Beating Procrastination: The 3- Step Process I Wish I Knew in My 20s
Stick to your goals and achieve your dreams by learning how not to postpone work for tomorrow.
Stick to your goals and achieve your dreams by learning how not to postpone work for tomorrow.
I recently ran a poll on my Instagram, asking people what’s the one thing they wish they could change about themselves.
Do you know what more than 80% of the people answered?
They wished that they could get rid of their habit of procrastinating on important things.
It’s no secret. In 2022, procrastination is one of the biggest problems plaguing the current generation. But have you wondered what causes it? As Alice Boyes writes in Harvard Business Review,
“(Procrastination arises) because of at least three factors: the absence of good habits and systems (poor discipline), intolerance for particular emotions (like anxiety or boredom), and our own flawed thinking patterns.”
Getting Rid of Procrastination: The 3-Step Process
Truth be told, I’m not a master at getting everything on my to-do list done.
I still procrastinate a lot.
But over the years, I’ve developed a three-step process that helps me stay on top of my tasks on most days. Sure, I do have bad days sometimes, but on an average day, I manage to cross off most of the items on my to-do list.
In this post, I’m going to share the detailed three-step process that has helped me over the years to keep my procrastination in check. These steps are all backed by science and are accompanied by actionable steps that you can start implementing right now.
If you feel procrastination is one of your biggest vices and you can’t wait to get rid of it, read on for a valuable action plan that might change your life.
Before you begin
The first question you need to ask yourself is: Why do you want to beat procrastination? Is it something that’s hampering your career or personal life, or are you simply too pressurized by the overachievers you see on social media?
Sometimes, it’s possible that procrastination is not letting you work to your full potential.
But it’s also equally possible that you already are overworked and you still want to achieve more. The hustle culture of today might have made you believe that you need to be a productivity machine.
To answer this question, you need to be very honest with yourself and do a thorough analysis of your workday. Some questions that might help you on this quest are.
- How many hours a day do I spend in front of a screen?
- How much of the work I do is directly impacting my career growth?
- What percentage of it is helping me become a better person?
- Am I doing certain tasks only to impress the people around me?
- How many of these tasks actually need to be done, and don’t stem from my need to “prove myself?”
The answers to these questions can be multilayered. You’re the only person who can come up with these answers.
Once you know the answer and you realize that procrastination is actually a problem in your life, only then should you proceed with this three-step process. The steps that I’m going to mention next are very hard to do and require a huge commitment from your side. If you don’t know your motivation to beat procrastination, it will be very hard to follow this process.
That’s why I strongly suggest some deep introspection and journaling before you can start this three-step process to beat procrastination.
Step One: Set Realistic Goals to Beat Procrastination
A few days ago, I wrote an item on my to-do list that I’d finish two 1500-word articles in three hours. Of course, when the three hours were done, I’d only barely managed to finish the first draft of the first article.
My first instinct was to beat myself up and call myself a loser.
But upon introspection, I realized that I was expecting way too much from myself. Yes, I’m a seasoned writer and I have 8+ years of experience writing online. But that doesn’t mean I’m a magician and I can whip up 3000 words in three hours.
This incident taught me that it’s important to be realistic while setting goals. If you’re not sure how to set realistic goals, these three questions might help you decide.
1. Are you excited about the goal?
So often, we trick ourselves into believing we need to do something just because someone else has done it. In trying to please the people in our lives, we strangle our own dreams and try to incorporate tasks into our to-do lists that we have no passion for.
If your to-do list is filled with things that you have no interest in doing, then ask yourself: Why are you even aiming for things that don’t fill you with excitement?
This might lead to a long journaling process that might end up in a career change. This is the exact same thing that happened to me in 2021 when I decided that none of the tasks that my workplace demanded filled me with excitement. That was when I knew I had to move out and get into a different career.
Of course, your introspection doesn’t have to be so extreme as to warrant a career change. But whenever you look at your goals, you need to make sure that you’re excited about them.
If not, either tweak the goal to make it more interesting or ask yourself, why are you even doing it, and do you really need to do it. Can you replace that goal with something else that you’re more excited about?
2. Do you know this goal is possible in the given timeframe?
In the above incident where I aimed to write 3000 words in three hours, I knew from experience that this wasn’t always possible.
If I was writing about a topic that I’m super passionate about, I might be able to whip up the required word count in the set timeframe.
But if it’s a topic that requires research, I can’t do it.
I knew my goal was unrealistic the moment I wrote it on my to-do list. But my monkey brain prompted me that I need to be ambitious so I can achieve more. This insane pressure made me write a goal that wasn’t even realistic.
