10 Hacks for Procrastinating Less and Doing More

Ninety-five percent of us procrastinate. That’s what Professor Piers Steel reported in his book The Procrastination Equation: How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Stuff Done. So, the question isn’t whether we procrastinate. The question is how negatively does it impact our lives?

Here are some ideas on how you can reduce the impact of procrastination in your life, assuming you are among the ninety-five percent.

1. Exercise at Mid-Day

The British newspaper, The Guardian, reported some very interesting results of a study conducted by Jim McKenna at Leeds Metropolitan University. McKenna’s team studied 200 people who regularly engaged in thirty to sixty minutes of exercise during their lunch period. The study group demonstrated a seventeen percent increase in their performance over those who did not exercise. That’s the equivalent of doing eight hours of work in seven.

2. Leverage Alternative Measures

Try one or more of these alternative methods:

  • Meditate – Meditation slows our physical and mental processes down and gives us perspective on what needs doing when.
  • Self-Compassion – Research has demonstrated that the more we can forgive ourselves for past procrastination, the more likely we are to act now.
  • Music – Playing music that energizes us puts us in a positive frame of mind and increases the actions we’ll take.

3. Pander to Your Limbic System

The limbic system is wired to reward short-term benefits over long-term ones. Using this natural predisposition to fight putting things off requires us to eliminate unpleasantness associated with doing a task. Need to read a lot of paperwork? Do it in your favorite chair—at the office or at home. The point is to piggyback the pleasant with the less desirable to trick the limbic system into helping us get the work done.

4. Commit to Five Minutes of Effort

Research has demonstrated that committing to just five minutes of effort is enough to get deeply involved in the task. Once we’ve “opened” that task, we’re more likely to finish it.

5. Leverage a “Focus Funnel”

Rory Vaden, author of Procrastinate on Purpose, suggests that it’s important to understand the distinction between important, urgent, and significant.

  • Important is how much it matters.
  • Urgent is how soon it matters.
  • Significant is how long it matters.

We often fall prey to the sense of urgency tied to everything we receive. Functionally, we respond to the latest and loudest, often leaving the most important and most significant behind. Stop, take a moment to run items through the focus funnel, and then get started on what now seems to be the best use of the available time.

6. Ask Motivational Questions

Here are three questions that all deal with motivation in different ways:

  • What one thing can I do to get started? This question reduces the effort to one action, which is less daunting than a whole project.
  • What are my three biggest priorities today? This question joins the human mind’s preference for “3s” with prioritization, which can motivate us to action. Chris Bailey spent a year testing various productivity hacks. In his book The Productivity Project. He found that writing down three significant tasks to get done by day’s end increased the likelihood of those things getting done.
  • What will go wrong if I don’t do this now? This question focuses on the negative consequences of not doing the task, which can be equally motivating.

7. Think “No Right Now” Instead of “No”

One way to trick ourselves into working more now is to make a deal with our procrastinating selves. Instead of saying “no” to doing something non-productive, say “not right now.” Make an agreement with yourself to get a certain amount of work done, then go for a cup of coffee or make a meal. “No” is a much harder battle to fight than “later.”

8. Bounce Back from a Lost Day

Some days just get away from us. The emergencies pile up, and we spend our whole day reacting to what comes at us. One effective way to deal with a discouraging day is to make a small to-do list for the next day. This does two things. First, it raises our spirits to see what important things we will get done the next day. Second, the act of doing creates more energy to get more done. It’s a positive feedback loop. So, the next time the day turns disastrous, focus a little energy on the next day to help regain a productive momentum.

9. Get a Handle on What Needs Doing

We live in a complex and fluid world. Finding ways to simplify things makes them more attainable. That’s where a prioritization mechanism can help. For example, labeling things as 1st Order Priority, 2nd Order Priority and 3rd Order Priority. Another example is to mark things with a red highlighter for stopped, a yellow highlighter for percolating, and a green highlighter for needs doing. Work styles vary, but reducing tasks to three or four simple categories splits the entirety into more manageable segments.

Mike Vardy, CEO of Productivityist, has another take on this concept. He assigns “modes” to each task. That way, he can align his work efforts with whatever mode he is in. Modes can be very broad: Resource Mode (Outlook or Word), Family Mode (when he’s with the family), or Energy Mode(s) (high, quiet, early).

10. Develop an Anti-Procrastination Strategy

Here are three to choose from:

  • Commitment devices increase the difficulty of engaging in a bad behavior. For example, remove Facebook from the phone and only allow it on the tablet, which stays at home.
  • Ritualizing behaviors reduce the friction of starting by forming a habit. Finalize time sheets by the end of each day. After a while, it becomes a habit and can demark the end of the working day.
  • Implementation intentions focus our intent on a specific date/time/place for a specific activity. The vagaries are eliminated, increasing the likelihood of action.

Make Small Adjustments to Enjoy Life More

Procrastination is a part of life for most of us. Instead of worrying about whether we procrastinate, why not develop ways to minimize its effects? The above list can help you get more done, make better use of your time, and enjoy greater personal and professional satisfaction.

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