Beat procrastination to get productive

Almost all of us find ourselves getting distracted or putting things off from time to time, but for around one in five people, it’s a chronic problem. Psychologists believe that we’re not born procrastinators, but it’s a habit that grows over time.

Why do we procrastinate?

Procrastination happens when we delay doing things we should be doing. This often occurs because we prefer doing things that make us feel good right away (immediate gratification), like watching TV or playing games, instead of tasks that have longer-term rewards or distant deadlines. We might also procrastinate because we’re worried about not doing a perfect job or meeting our own or others’ high expectations, so we put it off. Sometimes, we’re just not motivated or sure where to start with a task.

The good news is that habits can be broken as well as made. So, we’ve gathered together advice from the experts to help you beat the procrastination bug – today, not tomorrow.

Break up tasks

One of the hardest things for procrastinators is to know where to start. “Analysis paralysis is one of the number one causes of procrastination,” says Gregory Ciotti, a writer whose work focuses on behavioural psychology.

He recommends drawing up a list the night before of three main tasks you want to get done, and the steps required. That way, when you sit down to work, there’s no need to prioritise or plan – just work through the list in any order you can.

Make yourself accountable

If you’re a habitual procrastinator, you’re always breaking promises to yourself. But you can make it easier to stick to the task and tougher to give up if you publicly commit to a goal.

Caroline Webb, CEO of coaching firm Sevenshift, says, “Research has found that it matters greatly to us whether we’re respected by others – even by strangers. Most of us don’t want to look foolish or lazy to other people.” Because of this, we work hard to finish tasks that we might have given up on, left to our own devices. So, try sharing your goals with a friend, family member, or colleague who can help hold you accountable.

Shut down the distractions

The internet is a powerful productivity tool and also the greatest distraction ever invented. But Joseph Ferrari, professor of psychology at DePaul University in Chicago, advises us to use technological tricks to curb interruptions – like the Freedom app, which puts the internet on time-out to improve your focus, or Forest that helps you stay focused by motivating you to avoid picking up your phone.

“Today’s technology can help us not procrastinate if we use it wisely. We don’t have to surf the web for hours on irrelevant tasks. We can get systems that time us out after 10 minutes,” he says. “Use technology as a tool, not as a means of delay.”

Reward yourself

Did you tick another item off your list? Then it’s time for a bit of positive reinforcement. Rewarding yourself when you get things done is all part of building better habits and making it easier to get started next time.

Clinical psychologist Joel Minden suggests indulging in your distractions once you’ve completed each chunk of work. “You can watch Netflix, drink a mocha, take a bike ride, call a friend, visit a neighbour, read a book chapter, or any of the other things you’d rather be doing if you weren’t taking care of commitments,” he says.