It was a classic example of an overstretched goal. Research published in Harvard Business Review defines overstretched goals as having either or both of the following characteristics:
- They are extremely difficult to achieve.
- They include extreme novelty that takes time for you to get used to.
There’s no set rule to determine how much time you should take to achieve a particular task. It depends on your skills and level of expertise in that area. You’d be the best judge, and that’s only fair because it’s your to-do list and your habit of procrastination that we are trying to beat in this case.
So, be very honest when you’re writing down your goals. And only set tasks for yourself that you know can be completed in the timeframe that you decided.
3. Does the goal challenge you enough?
Often, I find my to-do list filled with boring and menial tasks that are important in my business but aren’t exciting enough for me. But I know I need to do them because they're an integral part of my workflow.
This includes tasks like scheduling content, replying to emails, pitching to new clients, etc. If I find that my to-do list is filled with only boring tasks, I have no motivation to start them at all.
To make sure this doesn’t happen, I mix and match my to-do list in such a way that it has enough interesting goals and some boring tasks.
This habit of mixing and matching didn’t happen in an instant. Rather, it’s a process that I developed over time. You can get started on this by being mindful while writing your to-do list.
- Make sure that each goal you write sparks curiosity in your brain and is challenging enough to make you want to keep doing it.
- Then, when the important tasks for the day have been set, fill the remaining time slots with the “boring” tasks that you need to do.
This way, even if you have a few boring tasks to do, the excitement of the remaining time slots will fuel you through the day. This spark won’t let you drop everything and procrastinate all day long.
Step Two: Reward Yourself For Completing the Tasks on Time
This might be the biggest cliche in the world of self-improvement, but it’s also the hardest to follow. Everyone knows how important it is to reward yourself after a task is done, but only a few people actually do it.
You need to set strict boundaries with yourself and allow yourself ample time for self-care so you can do the things that you love as a reward for doing the things that needed to be done.
I recently started the habit of watching one episode of my favorite TV series every time I tick off one time-taking task on my to-do list.
This has two benefits:
- First. I am excited enough about the reward to complete the task on time.
- Second, since I’m watching the series in installments, I don’t go down the rabbit hole of binge-watching it and completing the entire 24 episodes in one day
As James Clear puts it:
“The cue triggers a craving, which motivates a response, which provides a reward, which satisfies the craving and, ultimately, becomes associated with the cue. Together, these four steps form a neurological feedback loop — cue, craving, response, reward; cue, craving, response, reward — that ultimately allows you to create automatic habits.”
Your system of rewards can be different depending on what things you look forward to. But once you have a strict system of rewards, your brain will be motivated enough to complete the tasks in anticipation of the rewards that it knows will definitely follow.
Step Three: Carry Out Periodic Reviews of Your To-Do Lists
Planning is the first step to beating procrastination. But plans and to-do lists are meaningless if you don’t periodically review them.
I set monthly, weekly, and daily goals. Then, I keep reviewing these goals at the end of every day, week, and month. This puts things into perspective and helps me decide which is the most time-taking task on my list. Once I identify the time-taking tasks, I can either automate or outsource them. This way, I can free up my schedule for the tasks that actually fill me with excitement.
Reviews also help me understand why some tasks take so much time. It pushes me to introspect that if I find them so hard, what are the things I can do to reduce the time spent on them.
Reviews are also a great way to celebrate myself for the progress that I made during the course of time. Often, it’s easy to get anxious and beat yourself up if you don’t achieve what you wanted to. But reviews help put things in perspective and help you realize how far you have.
It’s definitely possible to not achieve all your goals on your to-do list and still make significant progress in your career. Only periodic reviews can help you come to terms with this important aspect of mindful productivity.
Procrastination might be the beast that’s standing in the way between you and your dreams. It’s addictive. We can get so lost in the cycle of procrastinating and postponing our goals, that so many of us eventually give up on them.
Procrastination can be the difference between turning your dreams into reality and being stuck in mediocrity forever. And that’s why it’s important to get rid of this addictive beast, so you can move ahead with chasing your goals.
In this post. I dissected the three-step process that I use to get rid of procrastination. This process has worked enough to help me design the life that I aspired for, and I hope it will work for you as well.
Summarizing, here are the three steps to beat your procrastination:
- Set realistic goals that you’re excited about and that challenge you enough.
- Reward yourself for completing a particular goal in a set timeframe.
- Carry out periodic reviews to measure how far you’ve come and give yourself the much-needed pat on the back.
But before you even start this process, it’s very important to understand why you want to beat procrastination. As Friedrich Nietzsche famously quoted,
“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”
Did any of these steps resonate with you? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
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