating and Get Your To-do List Done
Is it difficult for you to do everything you have planned? Are you missing exams, and deadlines?
Sometimes, by the time you start a task, it’s already late – and the stress becomes too high, and you can’t focus.
Do you regularly wake up in the morning and remember your to-do list? Yet, instead of starting work on it, you tend to do anything else. Maybe you start by checking your emails…
You might then message and comment under a post on your favourite Facebook group. Also, you probably think about postponing things during the day.
Welcome to the club! You are procrastinating.
And procrastination is dangerous.
If you don’t overcome procrastination, you could for example fail at work. Your boss could fire you.
More than that, your procrastination can affect your family members, including your children.
Do you want to risk your life, destroy your kid’s future, and feel embarrassed and stressed all the time?
Of course not!
The good news is that you can stop procrastinating and even use it to your advantage.
Here is how to stop procrastinating.
Let’s jump in.
1. Observe Yourself and Determine the Hierarchy
Observation is an essential skill. Especially when you want to find out the reason for your behaviour. It’s the first step of the scientific method.
Devote some time and observe your behaviour. You need to determine the hierarchy – in your mind, what is at the top of your to-do list and what is at the bottom. From all the things you have in your to-do list, the one you are avoiding/delaying is the one at the bottom.
It’s likely to be the most difficult, unpleasant, boring, big or new task. Meaning it needs most of your effort (mental or physical) and most of your precious time.
What’s the next step to stop procrastinating?
2. USE Procrastination to Get Your To-do List Done
The truth is, you can use procrastination to get more things done. Sounds unbelievable? Let’s take a look.
There is such a term as ‘productive procrastination’. The term was first introduced by the psychologist Piers Steel (2007). Productive procrastination means that while avoiding a big task, you will do other tasks which you would typically put off.
Remember the to-do list?
You will do all the tasks from the hierarchy while avoiding the one which is at the very bottom – the hardest one.
Sounds familiar? You bet!
You are not alone, and it’s actually quite normal behaviour. Here is how to use this.
Trick your mind and get everything done!
Surprisingly, you will be motivated to do every task from your to-do list in order to avoid/delay the final difficult task.
TIP: To complete your to-do list, assign the last task to someone else. Yes, simply outsource it. For example, if you are teaching children how to do chores, you can do them together and share the effort. You can ask your husband to take on the task as you have done everything else. Or, you can find someone who would love to do it, and then you can find something which is easy or even pleasurable for you instead. It becomes a win-win situation. A little cooperation does no harm!
Let’s jump to number 3.
3. DO procrastinate!
Because studies on stress have shown that:
– Most people are less productive under intense stress.
– Most people are more productive under moderate stress.
Usually, moderate stress occurs several days before the deadline.
So, don’t lose precious time – do procrastinate, and do something more important before.
TIP: Don’t start too late when stress levels are so high and you can’t finish the task on time.
4. What to Do if the Task is Boring?
How to stop procrastinating when you have boring tasks on your to-do list? A task becomes boring if it’s very easy or not interesting for you. Unfortunately, very often we need to do boring tasks and sometimes spend much time on them too.
You can defeat the boredom!
Combine boring with fun or pleasant. Here is my example. When I was at secondary school I enjoyed maths very much. But, because it was easy for me, it was boring to spend half an hour sitting down and completing tasks.
So, I would combine maths with snacks – I would write with my right hand and eat sweet corn puffs with my left hand. You can combine boring easy tasks with snacking on puffs, seeds, crisps or fruits – or whatever you enjoy. Whatever is reinforcing for you, something you already love doing.
5. What to Do When a Task is Unpleasant or Difficult?
Some tasks are unpleasant. Even aversive. Some examples could include bathroom cleaning, diaper changing or putting the trash out. It could also be a task which contains an intensive physical exercise.
How to encourage yourself here? Let’s take a look.
You need to do three things:
– Remove as much of the aversion as possible.
– Add as much pleasure as possible.
– Add some importance to this task.
Let’s start by removing the aversion – put gloves on first. Congratulations – you are halfway through! You can also remove all chemicals. In the case of bathroom cleaning or other home chores, use natural products instead.
Tasks can be made more difficult by a lack of tools or resources, which in turn will make you less productive. Being unproductive is another reason for procrastination. Get yourself some tools! These could simply be a sponge with a handle and little brushes. You need to increase your effectiveness to decrease procrastination.
Now, it’s time to add something pleasant to the process – and that’s music. Yes, listen to your favourite singer and you will finish everything in no time.
What about adding importance? Very often, when you have much mental work to do, you need rest. You can take a rest from a mental task and do a physical task instead.
Of course, the best ideas come while you are walking. Walking is good for the mind.
Sometimes you can have new ideas when you are doing chores. However brilliant ideas rarely come to mind when you are sitting in front of the computer.
Another way of adding importance to boring or aversive tasks is to start thinking about them as an exercise which benefits your health. In particular, if you are trying to lose weight.
6. How to Stop Procrastinating and Study
It’s difficult to stop procrastinating as a student.
When I started studying psychology at the Panteion University in Athens, my Greek was not so good. Of course, I couldn’t understand everything from the beginning. I couldn’t be a good student as I used to be at my secondary school.
Yet, I didn’t want to fail. The problem here was that the goal was too big, and the resources were too low – the ultimate stress situation! What should you do in these circumstances?
I was stuck and needed some help!
Now, the best thing that comes to my mind is Richard Branson’s tweet:
‘I am known around the Virgin Group as Dr Yes. As I usually answer yes to any exciting new ideas, then worry about the details later.’
For me, Richard Branson is an excellent example of a self-confident person. He knows that he can find a way even if the idea is new and nobody has done it before!
I was not like him when I started university.
Fortunately, help came very soon. It was my second semester when our Social Psychology professor talked to us about the study on learned helplessness among students and how to deal with it (the professor knew very well how we felt, I guess!).
Scientists conducting the study gave participants easy tasks first. The tasks they could complete themselves with little effort. After, researchers slowly increased the difficulty of the tasks.
Being able to complete the tasks increased the confidence of the participants. As a result, by using this approach, all tasks (both difficult and easy) were accomplished.
‘That’s it!’, I thought, ‘I know now what to do!’
I started studying with subjects I found easy, the ones I already knew, like statistics (maths). Some subjects were complicated. So, I left them for the last year when my confidence was already very high.
The advice here is, relax. Don’t have big expectations from the beginning. Start with something easy, interesting, something you already know. Build your confidence. Also, get help whenever you need it, especially from the start.
TIP: The biggest problem though is stress during exams. You can use different techniques to relax.
For example, a good way to relax and go to sleep is thinking of all the things and people in your life that you are grateful for.
Yet, the best thing is not to get stressed during exams in the first place. Here is the trick. Instead of spending less time with your friends during such a time, spend more time with them.
In particular, the more exams you have, spend even more time with your friends. Don’t do the opposite. Your mind will thank you.
7. Would Better Sleep Help You to Overcome Procrastination?
There is a new study from the University of Amsterdam. Wendelien van Eerde and her colleagues conducted it. The research team demonstrated the connection between sleep quality and procrastination.
A poor quality of sleep leads to more work procrastination the next day. Yet, not everyone was affected by sleep quality in the same way. Only employees low in the trait of self-control were.
So, if you sleep better, you will procrastinate less.
And if you are high in the trait of self-control, then congratulations! You will procrastinate less regardless of your quality of sleep!
Take care and don’t waste your precious time!
Remember, when you do everything you have planned, you will FEEL GREAT at the end of the day!
(Photo by Carl Heyerdahl/Unsplash)
One Reply to “How to Overcome Procrastination”