How To Beat The Habit Of Procrastination: 6 Proven Techniques

Most people have big dreams. They want to start a business, get in shape, do well in school, or improve their relationships. But when it’s time to start, they find it almost impossible and continue to delay it, sometimes forever. This is called procrastination. Some people claim that it’s fueled by laziness and that people don’t want it enough. Is this true that people need to get their act together, or are there better ways to break the habit of procrastination?

Let’s have a look at what procrastination is, why we do it, and 6 techniques that can help you break the habit.

What is procrastination

You procrastinate when you delay a task, even though you know it’ll have negative consequences.

This might look like waiting to start an assignment until the moment, despite knowing it would have been better to start earlier.

It might look like staying in bed with your phone for an hour but having to hurry out the door without breakfast to make it to work on time.

Procrastination might look like many things. But the results tend to be negative, ranging from mild inconvenience to losing important relationships or missing out on your dreams.

Related: The worst habit for mental health

Why do we procrastinate

Procrastination is, like most of your behaviors, a habit. Something you’ve learned to do. At some point in your life, the behavior started. Despite your circumstances changing, the habit might not. But why did it become a habit?

Procrastination provides instant gratification. Most people find a strong sense of relief when something difficult has been canceled or postponed. The sense of relief creates a chemical reaction in your brain.

At some point, you’ve learned that you can give this feeling to yourself. It might have started small, but like any addiction, you have needed more and more to get the same feeling. After a short while, the habit spiraled out of control. Instead of creating relief, it creates misery.

Other behaviors that provide instant gratification, such as social media, games, and Netflix, can function in the same way. They might help fuel your habit of procrastination.

Related: How one habit can shape change your life

How to break the habit of procrastination

There can be many reasons for your procrastination. There isn’t just one technique that works for everyone. Below you’ll find 6 techniques that can break your habit of procrastination. You might find that one of them is enough to help you, but often, you’ll need a combination of several.

Related: How to break a bad habit

The 3-2-1 technique

The hardest part about doing something is the start. You might sit down to start the task but don’t feel ready. So, you get up, “prepare” yourself and sit down again. This loop might continue. Sometimes, you might do nothing at all before you give up. A simple yet effective way of breaking this loop is called the 3-2-1 technique. Here’s how you do it.

All you have to do is to count down from 3, either out loud or in your head, with the intention of using 1 as your signal to go. As soon as you hit 1, you should start moving.

You can use this technique for anything difficult. And the more you use it, the more effective it’ll become.

Related: How to make faster decisions with a journal

Make the task seem smaller

The more effort a task requires, the more likely you are to procrastinate. One way to avoid this is to break the difficult task, into several smaller to make it seem more manageable.

Writing a report is often a large task. You have to conduct research, collect data, write the different sections, edit the layout and text, and possibly more. A report is a difficult task, and if you look at it as a whole, it might seem too much, and you’ll do anything to delay it.

Instead, you can break the report into several smaller tasks. You have to collect data for section 1, write the section, and edit the section. You have to do the same for sections 2, 3, 4, and 5 before putting the finishing touches on it. Instead of 1 big task, you now have 16 smaller ones.

When the tasks become smaller, you might find that it’ll be easier to start. And once you’ve begun, you’ll be more likely to continue.

Related: The 5-minute rule

Set deadlines

Procrastination is a common habit, yet most people seem to be able to meet deadlines. Why is that?

When you have no deadline, you choose between doing something difficult now or sometime in the future. There are no tangible consequences from delaying the task. With this scenario, your decision seems to be comfort (procrastination) Vs. discomfort (Doing the task). Choosing seems easy.

But when the deadline enters the equation, your perspective shifts. Suddenly there seems to be a consequence of procrastination. As if the bad habit just disappeared, you’ll be able to start.

And while you can’t have external deadlines for everything you do in life, you can create some for yourself. Grab a calendar, weekly planner, or similar, and write down the task you have to do and when it needs to be finished.

If you find it difficult to keep your deadlines, you might add an extra incentive for yourself. An approach I found to work for me was to make a habit tracker for sticking to my habit of following deadlines.

Schedule your activities

Another variation of setting deadlines for yourself is to create and stick to a schedule. The difference is that instead of just having a time when the task needs to be finished, you have a plan for when you’ll work on it.

Scheduling might seem limiting, but once it becomes a habit, it provides freedom.

When you start, you might find it difficult to correctly estimate how much time you need for your activities. That’s okay. The first few weeks will be filled with many miscalculations. Don’t let that discourage you. Learn from your mistakes, and slowly you’ll find that scheduling can become a great tool for overcoming procrastination.

Keep your to-do list short

Having an overwhelmingly long to-do list is a sure way to create or strengthen your habit of procrastination. It’ll be too long to realistically finish, and the disappointment of seeing it remain, or maybe even grow, will make matters worse. Your self-confidence can worsen, and you get into a habit of thinking that you don’t have to do the items on your to-do list.

Here are two things you can do to avoid the long to-do list and maybe even break the habit of procrastination.

The 2-minute rule

The 2-minute rule is simple yet one of the best things you can do to avoid a long to-do list. If a task takes less than 2 minutes to complete, do it right away. Make that call, put the dishes away, fold your laundry, or do whatever task you have that takes less than 2 minutes.

These minor tasks won’t require a lot in the moment. But when you put them on your to-do list instead, they’ll accumulate quickly. Soon, it’ll require an overwhelming effort to complete them all.

Related: How to reach your goal with a journal

Prioritize the essentials

Instead of just writing everything you could be doing, you need to write what you have to do. You have to prioritize the essentials. You have to make your list meaningful, so you’ll complete it.

Alternatively, you can create two separate lists. One for the essentials and one for the could tasks. If you do so, focus on finishing the essential list first. When that’s empty, you can work on the other list when you feel like it.

Related: Productivity journaling

Remove distractions

What do you usually do when you procrastinate?

Some people pick up their phones, others turn on their PlayStation, and some clean. There are endless possibilities here. Most people have a go-to activity, but only a few, if any, would say that they just sit and do nothing. Why? Because the only thing worse for most people than doing something difficult is to do nothing at all. You can use this to break your habit of procrastination.

All you have to do is to make it impossible to perform your go-to distraction. For some, turning the phone off or leaving the controllers in a drawer will be enough. Others have to leave their home and leave all possible distractions at home. A great place to do this is at the library.

Related: How to use a habit scorecard to discover bad habits

Finishing thoughts

If procrastination is deeply engrained in you, you won’t just get rid of it in a moment. It’ll be a gradual process where you practice the techniques and slowly learn new ways of working.

The process is often two steps forward and one step back. Don’t let regression discourage you but use it as a time to learn more about what fuels your bad habit.

With time and practice, you’ll find that procrastination won’t control life anymore, and you’ll have the freedom to do something truly meaningful.

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