In today’s digital world, it’s never been easier to procrastinate.
And that’s a problem. Breaking your focus has a physical effect on your brain.
You draw from a limited reserve of energy every time you switch your attention from one task to the next, according to a recent report from Tobias Teichert of the University of Pittsburgh and Vincent P. Ferrera and Jack Grinband of Columbia University. The researchers say that these little bursts of energy required to refocus your train of thought accumulate throughout the day and can result in making poorer decisions and having less output.
For ideas to break the habit, we turned to the Quora thread, “How do I get over my bad habit of procrastinating?” Below, we’ve highlighted the best answers and added a few additional sources, as well.
Here’s how you can stop procrastinating and start getting things done — right now:
1. Set your priorities.
A big cause of procrastination is having loosely defined, “fuzzy goals,” says productivity writer Jim Stone. If all of your tasks for the day are given the same weight, then you’re more likely to bounce from one to the next, getting little or nothing done.
Author and speaker Tim Ferriss tries to determine one task each day that absolutely must be completed, and then follows it with those that are less important. “If I have 10 important things to do in a day, it’s 100% certain nothing important will get done that day. On the other hand, I can usually handle one must-do item and block out my lesser behaviours for two to three hours a day,” he writes on his blog.
2. Follow “The Clear Mind Procedure.”
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by a jumble of ideas in your head, Stone says, you’re more likely to turn your attention to something that doesn’t stress you out. A way around this is to pour out all of those thoughts onto a piece of paper or Word document, sorting them into “Do Now,” “Do Later,” and “Don’t Do.” Don’t hold back; it’s meant to be cathartic.
3. Set aside a time when you will have no interruptions.
Even if you’re focusing on your work, a coworker may walk over to your desk or a client may call you. While these kinds of distractions are sometimes inevitable, you should schedule blocks of time where you can work on a certain task without any other obligations, Stone says.
If you can’t find some alone time with a laptop in another room, try the Pomodoro technique. Work for 25 minutes straight — without opening another computer tab, without checking your phone, without even saying hello to a friend passing by. Then take a five-minute break to unwind a bit, and begin another Pomodoro interval if necessary.
4. Calm down.
If your responsibilities are giving you anxiety, then you’re more likely to find ways to avoid them, Stone says. Take a breath and determine the root of your fear. Instead of looking at everything on your plate, relax and consider what is directly in front of you.
5. Keep yourself challenged.
When you’re bored, you’re more likely to dismiss your responsibilities, says Stone. Let your boss know if your responsibilities have become too easy so that you can continue to grow as an employee.
6. Get enough sleep.
You’re more likely to find mindless ways to waste time if you’re so tired you can’t focus, Stone writes.
Arianna Huffington says that it’s easy for workaholics to forget that exhaustion actually causes them to get less done, and that just because you’re putting in long hours doesn’t mean that you’re working to your full potential. “Too many of us are fuelled by the fear that getting the proper amount of sleep means we must not be passionate enough about our work and our life. By sleeping more we, in fact, become more competent and in control of our lives,” she writes in her book “Thrive.”
7. Force a start.
“The most important thing you can do is start,” writes entrepreneur Oliver Emberton. If you have a tendency to put off difficult tasks, then begin your day with something easy, just to get things rolling.
8. Hide your distractions.
Do what you can to limit your impulses, Emberton says. If, for example, you’re inclined to chat with coworkers over instant messaging, then shut off your service for a while as you try to get something done.
If you a certain task doesn’t require the Internet, then you can even block access to it for a specific amount of time with a service like Freedom.
9. Reward yourself.
“Procrastinators have a problem with delaying gratification,” writes web designer Mohamed Riyaz. Find ways to incentivise yourself through the day, whether it’s filling out a workout sheet every time you go to the gym or grabbing a coffee down the street from your office only after you’ve finished your most important task of the day.
10. Break your schedule into small increments.
Procrastinators have a problem with large goals, writes Susan K. Perry on Psychology Today. Break down your tasks into increments that are easy to accomplish but still give you a sense of accomplishment when you finish them.
11. Get a buddy.
Having someone work with you can help get you out of your head, writes Celestine Chua on Lifehack. Sharing goals with someone can be especially helpful with goals related to physical activities, like the jogging schedule you keep telling yourself you’ll start.
Vivian Giang contributed to this post.
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