Chapter 1: What is Procrastination, and What is the First Step to Overcoming it?
Procrastination is a familiar term to most of us. It conjures up images of undone tasks, panic, and work haphazardly scrambled together in the last few minutes. Furthermore, it is something that humans experience often, some more than others. The word itself comes from a Latin word, “procrastinationem,” which essentially means “to put off until tomorrow, to delay”. One might think of it as dawdling, dilly-dallying, or being idle, but procrastination put simply, is just delaying in one way or another. With today’s technology, it is easier than ever to get lost from what you need to be doing, and do more of what is entertaining. Computers and phones make procrastination much, much easier. There are endless sites to browse on the web, so escaping from technology’s grasp takes a lot of discipline. What can also be referred to as putting off, ignoring, or turning a blind eye to, is the all too common dilemma that every human can relate to. Look at the high school student who plays video games while their homework piles up, the mother who chooses to cook something nice instead of getting to doing the taxes, or even the child who draws on the walls instead of cleaning their room. At every stage of your life, there are things that can and will be avoided. When there is a lot of not-so-fun work to be done, things like TV, pleasure reading, or talking to a friend can look better and better. Even small, seemingly boring things can start to have an appeal. Humans have a strange way of choosing what activities to do. The more undesirable tasks they have, the more they tend to find reasons to do something else, anything else. Procrastination can come in many forms, too- it is good at hiding. You might find it when you decide to do insignificant things that can wait now, make excuses about why you can wait on an unexciting duty, or even just when you do nothing rather than face whatever it is you’re avoiding. Many things cause procrastination. But why do human beings struggle with it so much? What makes us different from other species so we can’t commit to finishing things? It can be complicated to understand the true reasons behind it. Most of these are internal, since if something from our environment is stopping us, then it is not really considered procrastination. Procrastination comes from within. Let’s compare ourselves as humans to wild animals. Unlike animals, we, humans are rarely guided by instinct. A bear’s sole purpose is to survive and to reproduce. It faces each day with the exact same mindset as the one before. Hunt, protect territory, conserve energy. Emotions don’t get in the way of this or cloud judgment in such an animal’s life. As human beings, life is not so simple. This has its pros and cons. With complex brains and thought processes, there is a lot more going on in our heads. Every little thing we do is a choice, and this can be stressful. The choice is a blessing and a curse. We are afraid of making mistakes. We do things more for enjoyment than to survive, and engage in things that we must do with reluctance. We prefer things that require less effort because we always yearn for comfort. Also, humans often do work that they don’t enjoy. We are made to go to school from the time we are five, and this often continues into a career choice that doesn’t fit with our true passions. Bringing in money becomes the primary concern in life. Because of this, we face work reluctantly, unwilling to do things that seem like such busy work. One of the hardest things about pinpointing the exact causes of procrastination is that we all do it for different reasons. Since every human leads a different life, with diverse mindsets, environments, and expectations, the way we approach jobs just isn’t universal. On a daily basis, the rationale for what we do tends to vary. One day, you might find yourself exhausted when you need to get your laundry done, so you plan on doing it the next day. But come tomorrow, and work goes long, so you don’t have the time nor the energy to do it yet again. In this way, time management is not always an easy fix. Life gets in the way with how you want and need to spend your time. Try as you might plan on how your time will be used, things have a way of not giving into what you want. Beyond this, more severe procrastination can stem from psychological disorders such as depression and anxiety. It is also connected to a number of other negative mental conditions, like low self-esteem, paranoia, and things like ADHD. If these things heighten your procrastination to the point of not being able to function, professional help is likely your best bet. The brain is a maze, and mental conditions build on each other. You might have to dive deep into yourself to figure out why you act the way you do. This can be scary. On the bright side, instead of getting lost in all of this, you can categorize the kind of procrastination you fall into, along with your behavior when it comes to this dilemma. This knowledge will benefit you a lot more than you might think. With a set of “types” that will be explained later, all it takes is some reflection and self-honesty to classify yourself, and you’ll be one step closer to leading a procrastination-free life! There are two different kinds of procrastination- long term and short term. Long term procrastination is putting something off for days or more. You might have an assignment due in several weeks. This kind of project is bound to inspire procrastination because no one wants or feels the need to start on something like this right away. At the time, completing your assignment doesn’t feel urgent. This isn’t always going to result in failure, though, because if you manage to get it together by the time your work is due, in the last few days, it could work out. Short term procrastination happens when your deadline is much sooner (perhaps you have to get your work done in a single night). If you procrastinate too long when this is the case, you might be in trouble.
