Five easy ways to beat procrastination

Motivation and fun

14 August 2017

Fear, and specifically fear of failure, is one of the main drivers of procrastination. Often, we convince ourselves that we’re not ready to tackle a task for one reason or another and decide to postpone it until we are.

The problem is that these postponements can quickly turn into a habit; mental excursions that delay our work and hinder our focus. It helps, then, to have a few tactics up your sleeves to prevent procrastination.

1. Do the worst thing first

Mark Twain once famously said that if you eat a live frog first thing in the morning, it's the worst thing you'll do all day. In productivity terms, the most effective tactic is to seek out the task you need to get done but are dreading the most, and finish that first. You’ll get a positivity boost from the achievement, and remove a source of procrastination-fuelling fear.

2. Build accountability

Research suggests that we’re hardwired to seek out respect and avoid losing face. That means if we tell someone we’ll finish a job by the end of the day, we’re much more likely to do it. Find a supportive friend or colleague who can hold you to account on these goals to tap into this instinct, without adding extra pressure.

3. Shrink the steps

If you’re still daunted by your to-do list, it can help to break it down into manageable tasks. For example, instead of listing your tax return as a single task to get through, you could acknowledge that it's actually a series of smaller tasks and start by simply finding all your receipts or ordering your invoices by date. For a bonus boost, tie the completion of these small tasks to treats. It could be a fancy coffee to fuel the next bit of work, or a chat with a friend on your break.

4. Block bad influences

Habits can be hard to break. Procrastination has increased fourfold in the last 30 years, and we suspect that Internet-based distractions may share a lot of the blame. Try using tools like Cold Turkey or StayFocusd to block those sites that drag you away from your work, and take back control of your own schedule.

5. Take a real break

Procrastination can be a sign that you’re stressed and need to take a break. Instead of turning to fresh distractions, studies show that stepping away from your work, taking a short walk and rehydrating can make a big difference to both creativity and focus. Taking a proper break once an hour helps you perform tasks much more effectively.