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Our Top 10 Tips to Beat Procrastination [Audio]

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Aaron: Hi, you are listening to a podcast from I’m Aaron.

Thanh: I’m Thanh.

Aaron: And today we are going to talk about our top tips for beating procrastination. So when we started out with this article we wanted to list 10 ways to beat procrastination. We thought it would be pretty hard to list out even that. But realized that to beat procrastination is to just do that activity that you are procrastinating about. But we sat down and we broke it out into lots of little pieces and so here we are, our top 13 tips for beating procrastination.

Thanh: So the first one is Pomodoros. What we mean with that is, the Pomodoro technique is a timeboxing technique. So what that means is timeboxing is when you set aside ‘x’ amount of time and you say to yourself, “In this amount of time all I’m going to focus on is this task at hand.” So let’s say you have to write an article and you set the limit at let’s say 10 minutes. So, all you do is set a timer for 10 minutes and all you do during those 10 minutes is focus on writing that article. So you do nothing else besides writing that article. So that’s kind of timeboxing in summary. So what a Pomodoro is, or the Pomodoro technique, is you set a timer for 25 minutes and all you do in 25 minutes is work on the task at hand.

Aaron: So the thing that makes the Pomodoro technique work is that you are focusing entirely on one task and it relies on the principle of momentum in that once you actively commit to doing something, it tends to make it easier to continue to do it. So the way the Pomodoro technique works against procrastination is that you get the task, you start the timer, and usually those two activities themselves are enough to get the ball rolling that you will follow through and complete the task.

Thanh: So the 2nd one is Make It Fun.

Aaron: Yeah, the way I like to think about this is, even if what you are working on is pretty serious, you can find little ways to make it enjoyable. Put on your favorite music, have a cup of coffee or snack and what you want to do is you want to find something about the activity that potentially excites you. So even though, say for example, putting numbers into a spreadsheet isn’t exactly a lot of fun, you may find that the outcome of that which is you make more money, actually that is something that appeals to you and something that you would enjoy. And remind yourself of that before you begin your activity and wind up doing it. So we have an entire article coming out about this, that if you can find enough reasons why behind doing something, it makes doing that particular activity a lot easier.

The next tip we have is, we call it ‘Take a Break’, or To Breathe. The way to think about this is as a mini ritual to get yourself going. So what you want to do is before you start, you want to get up, you want to grab a glass of water or coffee if you drink it, you’re going to walk around for a bit, lie down if you can, get some fresh air. Just take a moment out to realize that there is an end to the task you have at hand and that you will get there a lot sooner than you think. So what you want to do is take a little break, and then get rid of all the distractions around you; turn off instant messenger, clear your desk, only have out what you need to complete the task, take a deep breath and then just start working.

Thanh: Yeah, I think that one is really important because, especially when you want to get something done, you really need to get rid of all the things that distract you. One of the biggest productivity killers is distractions and interruptions. And so, if you can avoid having those around you, you will automatically be more productive. So let’s say you were working behind a desk and you need to get work done, but you’re not really feeling that you want to get work done. One of the things I like to do is stand up, focus on my breathing, and then clear my desk. Because I know that if I can’t get this work done I know for sure it’s, most of the time, because I get distracted by things. So kind of like what Aaron said, you really want to get rid of all the things that you don’t need, and gather the things that you do need just to complete this task. So let’s say for example, you want to write an article, but you really cannot get started. Sometimes all you need to do is clean your desk, get rid of all the browsers, and all you need to have is a Word document in front of you. So if you get rid of all the distractions and focus on your breathing, then you will automatically be more productive and beat that procrastination.

Aaron: Yeah, I mean, another way to think about it is if you don’t have things to distract you, you don’t really have things to procrastinate with. People have a tendency to be like, “Oh, I’ll start doing this after I check my cell phone for the 50th time today.” If your cell phone is off or on silent, you’re not going to check it. So, clear everything out, take a breath, and start doing.