plenty of time.” Here you will find that person who happily puts aside the things they need to do, with their minds elsewhere. Often, the optimist type plans that a task will take much less time than it actually will. By the time they buckle down and start working, this type will often end up rushing to complete their work, making it less than satisfactory. Now that the types of procrastination and procrastinators have been laid out, you can hopefully decide which of these pertain to you and your life more. The next step is to consider where you can begin lessening this destructive habit. You will start small, and work up to making bigger changes. The first step is the smallest, and the most important. What you have to do to stop procrastinating is this: to decide that you want to. If you don’t have even the motivation to change, your journey to completing effective work will be long and tedious. From there, your choice to improve your working habits will guide you. But before this can happen, you have to do something that is harder than it seems-realizing and coming to terms with your procrastination. Being able to recognize that you put things off, and even better, how you do this, is extremely beneficial. Many people deny that they ever procrastinate in the first place, which can be very detrimental to their progress. It is not uncommon for people to have bad working habits in the first place- they know they have work to do, but never get right to it. Instead, they might spend time browsing social media first, getting a snack, or thinking too long about what they have to do. When people get used to a certain style of working, it gets harder and harder to go back and change the way they work. In order to categorize your procrastination, there are some things you have to look out for. Remind yourself of the types listed above, and put yourself in one of the four based on what you know about yourself. You need to get to the source of your procrastination by looking closely at your personality and reasoning. Then, ask yourself some of the more basic questions: do I find myself thinking about what I should be doing but not doing it? Is it nearly impossible to drag myself from the bed, or the TV, or wherever I am enjoying myself to get back to doing things? While I am working on a computer, do I constantly have several unrelated tabs open? Is it hard for me to put down my phone when I am trying to complete a task? Do I tell myself “I’ll do it in 10 minutes,” only to find that hours later, I haven’t even started? Do I dread the time I actually have to work and do whatever I can to delay it? If any of these ring a bell, then you have solved it! You procrastinate (like the rest of us). More likely than not, you already knew this. After all, you’re reading this book. But if you want to learn how to be productive, you’re already ahead of most people. After all, the end goal, from here, is productivity rather than procrastination. So, it has been established that in order to reduce your procrastination, you must first come to terms with it, figure out in what ways you procrastinate, what kind of procrastinator you are, and then decide that you want to improve. As mentioned before, these steps are vital to the process of improving, but then comes the uncertainty of what follows this knowledge. There are many ways you can combat procrastination, but it can be very difficult to go from here. You might ask yourself: what comes next? In chapter 2, this question will be answered with an overall view of two essential tips to productivity: how to improve your focus, and how to minimize distraction. These tools can be developed strongly over time and will most certainly aid you in your quest to efficient, quick work!
Chapter 2: A Step-by-step Process in improving your Concentration and Minimizing Distraction
Now that we’ve discussed what procrastination is, the types of people who procrastinate, and what the very first step is, we can get to the actual improvement method. If you’ve decided to change, this chapter will start to guide you through the process. Remember that it will start off slow, but this is a key to all successful change, so you will have to be patient! To understand procrastination further, realize that there are many things that play into it. You as a person, along with your habits and proclivities, as well as your environment are some of the main things that can have an effect on it. Within these topics, issues tend to get more specific and branch out to smaller aspects of procrastination. Two of the biggest of these more particular concepts are your focus level (or a lack thereof) and distraction. If you can get a good grip on these concepts, you will be able to have better control over your habits and hopefully, bit by bit, lessen time spent wasted to reinvent yourself as a productive worker.
Focus is a wide topic but it is vital to understand how it works so you can utilize it to the best of your abilities. First, what is focus? It is defined as the point or center of interest. It can also be thought of as what requires most of your attention on a day-to-day basis. Most humans have diverse lifestyles, but the parts of our lives that take most of our attention really only boil down to a few things. If you want to, you can try to classify how much of your day focusing on what. Think about how many hours you spend doing what, and why it’s important or not to spend time on this in your everyday life. By grouping how you spend your time into a list of things like social life, hobbies, work, basics (eating, cleaning, driving), and family, you can get a better understanding of what takes most of your attention in a general manner. Taking a close look at this percentage, and possibly dividing it down even further may be shocking- there could be more time spent on a computer than you thought, or more energy put into drama, complaining, or taxes. Whatever it is, ask yourself if using so much time on it is essential to your life, or is benefitting you in any way. If not, here is where you can begin dwindling down the time on the parts of your life that aren’t important. This method will help the process of shrinking the insignificant or toxic things down in your life.
