We all struggle with the occasional bout of procrastination. The amount of time we struggle with it is up to each one of us. Since I am currently attempting to battle a bit myself, I dove in and attempted to figure out ways to beat my own stubborn streak. What I (re)learned is how our organization allows us to beat procrastination.
Think of beating procrastination as looking for ways to increase productivity. This reframing allows us to process concepts to organize our days to tackle tasks we have been pushing off.
Visualize Your Rewards
Before starting the task you keep pushing off, stop a bit and focus on the results of completing it. Imagine how good it feels with the list complete.
Tackle why this project is important. The more energy you spend on this step fuels the process moving forward.
Trigger Sense of Smell to Work for You
In Hamlet, Ophelia makes an interesting statement. “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance…” At this point in the play, she’s lost her mind, but what she says here is something typically lost on modern audiences.
Rosemary was used to trigger memory.
In fact, our sense of smell is the strongest link to memories. If you’re working on a difficult project that requires lots of brainpower, use smell to anchor to your activity. For example, if you are working from home on a difficult project, doing things like putting on the same perfume/cologne you’d wear to the workplace primes your brain to complete work-related activities.
In a video of productivity hacks, Jim Kwik mentions how he trains actors to use specific smells when practicing their lines. When the actors need to recall this content, they wear the same scent triggering all of the associated memories with the smell. We can apply this same technique to beat procrastination.
Other Environmental Anchors
Prime your brain using more than scent to anchor to your environment. If you keep your bedroom as a sacred space reserved for sleep, your brain continues to associate that space for relaxation.
This makes it crucial that you do not attempt to complete any work in your room. Try allocating space in another part of the home to complete work.
Additional environmental anchors could include wearing “work shoes” when working regardless of where the work is getting completed. Have you ever attempted to use environmental anchors to beat procrastination?
Create Tiny Habits
Research out of Standford University looks at cultivating tiny habits in order to crush larger goals. Break the project you can’t seem to start into smaller blocks. They use the example of only flossing one tooth and doing that after brushing your teeth in the morning.
While only flossing a single tooth sounds crazy, the research indicates our brains see us flossing that tooth as success causing us to floss more of them.
Other examples given are to put sneakers on when we start the dishwasher in the evening. Eventually, those sneakers on our feet allow us to take a walk after tidying up.
Now, think of how we can apply this to work. Instead of focusing on completing a detailed report, focus on opening it every day and analyzing it for 2 minutes. Eventually, our brains will start working on it.
In fact, we are subject to what’s called the zeigarnik effect. Our brains hate open loops. We love completing tasks before moving on to the next one. But if we leave that open report, our brains continue to work on it subconsciously. Meaning if we make it a daily focus to look at it for 2 minutes a day, our brains want to get it knocked out so it can close that loop and get closure.
It also means if you need to abandon your writing to head to a meeting, leaving in the middle of the sentence can allow you to pick back up where you left off faster.
Organize Your Day
Before you set out to tackle your day, craft a to-do list. Focus in on five things you need to accomplish this week, and then surface three of those as priorities for the day. Then looking at your calendar for the day, slot in times to work on each.
Building off of the creating tiny habits section, start your day with the toughest task. Open that report at the beginning of your day. Our brains burn through precious computing power as the day wears on, so start with the most taxing problem.
Practice Radical Self-Compassion
While many of us practice berating ourselves for our failures, we need to recognize this method doesn’t work. Our brains learn best in positive environments. So, when we beat ourselves up for missing a deadline or missing a workout, we create a mental barrier from completing it.
One of the ways we can overcome these barriers is to practice radical self-compassion. The best article I found breaks self-compassion into four steps: RAIN.
By stopping long enough to recognize our stress levels, we can stop this cycle in its tracks. Next, we allow these feelings to exist. We don’t bury them or attempt to suppress what we are encountering. Afterward, we investigate why we feel the way we do. And lastly, we nurture ourselves.
Often, going through the RAIN process we uncover a lie we tell ourselves about the complexity of what we are encountering. Maybe we attempt to belittle our skillset. When we identify this mistruth, we need to use kindness to reinforce the actual situation.
Using All the Tools to Beat Procrastination
All of these tips work together to create an environment conducive to productivity and creativity. If you realize after attempting to build tiny habits, you can’t seem to move past the initial step into the next one, take a moment and revisit your motivations.
Reconnect with the reason you wanted to tackle this goal in the first place. If you’re able to strongly identify with your why it will be easier to accomplish all the smaller steps needed to get there.
Always understand big projects are a series of smaller pieces. You don’t have to build Rome in a single day, but you will need to start building that city one day at a time.
Don’t be afraid to use brain hacks like your sense of smell or putting on your work shoes at home to tell your brain it’s time to work on a specific project. Often these little touches allow us to recreate the same conditions we normally work under and allow ourselves to get into the flow we need to be in to accomplish tasks.
Always organize your day. Don’t allow your inbox to dictate what tasks you need to accomplish. Start with the hardest task and work on it, while remembering to give yourself breaks. Don’t be afraid to stop writing a report in the middle of a sentence, allowing your mind to use the zeigarnik effect to continue working on a solution, even as you move on to a different task.
Remember to be kind to yourself. By recognizing what our brains need to overcome procrastination, we can shake ourselves free of our shackles and crush our to-do lists and be kind to ourselves to boot!
Continue to read how the team at Orange Nebula uses brain hacks to increase our productivity. Check out what happened when we removed cell phones from our days for the initial hour we were awake.