My procrastination problem started in my Undergraduate degree. I was unshackled from structure, no more routine or parents keeping me on task. No, I was my own man. It was a disaster.
But, I have turned the regret and shame into action and now have my poor habit under control. Thanks to having control of my procrastination habit, I've been able to teach myself enough Python, HTML and CSS to be dangerous in my full time marketing role.
I wanted to share my 6 favorite techniques for stopping procrastination, to help others out there with the ambition of learning a programing language.
These tactics are part of my popular post an Ex-Procrastinators: Guide on How to Stop Procrastinating. Check it out if you want to curb procrastination for the long-term.
How to Stop Procrastinating Now
Whenever I get into a bit of a rut and notice my bad procrastination habits slipping back in, I go to any of these six techniques to help get me back on track.
So let's get into them and so we can be more productive, spending less time on dev.to 😜 and more time coding.
Tactic 1: Break Your Tasks Down and Gamify Them
Procrastinators love to plan. Planning gives the illusion of productivity. In reality it is activity without progress and those mega plans can tend to be more daunting. You need to break down your tasks.
Breaking down your tasks means turning your big list into small, clear and actionable tasks. Let’s say you have a list of big projects, learn to code, learn linear algebra, start blog, start side hustle and apply for dev jobs. That list is daunting, it is more likely to cause you to delay action. What you need to do is prioritize and break each of those items down.
If learning to code is you number one priority then you might break it down like so:
- Sign up for Freecodecamp account
- Start Lesson one
- Summarize lesson one notes
- Start Lesson two
- Active recall lesson 1 and 2
You can see how this makes the bigger task of learning to code a lot less daunting, you can easily sign up for an account and start lesson one. Your plan is more effective, clear and each task is more actionable.
The last step is to gamify them. I have a points system I assign tasks and those points link to rewards. So one task might be worth 5 points because it’s a hard task, once I have 30 points I can go to the movies. The best part is the rewards are guilt free because I’ve done the work and earnt it.
Tactic 2: Set Up a Distraction Free Environment
Different people function better in certain environments, some prefer the quiet of the library others need the background noise of a cafe. You need to test and learn what works best for you. But, the key to being productive in any environment is eliminating distractions.
To minimize distractions you have to understand what your distractions are. Here is a list of common distractions:
- Procrastination Websites (Reddit, YouTube, Facebook, Buzzfeed etc.)
Each of these distractions will require a different tactic. If your phone is a big distraction, put it on airplane mode then put it in a draw or another room. Can’t help refreshing Reddit, install a website blocker (I use Self Control) and set it whenever you sit down to start working. Is TV a distraction, sell it or less drastically unplug it and put the cord at a friend’s house.
Identifying and eliminating your distractions is one of the best ways to increase your productivity. You’ll quickly discover those distractions weren’t as enjoyable as the achievement you feel for achieving results.
Tactic 3: Do the Hardest Task First
Do the hardest task first, the one that makes you the weakest. If you’ve got the whole day ahead of you, it’s easy to put it off until after you get your coffee, check our email, or finish some quick life admin.
What do I mean by the hardest, it is the task you’re most likely to procrastinate on. The deadline you’re dreading, the homework you were supposed to do yesterday, the blog post you said you’d write.
Why first? Because, first thing in the morning your mind is strong, your body is fresh and you haven’t had any external distractions…yet. By knocking out something important on your to-do list before anything else, you get both momentum that you can carry through with you for the rest of the day.
Set yourself up to do your hardest task tomorrow morning by tonight writing down your three priorities for tomorrow on a postit note. Research has shown doing it the night before is super effective. As soon as you sit down to work before email, before coffee just start the hardest task.The momentum of completing this task will carry you through to the next and the next one after that until you’ve accomplished what you set out to.
Tactic 4: Make the Rewards and Consequences More Immediate
If you can find a way to make the rewards of not procrastinating and the consequences of procrastinating more immediate then it becomes easier to avoid procrastination. Making either the rewards or the consequences more immediate will help greatly but doing both will rocket you into a god tier anti-procrastinator.
One of the best ways to make the rewards more immediate is to bring future rewards into the current moment. Say you need to go to the gym, your reward could be watching your favorite TV show while doing cardio, this is known as temptation bundling. Combining the thing you dread with the reward will make you more likely to stop procrastinating.
One way to make the consequences of procrastination more immediate is by using a commitment device. For example, committing to working on your side hustle with a friend at the library if you don’t show your friend will think you’re a jerk. You could also try paying upfront for personal training sessions, so that the cost of missing a session is instant.
By making the rewards and consequences of procrastination more immediate you are actively avoiding procrastination.
Tactic 5: Enlist Help
It can be dangerous to go it alone. One of the best ways to ensure you accomplish what you set out to do is to enlist the help of friends and family.
For example, get support by telling one of your friends or family about a goal you’re trying to accomplish and then asking them to hold you accountable. Bonus points if you give them money or something you care about to hold onto until you achieve the goal.
Another way is to enlist the help of deadlines. Let’s say you’re trying to write a blog post a week, then put it on your blog for your readers to see that you publish a new post every week (I’m currently trying this out myself). If I don’t post then my readers think I’m lazy and I’ve missed a deadline leaving me with shame.
Putting skin in the game and asking others to hold you accountable or scheduling deadlines will help you reduce the odds of procrastinating.
Tactic 6: The Pomodoro Technique
The Pomo-what? The Pomodoro technique, it’s a time management approach based on working in 25-minute intervals using a timer to keep you accountable.
Here is how you enlist the pomodoro technique to overcome procrastination.
- Pick the task you want to work on.
- Set a timer for 25 minutes and work only on that task.
- Make notes of all the distractions you experience during the 25 minutes on a note-pad – When you first try using the Pomodoro, you will probably be amazed at how often the urge arises to take a quick peek at something non-work-related so just write it down to review later.
- Take a 5 minute break – surf the web, do whatever you want.
- Repeat steps 1 – 4, 2-4 more times, then take a longer break where you get up and the environment before coming back to start again.
The technique is an effective tool for stopping procrastination as it imposes a short burst of discipline onto you. It is an achievable non-daunting amount of time to focus, rather than saying I’m going to do 8 hours of work today you only have to do 25 minutes which is much more appealing and effective.
Try a pomodoro session next time you notice yourself putting off a task, tell yourself I’ll just do 25 minutes and you’ll see how you reduce your time procrastinating.
Procrastination be gone
So there you have it six techniques you can use right now, to stop procrastinating and to start living the productive life you've always wanted.
Let me know what your tactics are, I'm always looking to improve my anti-procrastination system.