Tomorrow Never Comes: How to Overcome Procrastination
It can be argued that just about everything revolves around deadlines and unforgiving schedules. Whether for school, a job, monthly payments, or even personal goals, timing is key. In fact, the abilities to reliably meet deadlines and complete tasks promptly are often responsible for whether or not we succeed or fail at our various endeavors in the workplace and beyond.
Despite all this, procrastination happens—it’s just part of being human—and we can sympathize! (Perhaps we even put off writing this blog post for a bit too long.) It’s no wonder that an existence based entirely around the presence of time management and deadlines will occasionally lend itself to some instances of thinking, “It’s okay. I can do this tomorrow.”
However, when putting off tasks becomes a habit, the mythical “tomorrow” we promise ourselves may never come. What happens when we can’t find the “tomorrow” we’re looking for, the “tomorrow” when our work will be finished at last?
Why We Procrastinate
We won’t pretend that tackling procrastination is an easy battle, but you can make the challenge much more manageable with a bit of self-reflection. Before you focus on how to overcome procrastination, it’s critical to understand why you procrastinate in the first place.
A few of the most common reasons we tend to procrastinate are because:
We’re AfraidMany have theorized that some of the most common reasons for procrastination are self-doubt or a lack of self-esteem; results from a study published in 2014 heavily support these hypotheses. It makes sense, too—a lack of confidence means it’s even more difficult to jump the hurdles necessary to achieve productivity. If we don’t think we can complete a task, how can we expect ourselves to fully embrace it?
Our Brains Work DifferentlyTo say that procrastination is “all in your head” isn’t dismissive—it’s just true! Mindset is everything, which means that certain psychiatric diagnoses can drastically affect the way you approach deadlines and other time-sensitive matters. Individuals struggling with anxiety and depression, for example, may be more likely to procrastinate due to a lack of motivation or perceived anxiety about the deadline itself. Those with attention deficit disorders or obsessive-compulsive disorder may also tend to procrastinate.
There’s Something Else We’d Rather DoThis may seem like a straightforward point, but it’s important to know if it’s the primary reason that you tend toward procrastination! Humans are largely driven by punishments and rewards, so knowing that you’re putting work off because you can’t stop engaging with another activity you love will be useful when you’re learning how best to crack down on your bad habits.
If none of these reasons resonate with you, don’t panic! Everyone is different, and sometimes our reasons for procrastinating are not always clear. While understanding what drives your procrastination can be a huge help in changing your habits, you can still be successful even if the cause of your procrastination eludes you.
Overcoming the Temptation to Procrastinate
Once you’ve identified some possible reasons for your procrastination habit, check out the suggestions below and identify a few solutions which may be useful for you. Not all of these will work for everyone, but we’re willing to assert that they’re all worth a shot—research says so!
1. The Pomodoro Technique
This work method, named for its dependence on those adorable, tomato-shaped kitchen timers, is particularly effective for those who have difficulty maintaining focus for long periods of time.
Developed by Francesco Cirillo, this technique has changed the lives of those who regularly succumb to bad time management habits. The Pomodoro Technique has spawned a book, software, and even time management courses, but the core technique is incredibly simple and free for anyone to try. All you’ll need is a timer—your phone, an internet app, or any other alarm will do.
- Pick your task. Whether it’s a school paper, a work proposal, or some routine house cleaning, identify the goal you want to accomplish.
- Set a timer for 25 minutes and focus solely on this task until the timer rings. If you think of something important you must do, write it down and come back to it after your time is up. If someone attempts to interrupt you, kindly let them know that you’ll be with them shortly.
- Once your timer rings, congratulations! You’ve completed a single unit of time this technique calls a “Pomodoro.” Draw a checkmark on a sheet of paper to represent this Pomodoro, then reward yourself with a short break.
- Repeat until you’ve completed four Pomodoros.
- Take a longer break (20 or 30 minutes).
- Get ready for the next round of four Pomodoros!
- Rinse and repeat.
If, at any point, you must step away from your task prior to the timer’s expiration, reset the timer and try again. Partial success is important, but it doesn’t mean that you get to record a checkmark!
Of course, this technique is highly customizable. If focusing for 25 minutes at a time is too difficult, try 15. If five-minute breaks are too short, relax for 10 minutes between Pomodoros.
Figure out what works for you, then stick with it.
2. Mindfulness Meditation
Many people recoil at the thought of meditation, an activity often associated with a number of misconceptions—religious, intimidating, boring, time-consuming, too difficult, and the list goes on. Thanks to successful apps like Headspace, however, mindfulness meditation has entered the spotlight as a trendy (and incredibly healthy) habit that anyone can pursue in only a few minutes each day.
