Most of our day is spent on auto-pilot. Many of us procrastinate, we rationalize delaying tasks.
Did you know that there is a way to stop procrastination and that this method can become habit?
Stop procrastination in two simple steps.
Procrastination is something that many of us are affected by. We avoid doing a task which needs to be accomplished and instead choose more pleasurable things.
In the book, ‘59 Seconds’- Think a Little, Change a Lot, Richard Wiseman writes about the why we procrastinate and what we can do about it.
According to Wiseman, we procrastinate because:
- We see projects as a whole, rather than breaking them down into smaller parts.
- Being prone to boredom.
- Fear of failure.
- Inability to estimate how long it takes to do things
- Low levels of self-control.
- The feeling that life is too short to worry about seemingly unimportant tasks
Whilst these seem perfectly reasonable, I think that the reason we procrastinate can be put down to a desire for instant gratification.
You find reasons (excuses) not to do something because of the pain it creates in the moment despite knowing that the painful action may help you attain your long-term goals and objectives.
When there is a choice to feel good now or do something that will make you feel good later, we choose to feel good now.
It’s yet another example of the how the brain is partial to the easier option , the path of least resistance.
Now that we understand a bit more of the reasons why we procrastinate, how do we stop procrastination?
I have a strategy to stop procrastination and as with this entire site, it comes down to some simple steps.
Don’t let the simplicity of the steps fool you. It’s a bit like the 80/20 principle. These tiny steps are like the 20% of action that impacts 80% of the results.
(That and you are more likely to implement tiny steps than big steps = the impact is far greater than no steps at all.)
PART ONE – The Ziegarnik Effect
The Ziegarnik effect states that our brains hold on to unfinished tasks.
Russian psychologist, Bluma Zeigarnik noticed an odd thing while sitting in a restaurant in Vienna. The waiters seemed only to remember orders which were in the process of being served. After being served, the orders appeared to vanish from the waiter’s memory.
Zeigarnik conducted some tests, she asked participants to do a number of simple tasks like solving puzzles and stringing beads (Zeigarnik, 1927). Zeigarnik ensured that some of the test subjects were interrupted half way through the task.
Afterwards, she asked them which activities they remembered doing and found that people were about twice as likely to remember the tasks during which they’d been interrupted than those they completed.
The Zeigarnik effect is about the cliff-hanger, the “To be cont…” (did you just finish that word?)
It’s that TV show ending that makes you come back week after week to see what happens.
You seek resolution because the mystery is ticking away in the back of your mind.
How does this apply to habits and how does it stop procrastination you ask?
Well, whatever you want to achieve, break it down into tiny steps. Make the goal the tiniest part of whatever it is that you are avoiding.
Not only are tiny steps achievable, the Zeigarnik effect shows that they play on your mind and you feel the urge to finish them.
Tiny steps, therefore, encourage momentum.
‘Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task’ – William James
Great, but most of us know this (it’s similar to Newton’s first law, objects in motion tend to stay in motion) but we still don’t even start.
I hear you, ‘I procrastinate so even starting is an issue!’
So let’s address the hardest part, ‘starting’.
PART TWO – The habit of starting
Habits make behaviours automatic. Repeating a behaviour makes it a habit and removes the thought process. It stops being a chore and becomes natural, just part of your day. If you make good habits part of your life, they compound over time and can lead to massive success.
With the right habits you can stop procrastination.
In her book, ‘The Creative Habit’, Twyla Tharp outlines one of the secrets to her success:
“I begin each day of my life with a ritual; I wake up at 5:30 A.M., put on my workout clothes, my leg warmers, my sweatshirts, and my hat. I walk outside my Manhattan home, hail a taxi, and tell the driver to take me to the Pumping Iron gym at 91st street and First Avenue, where I workout for two hours. The ritual is not the stretching and weight training I put my body through each morning at the gym; the ritual is the cab. The moment I tell the driver where to go I have completed the ritual.”
Putting it all together:
So far we can see that the task needs to be tiny, smaller than the whole and we need a routine to get started on this tiny step.
Your morning routine sets the tone for the rest of your day. So what if you include something into your morning routine to encourage action and stop procrastination?
Well, you can!
The bestselling book ‘The one thing’ by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan, suggests that you start each day with the focussing question: ‘What’s the one thing that you can do such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary.’ (I highly recommend that you read the book as the more you understand it, the more effective it is.)
If you ask yourself this question as part of your morning routine and write down your answer, you will have implemented both parts of the stop procrastination strategy.
The simple act of making a list makes you substantially more likely to complete it (It’s the Zeigarnik effect) Your mind will remain fixated on an unfinished task, causing you to feel uneasy until you complete the task. Studies suggest that productivity improves by 25% when you work off a list.
Note: too many tasks on the list will overwhelm you and limit productivity.
Whilst this strategy seems small, the mere act of habitually asking yourself what needs to be done and listing it down has a huge effect.
This action is so small, small enough to ensure that you can achieve it every day and, therefore, form a habit.
Achievement does not require full-time discipline, it requires discipline long enough to form the habit. Once the habit is instilled, the behaviour becomes part of your life.
As stated in ‘The One Thing’, ‘The trick to success is to choose the right habit and bring just enough discipline to establish it.’
Habit reCode has a module dedicated to this strategy. “The One Thing’ module ensures that you make a habit of asking the focussing question every morning. This module will help you to stop prog=crastination and get things done.
Final Point: You don’t need more discipline than you have; you just need to manage it well.
Don’t forget that annoying pop up where you can sign up and receive the free Habit change workbook.
Go get em tiger…