If you're reading this article, it's probably for one of two reasons: 1. You are part of RNGG or know me from Twitch; 2. You googled how to stop procrastinating and found this by sheer luck. For the sake of this article, I'm going to assume the latter and introduce myself.
"Hello. My name is Zozoken. And I am a procrastinator."
If you've struggled with this problem for any length of time, you've probably gone through tons of resources in order to curb your natural tendency to veer off into Procrastination Land. You've heard the Ted Talk and laughed at the example of researching for a thesis that suddenly snowballs into looking up the 1994 Nancy Kerrigan / Tonya Harding scandal. You've tried eating the frog, making Pomodoro timers, creating SMART goals, and other task-efficiency tactics. You bought calendars, day planners, downloaded to-do apps, made checklists, practically everything you could find in self-help books. But nothing worked. You cry in silent agony as you see time passing by inefficiently, uncaring on whether you used it wisely or not. Does this sound like you?
I don't just procrastinate. I stew in it. I live and breathe it. I have wielded it for so long that it is now a metaphorical extension of myself. Like a Jedi training in the Force, I have become a master of it.
So why is it that I seem so hard-wired to put things off until the very last minute and then finish it in a flurry of time-sensitive blows? Is it due to lack of self-control? Is it laziness? Too little motivation to finish? Too many motivations at once? Am I not focused enough on the task? Are my goals too big or not realistically attainable? More importantly, is there a way to fix it?
I have tried many, many proven methods and none of them were satisfying to me, nor was I able to stick with them. I was on the brink of giving up, relenting that I will be playing this mental tug-of-war with myself forever. But there is hope...
These are the four things that got me to break my procrastination:
1. Form Good Habits
As someone that has a difficult time relying on schedules and checklists to keep me on task, I have found that forming strong habits is the single most important step I have done towards combating unhealthy procrastination. Famous English poet John Dryden once said (or at least, is credited as saying) "We first make our habits, then our habits make us." When it comes to taking command of our life, nothing is more true. Habits are the foundation of everything you do in life. According to scientific research, it can take anywhere from 20 to 80 days to create a new habit. If you can stick with your plans to exercise, eat right, and get a good night's sleep, these little things can lead to vast improvements in self-esteem and task efficiency.
2. Set A (Flexible) Schedule
Every guide I read about planning your day encourages me to make detailed schedules where I order my tasks in order of importance and force myself to do them. Too bad I don't work very well that way! I'm a person that works best with systems, not schedules. At the same time, a complete lack of a schedule makes me unable to be productive at all. It's like I have to make a choice between productivity and fulfillment. The happy medium I have found is making a flexible schedule. I assign times where I'm working towards a goal, but without any set tasks or "to-do" list. If need be, I can arrange my schedule so that I'm able to work on more important tasks as they come up. This not only helps me to build stronger habits, but it gets me excited because I'm working towards a goal without it being routine. This makes me look forward to spending time on the project at hand instead of looking for ways to distract myself from the task.
3. Finding Inspiration
This next piece of advice might be hard for some of the more hardcore introverts out there: go out there and do something! Our lives don't exist in a vacuum. If you are the type of person that likes exploring ideas and "what if" scenarios, go outside and walk around. Try new experiences, even if they are small. Try to learn a new skill or pick up a new hobby. Anything that encourages us to think of things in a new light. I think that's why I love to read so much. Although this might sound counter-productive, I have found that when I allow myself to enjoy new things, the perspectives that open up allow me to be more creative and get away from the routine but necessary chores like house work. It can be tempting to curb your fun until you get the important stuff done, a lot like forcing yourself to eat your greens before you're allowed to eat dessert. But I have found that just a nibble of mental dessert helps me to look forward to more of that dessert after I've done the important but boring tasks. If you have the self-control to pull it off, this can potentially skyrocket your creativity and ability to deal with mundane day-to-day affairs.
4. Downsize Your Goals
If you're a "dreamer" like me, it can be possible to set goals that are too big or have too many goals at once. When this happens to me, I start the task and get completely overwhelmed. My mind reasons the task as "hopeless" and shuts off. Time to go back to Procrastination Land! But if you have the problem of staring at a blank sheet of paper or a document that has nothing but the cursor "|" blinking at you, eagerly awaiting your input, the best strategy I have found is to go from "big picture" to "first step". I think about what will be satisfying to me in this very moment that will also help me start this task. Instead of thinking about an "end goal", which is overwhelming at first, I think about the step I need to take in order to get started. After I start, I usually have a torrent of energy and can finish the task in pretty much one go (or at least a large chunk of it). I mean, that's how I ended up writing this article. :P
If you are like me and perform your tasks in waves, this guide might help you a lot. Good luck out there, procrastinator!