The core principles of mindfulness meditation include:
- Making time and space
- Living in the present moment
- Existing free of judgment
- Accepting failure
- Being kind to yourself and your thoughts
But how, exactly, is mindfulness meditation linked to procrastination? By utilizing advanced medical imaging techniques, researchers have discovered that procrastinators have a larger amygdala than non-procrastinators. Without delving too far into medical jargon, suffice it to say that the amygdala is a part of the brain which controls emotional regulation and our “flight or fight” response.
Making mindfulness meditation a habit can actually shrink your amygdala, though, meaning that regular mindfulness can regulate the same emotional responses which may lead you to procrastinate.
Plenty of free resources and guided meditations are available online and via mobile applications.
3. Rethink To-Do Lists
For some of us, the most difficult part of working toward a deadline is the few minutes that it takes to get started and establish even the smallest amount of momentum. Because maintaining productivity is much easier than jumping the hurdle to begin working in the first place, we’re a huge fan of tricking ourselves into tackling our to-do lists.
How? Don’t worry—it’s easy.
Take a few moments to jot down a list of tasks you need to accomplish, even the petty activities like folding clothes, doing dishes, and taking out the trash. Don’t be frightened by the length of this list—it can get pretty long when you include the little things!
Then, arrange the list in order of significance, size of the accomplishment, or length of time necessary to complete each task. Complete tiny, easier tasks first to gain momentum, then tackle a larger task once you’re warmed up and embracing the victory that comes with productivity.
4. See a Counselor
If you think that your procrastination may be due to an underlying illness like generalized anxiety disorder or major depressive disorder, talking to a licensed counselor or therapist may help you to better examine these causes and learn how to treat them.
Also, a counselor will be able to determine whether or not you might benefit from speaking to a doctor about medication or other interventions to improve your mental health and get your brain in tip-top shape.
Plus, accountability matters! Checking in regularly with a non-biased third party is just like having a professional accountability partner. What could be better than that?
5. Consider the “Where”
We’ve been talking a lot about the “when,” but what about the “where?” Research performed by Piers Steel at the University of Calgary suggests that stimulus control is an effective way to reduce procrastination tendencies. In other words, tailoring an environment to your needs and filling it with cues suggesting a stricter work ethic can be an effective way to reinforce productive behaviors and crack down on procrastination.
Other studies put this stimulus control theory to the test by examining students who controlled their environment by studying in the same place each day. These students, who effectively created a familiar environment for themselves which reinforced their work routine, procrastinated less.
The same theory proves the usefulness of office settings as a way to decrease procrastination. Never underestimate the importance of the routine and setting you utilize while completing your work.
6. Treat Yourself
We mentioned before that humans are simple creatures, driven largely by the prospect of punishments and rewards. If you’ve identified one of the reasons for procrastination to be your tendency toward wanting to do something else, turn that temptation into a prize!
For every three hours you work successfully toward your goal, watch an episode of your favorite show. You might also try allowing yourself thirty minutes of recreation each time you clear your crowded email inbox. Set realistic and attainable goals appropriate for your workload.
If you find yourself tempted to extend your break past your allotted time, you may need to be stricter with your rewards and allow the most tempting activities only once you’ve completed all other tasks for the day.
Whether you allow yourself many small rewards or one huge reward, you’ll be surprised at how much work you’ll get done when you treat yourself to what’s been motivating you all along.
7. Set a Precedent
For those who struggle with self-doubt or the paradoxical fear that “Nothing I do is enough, so there’s no point in doing anything at all,” building confidence is a must. By taking pride in even the smallest achievements, you enable yourself to feel proud of accomplishments and train your brain to crave more validation via productivity.
For one day, try making a list of everything you’ve accomplished, no matter how small. In the end, your list may look something like this:
- Got out of bed
- Brushed my teeth
- Ate a granola bar
- Checked my email
And so on.
Even at the end of a less productive day, your list will end up longer than you expect—what could be better than that kind of validation?
As you continue this habit, listing an item will begin to feel like a triumph, and you’ll be itching to keep up your productive streak so that your list will grow even longer. You may even choose to play a game with yourself and keep track of your success each day.
Breaking records is always fun, right?
Remember, you’ll never know which strategies work for you unless you give them a try, so don’t be afraid to experiment.
Defeating procrastination is a matter of trial and error, and the battle may never truly be won. Temptations will always exist as you train your brain and modify your habits, so occasional backpedaling is normal. As long as you don’t accept defeat, you’ll never truly fail.
Some Final Words
Before you navigate away from this blog post and get back to tackling your own time-sensitive goals, allow us to leave you with one final clarification and piece of advice.
There’s a huge difference between procrastinating and taking intentional breaks or time off. By working closely with a schedule and going out of your way to plan times for rest and recovery, you’re actually doing your mind and body a huge favor!
Allowing yourself these moments of recovery will likely keep you more productive in the long run, as long as you’re careful to avoid turning occasional breaks into longer vacations. Hold yourself accountable, be conscientious of your limits, and stick to your schedule—you’ll win your war against procrastination and become a lean, mean, productivity machine in no time at all.