Are You an Expert Procrastinator? Try These Tricks From Psychologists to Boost Motivation and Productivity
With so many distractions these days, it’s no wonder procrastination is at an all-time high. It’s so easy to let distractions pull you away from a big task on your plate, especially if they feel productive. (At what point does checking your email become dilly-dallying?) It’s time to uncover easy ways to take control of your time, increase your drive, and make your day productive.
To give you the best guidance, we reached out to three experts:
- Piers Steel, PhD, author of The Procrastination Equation, is a professor at the Haskayne School of Business and a leading expert on procrastination.
- Mary Lamia, PhD, author of What Motivates Getting Things Done, is a professor at the Wright Institute and regularly blogs for PsychologyToday.com.
- Hayden Finch, PhD, author of The Psychology of Procrastination, is CEO of Master Your Mental Health, a platform that helps folks turn self-doubt into confidence.
1: Let yourself off the hook.
Birds do it. Bees do it. Procrastinate, that is. “Studies show even pigeons put things off,” reveals Dr. Steel. In other words, the urge to delay challenging tasks isn’t just human, it’s universal. You’re not lazy — it’s often because you care too much that you delay action, out of fear of failure, adds Dr. Lamia. “Once you let yourself off the hook, you can start to move forward.”
2: Pinpoint emotions.
“A big myth about procrastination is that it’s about behavior — it’s really about emotions,” says expert Hayden Finch, PhD. “It’s the ‘overwhelm’ that stops you from starting, more than the task itself.” The fix? Simply acknowledge such emotions, she urges. “For example, if you need to have a hard conversation with a loved one, admit, ‘I’m going to feel dread.’ And then say, ‘That’s okay; I can do this even if I feel uncomfortable.’ Labeling feelings gives us the clarity to pinpoint what we can do.”
3: Picture success.
Visualizing how good it will feel to complete a task helps you get going, says Finch. “You might say, for instance, ‘I want to get organized so I can find X important documents,’ or, ‘I want to start exercising so I can play more with my grandkids.’ Jot down your reason or put it on your phone. Look at it daily to help you remember what you have to gain from starting.”
4: Do less work.
This sounds counterintuitive at first, but it’s perhaps one of the best procrastination tips out there. “One of my favorite strategies to increase motivation is ‘time restriction,’” says Steel. “We enjoy a pop in productivity when we have limitations.” In fact, one study showed that students given 10 minutes to study a topic learned as much as those who had significantly more time. “Give yourself a small chunk of time to get started on must-do’s so you can make more time for your life.”
5: Create sacred space.
Setting boundaries between your work and personal lives stymies procrastination by boosting joy, notes Steel. “Designate ‘sacred time’ and ‘sacred space’ that are off-limits to work, and ‘un-schedule’ yourself by putting things you look forward to on your to-do list first, before other tasks,” he encourages. “Simple changes like this motivate you automatically, so there’s no need for so-called ‘willpower.’”
6: Reward mini progress.
We often wait to cross the finish line before we pat ourselves on the back — but acknowledging even the smallest steps leads to big results, says Finch. “If you’ve been delaying washing the dishes, give yourself credit for washing one fork. Or if you’ve been avoiding a writing project, acknowledge that you wrote one sentence. And when you wish you had started sooner, simply tell yourself: ‘I’m a good person, and I can start now.’” After all, there’s no time like the present to make future goals come true.
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.