Procrastination is an issue that affects most. Whether it be an assignment, doing petty chores around the house, or making excuses for yourself to put off a project you’ve been meaning to start, we all know that feeling.
It’s a feeling we all get trapped in. However, once we realize the reason we are procrastinating and overcome it, we then are able to accomplish our goals, giving ourselves an internal gratification that is much more desirable than the comfort of procrastinating.
This article will break down the two main causes of procrastination and provide simple methods to effectively overcome them in an effort to help you more efficiently accomplish your goals.
The Causes of Procrastination
The "Comfort Zone"
“A comfort zone is a psychological state in which things feel familiar to a person and they are at ease and (perceive they are) in control of their environment, experiencing low levels of anxiety and stress. In this zone, a steady level of performance is possible.” (Wikipedia)
Getting started is always the hardest part of a task. Escaping the mental “comfort zone” and convincing yourself to be uncomfortable is not easily done. Every morning, we experience a battle with the comfort zone; we must make a decision whether to get out of bed and accomplish our goals or lie in bed and relax in comfort.
I would define comfort as a drug. It relaxes you; it’s enjoyable; it’s comfortable; however, the more comfort you allow yourself, the more you desire it, preventing you from being ambitious and working hard to make changes in your life.
“Intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings.” -Salvador Dali
Fear & The Mental Barrier
The other main cause of procrastination is the mental barrier of the fear of failure or underperformance. Many people convince themselves that they will not perform well if they try, so it’s useless and embarrassing to even attempt.
When procrastinating over a task, it’s important to make the distinction between putting it off because you’re being lazy (the comfort zone), or if you are fearful that you are going to underperform.
If you find that the latter is true, it is important to convince yourself that the consequences of underperforming are more desirable than the consequences of not trying at all
For example, I used to put off taking practice ACT tests all the time out of fear that I was going to score poorly; but, I eventually realized that if I never challenged myself and overcame my fear of failure on the ACT I would never overcome & achieve my goals.
“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” Albert Einstein
How to Overcome Procrastination
Now that you understand the two main causes of procrastination, here’s a list of effective methods to mentally and physically overcome your limits and discipline yourself to become productive.
Most tasks that you will procrastinate on in life will probably have to be completed sooner or later, so it’s helpful to come to the logical conclusion that it is more beneficial (and just as uncomfortable) to complete tasks earlier than putting them off until you have to complete them.
It’s important to take a mental note that the same tasks you put off will eventually have to be completed sometime in your life. I often find myself subconsciously putting off annoying tasks (such as cleaning my rooms or taking the trash out), and the only way I can overcome this subconscious procrastination is by consciously telling myself, “If I don’t want to do this now, why would I want to do this later?”
“Leave nothing for tomorrow which can be done today” - Abraham Lincoln
Gaining Discipline ( & the difference between discipline and motivation)
Going back to the image of the first minutes of waking up out of bed, many people (including myself) say “I don’t have any motivation to get out of bed. I wish I was motivated."
Overtime I came to realize that “motivation” is only a short term luxury. Many people (including myself) saw a spike of motivation during the beginning of quarantine. I saw myself wanting to pick up new skills (learn the piano, learn another language, learn how to cook), and it felt amazing. I had energy and motivation like I’ve never had before.
However, after awhile, it all started to crash. I started staying up late, eating unhealthy, and wasting time sitting around and watching YouTube all day. I was in a rut.
This is where I realized motivation is something that will come and go, I needed to learn to become disciplined to achieve my goals. I realized that if I wanted something, I had to get out of bed and work (even if I didn’t want to) on it everyday if I really wanted to achieve my goals.
Once you become disciplined, you come to find out that the gratification of actually pushing yourself to do something you didn’t want to initially do is much more enjoyable than the comfort of avoiding an unpleasant task.
One of my favorite excerpts regarding discipline comes from the book The Richest Man in Babylon
“Will power is but the unflinching purpose to carry a task you set for yourself to fulfillment. If I set for myself a task, be it ever so trifling, I shall see it through. How else shall I have confidence in myself to do important things? Should I say to myself, 'For a hundred days as I walk across the bridge into the city, I will pick from the road a pebble and cast it into the stream,' I would do it. If on the seventh day I passed by without remembering, I would not say to myself, ‘Tomorrow I will cast two pebbles which will do as well.' Instead, I would retrace my steps and cast the pebble. Nor on the twentieth day would I say to myself, 'Arkad, this is useless. What does it avail you to cast a pebble every day? Throw in a handful and be done with it.' No, I would not say that nor do it. When I set a task for myself, I complete it. Therefore, I am careful not to start difficult and impractical tasks, because I love leisure.” - George S. Clason
Setting Smaller Goals for Yourself
People often find themselves procrastinating because they are intimidated by a large project and they don’t even know where to start. In situations like these, it’s important to take action one step at a time instead of overthinking and stressing yourself out.
