Putting the Brakes on Procrastination

The motivation to get stuff done is often thwarted with procrastination. Everyone does it – we all get distracted, or put difficult tasks off, get overwhelmed with tasks and sometimes lack the energy to get going.

There are two main types of procrastination. The first is known as Acute Procrastination, This is when you procrastinate from time to time, which is normal. On the other hand, Chronic Procrastination often has a deep and complex psychological issue behind it such as  a lack of assertiveness or perfectionism.

The good news is, over time you can learn ways to get yourself back on track, moving from getting started, to completion of those tasks you keep avoiding. Below are some ideas and strategies to consider to help put the brakes on procrastination, be more proactive and get stuff done.

Putting the Brakes on Procrastination

Write a ’to-do’ list

Knowing what you need to get done is a huge step in getting moving forward. Writing it down, may reduce the overwhelm that is swimming in your head. It does not need to be fancy – just jot down the tasks you have and if you can, quicky bullet point some of the steps you need to take to achieve it.

Prioritise your list

Now you have a list, prioritise your list with A, B and C tasks.

A = must to get done today

B = should get done today

C = low priority

You may wish to the code the A tasks, A1, A2, A3 etc so you have an order to complete them in. Believe it not, your brain loves knowing there is an order and can relax about other things you haven’t done yet, as they are on the list. Simply start with the A1 and work on that until it is done. Now move on to A2 etc. If you have a list that looks overwhelming, plan to complete it over a few days, weeks or months depending on your timetable and schedule.


Set a Timer

If the task feels just too big, set a timer for 5, 10 or 20 mins and focus on that task for a short time. You might find you get into the task and create a momentum to keep going. Alternatively, after your timer goes off, take a short break and come back to the task after your break. If you are clearing clutter, or doing a big task that can be done over several days, set a daily timer to go off at a pre-allocated time and focus on the task for your allotted time. You will be amazed at how much you can do in a small amount of time.

Minimise Distractions

As amazing as your brain is, it cannot multi-task and perform two or more tasks simultaneously. In Dr Adam Fraser’s recent newsletter he shared research to show that multi-tasking is up to 5 times slower than single tasking and doing multiple tasks is exhausting for the brain, therefore reducing your cognitive ability and focus. Ideas to lessen distractions include turning off notifications, closing your social media feeds and closing all the ‘extra’ open tabs on your browser. When typing a draft document or essay, turn off the spell check because each time you spell a word incorrectly, or miss type or have questionable grammar the red wiggly lines become a distraction and stops your flow of ideas. Remember to turn the spell checker back on once you have drafted the information!

Take Brain Breaks

Short brain breaks have been shown to be very beneficial for increased productivity. They can reduce stress, anxiety and frustration as well as provide a chance to restart with renewed energy and focus. You might walk your pet, do a puzzle, have a dance party, jump on the trampoline, get a drink or water or some brain food. Do something that is using a different part of your brain and if you have been on a screen, take a break away from screens to give your eyes a rest.

Clean up your desk

At his masterclass on 7 Strategies For Improving Work-Life Balance, Steve Francis share a concept of ‘treating your desk like prime real estate’. If your desk is messy and covered in clutter, he maintained that this will pollute your subconscious brain and make you feel guilty about all the work you still have not done. His suggestion was to keep your desk pristine and clear and ensure the untidiness and to-do piles are out of your line of sight.


Create small rewards

Sometimes we just have to get stuff done. Create yourself a small reward after you have completed a chuck of work. It might be to check your social media, have a snack, ring a friend or anything that gives you motivation to complete a small (or big) part of the task at hand. My favourite is when reading something challenging to do what is known as gummy bear reading! Place a gummy bear on each section of the book you are reading and when you have read that section you can eat the gummy bear!

Let go of perfectionism

A friend of mine uses the phrase, “Done is better than perfect.” Perfect is unattainable as there will always be more you can do to improve, tweak and embellish to make it better. Work towards excellence and completion of the task.

Ask for help

A problem shared is a problem solved. If you have company on a challenging task it can make the time fly by and you can get even more done. Whether you are studying and are working with a friend or need help decluttering, doing it with someone else just might give you the motivation to get the task done. If the task doesn’t need to be done by you, you might delegate to someone else to free up your own time for more important or urgent tasks.

Overcome your fear

There are at least two fears that stop progress and cause procrastination. The first is the fear of failure. Concern over making mistakes and getting something wrong can be paralysing. Instead think about mistakes being the stepping stones to success as you can learn for your errors and improve. The second fear is the fear of success also known as the imposter syndrome. This too can cause people to freeze and not take action because if they are too successful people might ask for more, or find out that you didn’t know how you actually achieved this success. To counter this fear, take baby steps towards your goals and focus on the bigger picture and your purpose.

I love the quote from ultra-marathon runner, Cliff Young. He said, “The race is not for the swift, it’s for those who keep on going.” Just as in the Aesop’s Fable “The Tortoise and the Hare” getting into action is not about speed, it is about consistency and focus.

Reflect on the ideas above. Which strategies will help you to stay focused and put the brakes on procrastination this week?

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Published on Wednesday, September 1st, 2021, under Life lessons, Study Skills, Success

Karen Tui Boyes is a champion for Life Long Learning across nations, industries and organisations. Winner of the NZ Educator of the Year 2017 and 2014 and the NZ Speaker of the Year award in 2013 & 2019, Karen is a sought after speaker who continually gets rave reviews from audiences around the world. Her dynamic style and highly informative content—which turns the latest educational research into easy-to-implement strategies and techniques — sets her apart from others in her field.

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