How To Hack Your Brain to Stop Procrastinating
- Why do we all procrastinate?
- What are some things to implement in your life so you don’t procrastinate?
- Why are these tips effective?
Why do we procrastinate?
People procrastinate for many reasons, but WHY? If you’ve ever procrastinated (which we all have) you know the feeling well. You wait and wait to begin and/or finish something you know has to be completed at a given time, and then, you run out of time and have to rush through whatever it is last minute. This leaves you feeling stressed, overwhelmed, and depleted. It’s a frustrating feeling - so why do we keep doing it again and again?
Did you know our brains are actually programmed to put off tasks? Research has shown that near-term gain almost always outweighs the attraction of future reward, meaning that simple gratification feels much more pleasurable. It all goes back to this idea of your brain and choice and looking at the opportunity cost of the given situation - what you would rather choose in that moment. Our brain naturally sides with concrete ideas and rewards over abstract ideas and rewards. So basically our brains are working against us but that does not mean we can't overcome procrastination. It means that procrastinating is not a personal flaw, it’s in our genetic makeup, which just means we have to work that much harder to re-train our brains.
Here are a few mental hacks to avoid procrastination:
- Take a break. This might sound counterintuitive, but if I find myself procrastinating, it is likely because I am heading towards burn out. I am usually non-stop and really passionate about my work, so procrastination is a red flag for me. If I find myself hesitant to start or complete a project, I shut down my laptop, head outside, breathe, meditate, have lunch with my sister, or get a good night’s sleep. Afterwards, I can come back to the task at hand with fresh eyes.
- Just start. It can be easy to get caught up in planning for perfection. However, I’ve found that there is a thin line between being prepared and entering into a spiral of perfection that ends up inciting inaction. If I find myself in hyper-perfection mode, I encourage myself to just start the project. So often, things change once they’re out in the open anyway, so it’s good for me to get the pencil to paper as soon as possible even if I don’t feel ready.
- Think about the big picture. Even the most tedious tasks become important when you remind yourself of how they will help you achieve the greater objective. If I find myself weighed down by a task or project, I remind myself that completing this task will help me achieve my goals. I love practicing visualization exercises, where I close my eyes and envision myself achieving all of my objectives. I imagine what it feels like to embody these achievements and notice all of the tiny details about what is happening around me as I succeed. This exercise helps me reignite the desire to move forward.
- Delegate. If I’m feeling hesitant to start something, I’ll always do a spirit check. If the project is important to the business, but doesn’t light a spark in me, I’ll ask someone else to take it on. If possible, I’ll find someone who either loves the work or can benefit from the project. Sometimes it turns out that a project is no longer aligned with my path and my hesitation is what signals me to bring it up for review.
- Reward myself. If there is something hanging over my head that I know I need to do, but that is challenging, I’ll do it first thing in the morning. I’ll then follow the difficult task with a project that I absolutely love working on, maybe creating a new program or checking in with some of my favorite clients. Following challenging work with work that brings me joy is like a mini reward for making it through the tough stuff.
- Make Lists. I make a list every morning of what needs to get completed that day. This can be very effective because I love crossing things off my list and completing tasks - it makes me happy.
- Make it playful. I have some fun colorful pens and notebooks that I use to make my to-do lists, goals, intentions, etc., and it really makes the task of crossing things off so much more fun!
- Stretch it out, I try and get up every hour or two to take a 5-min break. Use this time to get what you need. Sometimes I need to stretch my legs or drink a big glass of water or walk around the block to clear my head. I feel so much more clear and focused when I get back to my desk.
- Find an accountability partner. Find someone you trust to share your goals with. When we do this, it creates social pressure which can lead to success. That person can be your cheerleader, as well as your reminder to stop procrastinating. When you have a task to complete at work, tell someone when you will finish it. Your brain will feel more obligated to actually do it!
- Remove the hidden blockage. Sometimes we find ourselves returning to a task repeatedly, still unwilling to take the first step. Patiently ask yourself a few “why” questions — “why does it feel tough to do this?” and “why’s that?” — and the blockage can surface quite quickly. Often, the issue is that a perfectly noble competing commitment is undermining your motivation