If you have gone ahead with this method, it’s time to determine how well you can concentrate on one task at a time. Your actual concentration level is extremely important. Every single thing you do requires focus, whether or not you know it. That’s why focus is a key part of beating procrastination. Without it, you will be reduced to doing your work slowly and begrudgingly overdrawn out periods of time. Besides, if you aren’t concerned with how well you focus now, it will only get worse as time goes on. So, to analyze what level your focus is on, try and estimate how long you spend on a task that you don’t necessarily want to do. This might be a project, studying, cleaning, or taking care of a pet. Think about how long it takes before you get distracted. You might think you have good focus because you can do one thing for a while and get it done in one sitting. But are you really getting down to it without distraction? Consider the breaks you take doing other things, or how often you aren’t really doing what you’re supposed to be. This might take some time. Next time you’re working on a big project or a chore of some sort, take note of how much you fall away from the assignment itself doing other things. Next, you’re going to very slowly start implementing change into your habits. Start with one thing at a time. For example, if you’re writing a paper and say to yourself “Oh, there’s that video I’ve been wanting to watch. I should watch that,” then remind yourself that this is not necessary and get on with your writing. However, when starting off, it is crucial that you aren’t too harsh on yourself, or it won’t work. Try getting rid of one interruption per work “session.” Whenever you sit down to get something down, eliminate one thing that you want to do in the middle of it that will take extra time. It may be slow, but this is a good thing. If you struggle with procrastination, getting rid of all your distractions too quickly will end up making you miserable, and more likely than not, you will find yourself back at square one again. You can also use the five-second rule (no, not the one where you can eat food off the ground before five seconds) where you have yourself do the work for just five more minutes. Five minutes is such a short amount of time that this is an easy way to motivate yourself into working just a bit longer. We will go further into this tool later, so keep it on your mind.
Seeing as focus is such a mental skill, it is critical that you keep your mind in tip-top shape to guarantee that you can concentrate effectively. Exercising regularly is never a bad idea. As with all things in life, sleep is major. The brain requires downtime in order to function, so you aren’t doing yourself a favor with those late nights. Moreover, sleep will make you lead a happier life in general. With the extra energy it provides, you will find it easier to get through the day. Beyond sleep, eating nutrient-rich foods like fish, dark greens such as kale, and nuts will help your brain. Studies show that foods like these increase memory capacity, focus, and brain functions in general. Finally, try to do things that make you happy. Conflict, anxiety, and depression will all get in the way of good focus. If you need alone time to find that comfort zone, do that. If it’s spending with people who really appreciate you, seek out those people as much as you can. It is never a bad idea to see a therapist if negative feelings persist in your life.
Another helpful way to improve your focus is small rewards. If you get through writing your entire essay without stopping to do other things, then that is when you can watch the video you’ve been waiting for. Maybe tell yourself you can have a treat when you finish- and only when you finish. You can also remind yourself of Seeing as focus is such a mental skill, it is critical that you keep your mind in tip-top shape to guarantee that you can concentrate effectively. Exercising regularly is never a bad idea. As with all things in life, sleep is major. The brain requires downtime in order to function, so you aren’t doing yourself a favor with those late nights. Moreover, sleep will make you lead a happier life in general. With the extra energy it provides, you will find it easier to get through the day. Beyond sleep, eating nutrient-rich foods like fish, dark greens such as kale, and nuts will help your brain. Studies show that foods like these increase memory capacity, focus, and brain functions in general. Finally, try to do things that make you happy. Conflict, anxiety, and depression will all get in the way of good focus. If you need alone time to find that comfort zone, do that. If it’s spending with people who really appreciate you, seek out those people as much as you can. It is never a bad idea to see a therapist if negative feelings persist in your life.
