I’m going to share with you an easy technique that I use to eliminate procrastination in 5 minutes or less. To stop procrastinating, first, we need to understand why we procrastinate. Know thy enemy, right?
Why do we procrastinate? Basically, it comes down to two things: pain and pleasure. Nearly every action we take in life is because we want to avoid pain or to gain pleasure. If I ask someone why they want a car, they may answer with some of the following reasons: convenience, status, the need for speed, protection from the weather, comfort, freedom, and so on. If you look at all of these answers you can see that ultimately what the person wants is the pleasure or good feelings that having the car would give them. Or, they want the car because of how it will help them to avoid pain. Let me explain.
Ask yourself, why would someone want the convenience of a car? For me, this would allow me to not have to walk long distances, get tired and get exposed to the elements. All are instances of trying to avoid pain. Ask someone why they want a car that goes fast and is powerful and they will most likely say because it makes them feel good or excited or free. Ultimately, we are motivated by how we think something will make us feel.
When you are procrastinating you’re telling yourself (consciously or subconsciously) that it is more painful to get to work and finish the task than it is to put it off. But eventually there comes a tipping point when you cannot ignore it anymore and you kick into gear and get it done. Why? Usually this is because you realize that there will be more pain to not doing it than to getting it done. Let me give you an example.
When I was a student I would usually wait until the last minute to do my homework or study for tests. The day (or night) before a test I would put on some music to help me focus, lock my door, make some coffee or tea and get to work. I would rarely begin studying or preparing days in advance. This pattern may be familiar to you as well.
Why did I do this? It came down to my perception of how much pain and pleasure would be involved in studying now or later. A week before the exam, I would say to myself that if I didn’t study now, it didn’t really matter, there’d be plenty of time in the coming days. In other words, I’d tell myself that there really wouldn’t be any negative consequences or pain if I procrastinated. I would much rather hang out with friends or play a video game (something much more enjoyable). I saw it as much more pleasurable to procrastinate and much more painful to get to work.
Then, why did I finally get to work the day before? Because at this point I realized that if I didn’t study it would mean a lot of pain. If I didn’t get down to business right now I might fail the test, my parents might be upset, I might feel like a failure, I may look stupid, and so on. There was a tipping point where it became more painful to procrastinate than to take action and get to work.
So, how can we use pleasure and pain to get ourselves to stop procrastinating? Essentially, all you need to do is to associate enough pain with procrastinating and pleasure with taking action. There are many ways this could be done and I’m sure you could come up with some, but I will share with you a simple way that has worked for me. I will explain by using an example.
I will be teaching some classes next week and yesterday I was preparing for them. At one point I became stuck and I wasn’t sure how to finalize my preparations. So, I decided to step away from them for a while and do something else. I made no more progress the rest of the day.
This morning when I woke up, I still didn’t know what I would do so I began to procrastinate. I did everything I could think of in order to avoid class preparation. I busied myself in other tasks. After a while I realized that I was procrastinating. I knew I had to get it done, one way or the other, so I sat down at my desk and I took out a sheet of paper.
At the top of the page I wrote the word “Action” and then wrote out what I wanted to accomplish. In this case, I wrote “Action: Complete Class Preparation.” Then I wrote out two questions:
1) How will I experience pain if I don’t get this done ASAP?
2) How will I feel when I successfully complete this and it is no longer hanging over my head?
Then I proceeded to write as much as I could for each answer until I no longer wanted to do anything but get to work. Usually after about 2-3 minutes I am digging into whatever task I need to get accomplished. This technique has never failed me. Each time I use this technique, I use the same two questions. The only thing I change is the action I want to accomplish and my answers to the two questions.
So there you have it, a simple way to stop procrastination in a few minutes. The next time there’s something hanging over your head that you know needs to get done, grab a sheet of paper and try this exercise. This has saved me a lot of time and made me much more efficient. It will work for you too, just keep writing until you get to the point where all you want to do is to take action.