Lifestyle

5 ways to beat procrastination and ignite action  

'Some day' is not a day of the week - read on if you want to stop procrastinating!

Whether it’s tackling your superannuation plans or cleaning the bathroom, here’s how to turn your human tendency to procrastinate into a bias for action.

By Alex Brooks

Procrastination is a thief of time. Delaying, dragging the chain or putting things off until later usually means doing something against our better judgement. 

In a way, procrastinating is self harm (and it’s usually our self-awareness about the problem that makes us feel rotten).

Beating it is all about harnessing the activation energy that works for you (even when bridging that gap between dreaming and doing feels like scaling a mountain). 

The secret weapon against procrastination? It's called activation energy – that initial spark needed to get you over the hump and get it done. So, let's dive into 5 powerful catalysts for action. 

Procrastination tip 1: Master the emotion and just do it

Ever found yourself delaying a task for days that barely takes minutes to complete? Procrastination isn't really about managing time; it's about managing your emotions.

Delay makes mountains out of molehills. The truth? The stress of not doing something is way heavier than just doing it. 

Sometimes a simple bout of deep breathing can be enough to put the emotion to the back of your mind and trick yourself into starting.

More often than not, it’s more about taking a bite-sized beginning to trick yourself into starting. 

Sometimes it helps to pinpoint the next immediate action of whatever task it is you’re dilly dallying over. 

If the next step is unclear, don’t think it through - write something down, go for a walk or do the online research you need to find the right approach.

Chop up larger projects into manageable bits. For instance, want to do a spending plan? Begin with basic steps like logging into your bank account and categorising your spending. Or read Citro’s easy guide and make a copy of the spending tracker to tackle it.

Commit to finding the best way to emotionally trick yourself into starting something. Before you know it, you've built an unshakeable foundation.

Procrastination tip 2: 'Go mousetanks' and use a timer for 25 minutes

My old flatmate’s mum was an amazing woman, with bright green hair and an interesting approach to everything, especially housework.

Instead of languishing in a mess, she would get out a kitchen timer, assemble all children and adults in the house and yell ‘Go Mustangs’ and give them all the cleaning cloths, gloves and equipment to hurriedly start tidying and cleaning.

All the kids thought it was a great game, but they mis-heard the command as ‘Go Mousetanks’. We used the same technique to clean up our share house once things had exploded into a mess and no-one wanted to tackle the boring old housework.

I later heard this is actually a documented time management procedure known as the Pomodoro Technique, where 25 minutes is a sweet spot – challenging yet achievable to get things done.

The idea is to work with lots of energy for 20-25 minutes and then reward yourself with at least a 5 minute break before doing more focussed work.

Procrastination tip 3: Chunk the task into 4 quarters

Ever postponed something thinking, "I'll start it tomorrow"?

That's how watching one single Netflix episode becomes an all-night bingeing marathon or a cheat snack turns into a cheat day.

Enter The Four Quarters Strategy, inspired by author Gretchen Rubin.

View your day as a game divided into 4 quarters. Missed out on finishing something in the first quarter? You have 3 more to score!

The morning quarter is typically dedicated to tasks that require focus and creativity, such as strategic work, writing, or problem-solving. 

The afternoon quarter is reserved for tasks that require less focus and energy, such as meetings, administrative work, or responding to emails. 

During the evening quarter, you can focus on activities that promote relaxation, self-care, or personal interests. This time can be used for hobbies, exercise, spending time with loved ones, or unwinding after a busy day. 

The night quarter is designated for tasks related to winding down and preparing for the next day. This can include planning for the following day, setting goals, reflecting on achievements, and ensuring a smooth start to the next morning.  

The Four Quarters Strategy is supposed to help you maximise productivity, maintain balance, and enhance your ability to get stuff done in line with your emotions and preferences.

Procrastination tip 4: Build a focus fort

Focus is your superpower.

Create a "focus fort" to guard against distractions - here are some ways to do that:

Switch your phone to Airplane or Do Not Disturb mode while working on a device.

  • Use Grayscale Mode to reduce phone distractions.
  • Mute desktop notifications on a computer and use apps like Freedom or LeechBlock NG to block off your access to time-wasting sites.
  • Nurture the routines and times of day that work for you.

Procrastination tip #5: Look after mind, body and sleep

Mindfulness meditation has been shown to improve focus and attention, enhance cognitive control, reduce mind-wandering, and improve sustained attention. 

By training your mind to be more present and aware, you can increase your ability to focus on tasks at hand.

Adequate sleep is also vital. Research has demonstrated that sleep deprivation can impair cognitive performance, attention span, and decision-making abilities. Read more on how to improve your sleep hygiene habits.

Dehydration can also negatively impact your ability to focus. Studies have shown that even mild dehydration can impair mood, concentration, and cognitive performance. 

Keeping yourself hydrated throughout the day can help maintain optimal brain function and support your ability to stay focused.

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