Another helpful way to improve your focus is small rewards. If you get through writing your entire essay without stopping to do other things, then that is when you can watch the video you’ve been waiting for. Maybe tell yourself you can have a treat when you finish- and only when you finish. You can also remind yourself of that wonderful feeling you get when you finish a hard task. This gives you a lot of motivation to finish your work, but you have to be strict with yourself. Even if you lose track a little, don’t reward yourself, or these rewards will become meaningless. Once you get into the mentality of pushing through your work until the end without interruption, your focus level will increase a lot. In order to successfully manage to get work done, plan ahead when you will do it. This helps to ensure you will follow through. Instead of giving yourself a too-general time frame, like “Monday night” or “over the weekend,” use a very specific time that you are sure will work. It might be right after dinner, or right before you go to bed. Whatever it is, force yourself to stick to it, no matter what. This method helps you achieve productivity because there is no way you can push your work back like you might want to do. Arranging your time like this can be very effective as long as you are honest with yourself and follow through with your planned schedule. You also need to prepare yourself mentally before facing a big endeavor. If it seems daunting, pump yourself up before with music or good thoughts. On the flip side, remember to give yourself breaks. If you become good at planning when to get things done, it is possible to take it too seriously. Exhaustion comes from overworking yourself, so it is okay to rest before you start working. Tiring yourself out by doing too much can be just as bad as doing too little, because you may start to be resentful about the things you have to do. If this is the case for you, ask yourself if you have taken on too much, through school, work, or other activities, and consider dialing it down a notch to let yourself relax a little. If strengthening your concentration level isn’t enough, you can work on minimizing distraction in your life. Distraction is one of the major aspects of procrastination- with the right distraction eating at you, nothing will ever get done. We all have different distractions. There are physical distractions, like your cat bothering you or someone who just won’t stop texting you. There are also the things that you always want to be doing instead of whatever work you have ahead of you. For many people out there, it’s probably phones or TV. Even thoughts can hinder you from accomplishing tasks. Emotional distractions are often harder than physical ones because they are much harder to escape. If something is on your mind, then trying to ignore it is not a good idea. Go for a walk, talk to someone about it, or write about it to resolve these kinds of distractions. If that doesn’t work, time is a sure solution to irritating thoughts. This is another time you might consider taking a break so you can clear those pesky thoughts from your head.
The one thing that’s inevitable is that there will always be a distraction. It takes an incredible amount of work and self-discipline to eradicate distractions from your life. It isn’t easy to ignore them, so the best thing you can do is really is to eliminate them completely. Start by giving yourself the most productive work environment possible. You can spruce up your workspace, whether at work or at home, to encourage hard, uninterrupted work. Simple is best! Get rid of unnecessary things that might cause a distraction. Having a technology-free zone is also very important. When you sit down to work, turn off your phone, and put it away. This can be hard at first, but making it into a habit provides an effective workspace. Make time after or before your work when you can use your phone for whatever you need. If you need something on your phone to work, such as a calculator, it is wise to invest in a non-phone version of this so you aren’t tempted. Music can also be helpful for some people but decide for yourself if it really increases your productivity level or not- you might spend a lot of time choosing a song or getting too into the music. An iPod could also be useful for your music needs because it keeps you away from your phone. If you still need help staying away from technology, turning off your Wi-Fi is also a good idea. This ensures that you won’t be tempted to browse social media, check your email constantly, or binge watch your favorite TV show. While everyone else around you is stuck to technology, you can feel satisfied knowing you are truly being productive without it. Also, tell yourself that whatever is distracting you will be there when you finish working. It’s also important that you are prepared before you start working. Get out all the materials you will need, and start by having a plan of exactly what you need to get done. Any physical needs should be ready before you start as well, i.e. snacks, drinks, or using the bathroom. Making sure you are comfortable will also help you get through your work without stopping to change clothes or fix the lighting. If something is bothering you while you are working, it is obviously okay to fix it, but it’s preferable to fix this before then. If you need to talk to someone, do this before you begin work so it’s not on your mind the whole time. Hopefully, you have a lot of ideas running around in your head about being more productive. Keeping these things in mind, and following through with them when you work, will guide your efforts to be more successful in avoiding procrastination. If you are able to be conscious of your focus and distraction just a little each day, you will find yourself growing in no time. Still, there are a lot more tips that will be discussed in the following chapters. Next, we will be talking about prioritizing to minimize distraction. Keep reading for additional, worthwhile tips about productivity!