Checking things off your to-do list is a great feeling.
Productivity makes you feel happier, so why is it so hard to be productive? It’s easy to fall into a routine of avoiding the things you need to do, thanks to a little problem called procrastination.
Keep reading to understand the causes of procrastination and some strategies to help you fix personal productivity issues. You’ll learn that when you become more productive, your days are more efficient and you’ll have more time to do the things you love.
Procrastination stems from our desire for instant gratification.
You can start overcoming procrastination by forgiving yourself and imagining your future self.
Breaking up your day into chunks that include work and free time can improve your productivity.
Why do we procrastinate?
We all do it—we have an important task that needs to be completed, and we do every other possible thing before tackling the one daunting task. This could mean hopping on Instagram instead of doing your taxes, replying to mundane emails instead of starting your next work project, or loading the dishwasher when you should be calling your doctor.
Doctors and psychologists have been studying procrastination for decades and still haven’t come up with a clear reason why our brains like to do it so much. However, many studies suggest that people procrastinate because it gives our brains a little dose of happiness while avoiding the thing we’re dreading.
For a more comical explanation of procrastination, Tim Urban, the author of the blog Wait But Why, describes procrastination as an “Instant Gratification Monkey.” The monkey takes over our rational decision-making and convinces us to do mundane, yet enjoyable tasks. Eventually the “Panic Monster” kicks in when our deadlines are looming.
Three mindful tools to overcome procrastination
As with most self-help regimens, recognizing you have a problem is the first step in getting past it. Now that you know you have a problem procrastinating, it’s time to move forward. Use these three mindful psychology tools to give your productivity a boost.
1. Get in touch with your future self
For long-term goals that do not have quickly approaching deadlines, it can be much more difficult to buckle down and get to work. However, by imagining your future self as a real person, you may feel more focused on your goals.
For example, in a study done by Hal Hershfield at UCLA Anderson School of Management, he examined how much participants wanted to invest in a retirement account—after asking each person to imagine they received $1,000. Some of the test subjects were shown a photo of themselves digitally aged. The subjects who saw their aged photo decided to invest twice as much as those who did not see their photos.
By focusing on your future self, you can start making more concrete, productive decisions that will benefit you in the future.
2. Forgive yourself for procrastinating
When you have the mindset that “failure is inevitable,” you are more likely to fail. At the same time, you must remember that you’re human, and all humans make mistakes. You’re going to procrastinate at some point in your life and that’s okay. You have to learn to forgive yourself for making mistakes.
Timothy Pychyl, a professor at Carleton University, studied university students and procrastination. He found that those who reported forgiving themselves for procrastinating on an exam ALSO reported procrastinating less on the next exam.
This simple psychology trick works because it reduces the negative feelings associated with procrastination, which is one of the things that triggers procrastination to begin with. When you improve your self-esteem, you’re more likely to make positive changes. This is an important soft skill to have.
3. Just get started
Another simple trick that can make a big difference in your productivity is just getting started. Don’t wait until you feel like doing the task—just do it.
Break down your task into smaller steps, even if they seem minute. For example, if you’re trying to write a letter of recommendation, start by adding the date to the top of the document. Now you have accomplished a tiny part of your project, and you may already feel better about it.
By taking one baby step at a time, your desire to procrastinate will slip away.
Simple solutions to fix your productivity issues
Now that you have a handle on the psychological side of your productivity, here are some practical tips that you can start using every day.
1. Put Temptations Away
When something is difficult, we don’t want to do it. When you make your temptations harder to access, you can stay more focused on your goals.
A good example is your phone. If you keep your phone next to your laptop, you’re going to respond to every ding. Simply moving your phone farther away will keep you from looking at it every minute. Other examples include moving to a quiet room to work, or putting the TV remote in another room of the house.
2. Give Yourself Deadlines
Having a set timeframe can make a task feel more manageable. Without a deadline, a task can easily drift off into the infinite future. If it’s not a work-related task, you can add some accountability to your deadlines by having a friend or family member check in on you.
3. Schedule Breaks and Free Time
You feel awesome when you get to do the things you love without any guilt. Plan breaks throughout your day where you can focus on doing something fun or relaxing.
An effective way to break up your workday is by using the Pomodoro Technique. This separates your day into manageable chunks, called pomodoros, with built-in breaks.
Become more productive and boost your income
With these psychology tips, you’re ready to change your habits. When you overcome procrastination, you can become a more easygoing, productive person.
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