One clear example of this was when I was taking my second year of Latin. During the end of semester two, my latin teacher (who was previously a Swiss soldier) was explaining the vast amount of material that was going to be on the final. Seeing pages on top of pages in the study guide, the class complained, “How the hell are we even supposed to study for all of this? There’s so much!” And his response to these complaints stood out to me, he said: “In the army I was often intimidated by the strenuous workouts and drills I was assigned. There was nothing like the dread of knowing that my body was going to be in excruciating pain for the next four hours. But after a couple weeks, I realized that nothing was going to change, no matter how much I dreaded it. I decided to break apart the workouts. I would take everything one step at a time and stay in the moment. I wouldn’t stress about what was going to happen later, I was focused on what was happening now, this allowed me to not only improve my performance but ease the mental pressure of the drills. Now do the same for this final, take every concept one step at a time instead of overthinking and stressing about the entire test.”
Breaking apart projects and setting and accomplishing small goals for yourself will not only make you less stressed, but the personal gratification from achieving the small goals will motivate you to keep going, thus allowing you to build up and complete larger ones.
“There is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.” - Desmond Tutu
An effective method of keeping you productive is managing and valuing your time. First, you must realize that time is your most valuable asset. Once you understand the value of your time, you then realize how important it is not to waste your time.
An effective way of getting the best use out of your time is by planning out your day. Every morning, write down the goals that you want to achieve today. Writing down your goals (whether they be small daily goals or larger overarching goals) makes you much more likely to accomplish them.
Post-It once declared a study in an advertisement that you become 42% more likely to achieve your goals and dreams by writing them down on a daily basis.
Whenever I find myself stuck in an unproductive rut, I ask myself the question, “What is the most valuable use of my time right now?” In fact, I (along with my dad) have it printed on my desk.
Know how valuable your time is, and manage it well; realizing you are the only thing stopping yourself from succeeding will help you overcome procrastination.
The Morning 5-Second Rule
The first waking seconds of your day make or break it.
Referencing Mel Robin’s Five Second Rule, she states that in the morning you have five seconds to physically act upon your goal; if you don’t, your brain will kill it and you will retract into a state of comfort.
I find this to be one of the most directly helpful strategies in trumping procrastination. Days where I instantly get out of bed and work on my goals always end up being productive days. Furthermore, days where I dread waking up and check my phone first thing in the morning always end up being unproductive.
“If you do not take action on your instinct to change, you will stay stagnant. You will not change. But if you do one simple thing, you can prevent your mind from working against you. You can start the momentum before the barrage of thoughts and excuses hit you at full force. What do you do? Just start counting backwards to yourself: 5-4-3-2-1. The counting will focus you on the goal or commitment and distract you from the worries, thoughts, and excuses in your mind. As soon as you reach “1” – push yourself to move. This is how you push yourself to do the hard stuff – the work that you don’t feel like doing, or you’re scared of doing, or you’re avoiding” -Mel Robbins
The 60-Second Rule
This one is also quite simple. If a task can be completed in less than 60 seconds do it now. No task that can be completed that quickly is worth an internal mental struggle over if it can be completed that quickly.
If you have to take the trash out, do it now. Yes, you. Take out the trash right now.
Another huge factor of overcoming procrastination is changing the environment. I’m using the term “environment” from many different scopes, which I will break down into separate groups.
Your Physical Environment:
Working in a messy room with a messy desk is never a recipe for success. I find that if my room is well organized, well lit, and all my laundry is put away, I am almost three times more productive. The state of my room is usually a reflection of the state of my current mental headspace. If I ever find myself wanting to get out of a rut, I always clean my room first.,
The People who surround you:
“Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future”, I’m sure you’ve heard the quote multiple times without paying any real regard to it. But as I’ve progressed through high school and seen people develop to who they are today, I can assure you that the quote is true. The people who hang out have an unrealized influence on you.
From personal experience, I’ve seen that if the people surrounding me are lazy, problematic, and impulsive, I start to develop their toxic traits as well; however, when I surround myself with hardworking and successful people, I find myself pushing myself because I want to keep up with them. So yes, your friends really are your future. If you want to stop procrastinating, you need to start surrounding yourself with ambitious and productive people.
“You’re a product of your environment, surround yourself with the best.”