10 Tips to avoid procrastination

We all procrastinate. We do not want do. But we still do. I have lost so many opportunities in life due to this terrible terrible habit of mine. Turning in the homework late. Late payments on bills. Not making those returns on time. Last minute rush on the research reports and thesis. Beginning the studies right before the exam. Not any more. I have conducted my research and some of it has worked for me. Let me share with you some of the key ideas.

Naturally, the tips to overcome procrastination involve the avoidance of the many reasons for procrastination.

1 Don't worry about being perfect

Nobody is perfect. There is no task that is "perfect". Perfection is only an adjective that can be applied in the hindsight. Let that sink in your head. Your first draft is going to be good enough. If you get started, that is. Your second revision will be better. Third might really nail it. But you will get time to do these revisions only if you put the pen to the paper. Do not worry about "perfection". Let the words flow. Your mind has this amazing ability to abstract the high-level structure once the entire manuscript is in place. You wrote it. You know it. Now is the time to make that revision. Since the deadline is far away. Although this example talks about writing, it is easily applicable to other tasks. Making that presentation, business plan, software, website, call, sales pitch. Even fixing the bathroom sink. Anything really. Just get started. That's the key. Put that pen to paper. Or, for the digitally inclined, beat the shit out of that keyboard.

2 Allocate time for instant gratification

Most people assign a time for the important tasks that need to be completed. That is conventional wisdom. It does not work. Why? Because we introduce the "fun" in those time slots. I say, do the other way around. Set aside specific time and days for the activities that you most like to do. Things that provide instant gratification. You like watching kittens? Set aside a time for it. You like reading about celebrities? Set aside a time for it. And then, once you have set aside time for the "fun" activities, start using the gaps in those times for getting work done. It is easier that way. Since you already know that you are watching that video at 4 pm, you will get that task done, as much as possible, before 4 pm.

3 Pre-sharpen your tools

This is common sense. Have a specific time of the day/week to inspect your tools and to make repairs. Not during the time you have allotted to the task. At a separate time. You do not like the pen you have? Throw it out, get the one that you really want. And then stick to the task at hand. Some people also like to have a mini-ritual before they set out to do the task. For example, sharpen all the pencils before getting started. Close all windows before starting to write that article. It really is up to you. Sharpen your tools before you get started. Way before you get started.

4 Mix in some fun into the boring

You have to deal with the boring stuff, so you at least get a chance at having fun. The more boring stuff you do, the most fun you will have in the rest of the time and life. That's probably the measure of success. You can making boring tasks less boring by introducing some fun into them. Play the music you like in the background while you do the dishes, laundry or cleaning. Put the movie you would like to watch while you are ironing your clothes. Sit in the park, coffee shop, heck, even a shopping mall, and write that article you are supposed to write, if watching people is your favorite pastime. Just do not complain that the task is boring. Create the "ambiance" that is most likely to work for you. Also, as another strategy, use something useful from the parenting book: promise yourself some tangible reward that you will get only if you finish something before your stipulated time. Collect pennies or dollars for every page written and gift yourself that shiny new thing that you so desire.

5 Turn daunting into casual attempts

Yes, getting out the comfort zone is challenging. First step, just decide on what it will mean for you to complete the task. You are not setting out to write that Nobel prize winning work. Nor are you vying for the Pulitzer prize. Those accolades are not guaranteed. Set your bar first. What will be just "good enough" for you, for that moment, for that client. Not the best, definitely not the best in the world. Then break it down into meaningful sub-tasks. Each task, easier than the whole. And remember, the sum of the parts is usually better. Work on those sub-tasks. One at a time, and just get each of them out of the way. Soon enough, you will accomplish the daunting feat.

6 Break down longer tasks

Break it down. In small mini (or micro)-tasks. If you have a fleeting attention span, just promise yourself that you will sit down 5, 10, 20, 30 minutes in one sitting to work on that task. Nothing more, nothing less. Plan this block wisely. You need just enough time that your mind will be able to focus on the task. But you also need just as many such blocks of time to comfortably still get the task done.

7 Overcome distractions

Have you seen horses that draw the carriage? How their eyes have been covered on the sides so that they do not get distracted and just focus in the front? Do that. No, do not literally put those blinds on the side of your eyes. Find your means of focusing on the task at hand. If you are writing, remove all other distractions from your line of sight. Just keep the editor open. If you have completed your research, put the research documents as printouts on the side, not in adjoining tabs that will take you away from the text editor. If you are writing software, focus just on the software. You have already made the design choices, do not go about re-thinking them. Just implement what was decided. Yes, I know you will be tempted to visit stackoverflow to see the "best way of doing it", but limit that. Just implement to the given specifications and then worry about making it better. Mute (not vibrate), or even better, power off your cell-phone. Since you will be working for only a limited time in one sitting, you can power it up again after you are done with your block of time. Work on your task in a location where you will be least bothered by the possibility of distractions. Work at times when you will be least bothered by your family, colleagues or friends. If possibly, put a "do not disturb" card next to you. People will get the message.

8 Remove uncertainties

Remove uncertainties. The easier ones, at least. As mentioned earlier, work with good tools. Not with those that are likely to break midway through the task. If midway through your task, you think that you could have done a better job on the previous sub-task, do not debate yourself for even a moment. Just continue doing what you have set that time block for. Just focus on the immediate task. Not before, or after. Always have a plan prepared for the uncertainties that you cannot avoid beforehand. Yes, there could be uncertainties that you cannot do much about. Like that earthquake. But if you have the earthquake kit, you are prepared for it. Now focus on the task at hand.

9 Work during peak willpower

Willpower, if only you had more of it. Do you know that the reserve of willpower in every individual is limited on any given day. It depletes throughout the day. It gets replenished when we sleep. Every morning, your willpower is high. Schedule your most daunting tasks early in the morning. There's a saying: If you need to eat a frog, eat it first thing in the morning. And if you need to eat two frogs, eat the larger one first. Alludes to the same thing. Every time you make a conscious decision, you are using some of that willpower. Limit your decisions. Have pre-made plans. And just follow through. Do not utilize your willpower on trivial things.

10 Urgent vs important

Sometimes procrastination is unavoidable. But it is key to understand the difference between the urgent and the important. Urgent things, that are also important should never be procrastinated. Other, unimportant things that are urgent, should never be worked on, if you can avoid them. That frees up your time and willpower for the things that really matter. The important things. Implement these strategies and get back to work on that task you have delaying so far.

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