Thanh: So the 4th tip is Creative Procrastination. Now what do we mean with that? Creative procrastination is when you’re not really in the moment to do something that is ahead of you, so instead what you do is you focus on something that is more productive but in a different area. So for example, let’s say you’re writing an article and you’re really not in the mood to write an article. So instead of procrastinating by going on or doing something else, like playing video games, or taking a long walk and not doing anything while watching tv. Instead of doing those activities that kind of like kill your time, you can do something else that will help you, but maybe in a different area. So for example, reading a book that you like or finishing up a script.

Aaron: Yeah, like me, one thing I’ve been doing is I’ve been trying to teach myself PHP, which is programming language for the past couple of months, and what I’ll do is when I’ve been writing all day and I just don’t want to write another article, I’ll pull out my PHP book and I’ll go through a couple of chapters of that. So, I’m still getting productive work done, it just utilizes a different area of my brain and my focus and it makes it a lot easier to do. And the great thing about this particular technique or this tip for beating procrastination is that when you take a break from doing something it gives your brain time to come up with better solutions and to better clarify what it is that you’re doing. So, to sum it up, creative procrastination, it’s something else that’s productive to do but is in a different area and engages your mind in a different way.

Thanh: So our 5th tip is what we call Frog Eating. This is actually something we got from the book Eat that Frog, by Brian Tracy. What Brian Tracy says in his book is, if you have a list of tasks to do, if you work on the task that is the most annoying, the most likely where you’re going to procrastinate, if you start doing that, then the rest of your to do list is going to be really easy in comparison. So, he got it from the saying ‘if you eat a frog in the morning, then you know that’s the worst thing that can happen the rest of the day’. So if you focus on doing the worst task at hand as the first thing every single morning, then the rest of the day is going to be really easy in comparison. So let’s say you have to do laundry, you have to write an article, you have to get groceries, but you really hate doing the laundry. If that’s the thing that you will most likely procrastinate on, that is actually the first thing you want to do. Because, also in the morning, that’s when most of the time you’re not very distracted by people, especially when you work in an office setting. When you get in early in the office, most people aren’t there yet, or they’re checking email, so you have a lot of time to get things done, where you can tackle the most likely task at hand where you are going to procrastinate.

So the next one, the 6th one, is Rewarding Yourself. So the thing is, when you procrastinate, what you’re doing to yourself is you’re not completing the task at hand so you kind of like deferring yourself from a perpetual reward. Because every time you complete a goal or a task, you’re always working toward something you want to achieve. So, by procrastinating, you’re not getting there anyways. So what you can do to yourself, to motivate yourself a little bit, is say to yourself, “Okay, you know what, if I complete this task, then I get to do ‘x’, then I get to buy French fries, then I get to go to this movie”, or whatever it is. As long as you set up a reward for yourself that can kind of motivate yourself to get going.

Aaron: Yeah, I mean the trick with this is, choose something that doesn’t take a lot of effort to do as a reward. If it’s productive, that’s great, but it doesn’t actually have to be. So, for example, I guess some of the good rewards are things like, if you finish 4 hours of article writing or 4 hours of research for a midterm paper, or whatever it is, then you can go spend time with your friends and hang out, or you can watch your favorite TV show for an hour, or whatever it is. Something that you don’t have to put a lot of effort and thought into. Having, I guess, that as a carrot at the end of the path, makes it a lot more alluring and makes it a lot easier to get the task done.

Tip number seven is the concept of deadlines, which is something that a lot of people use in business to get stuff done. Now the thing about deadlines, is that you can set them for yourself, and if you’re motivated enough that will work. But for most people, they have to be enforceable by an external authority. What I mean by this is, if you think about a typical office environment, if your boss tells you, “Okay, I’ve got this thing for you to do and it has to be done by tomorrow morning, no exceptions.” Now, most people, when they’re faced with that situation, will be more than okay with staying back late, with taking the work home, or doing whatever it takes to get the work done. It’s not so much that they want to do it, it’s more that they have to do it, and someone outside of themselves is making sure that they’ll get it done. Now being quiet in this way, isn’t necessarily right or wrong, but if you know that you respond to this, recognize it, and use it to your advantage to overcome procrastination. So a technique that we both use is we’ll take an amount of money, be it $100, $1,000, however much you want, as long as it’s enough to make yourself miss it, and you give it to a friend. You tell your friend, “Okay, I have this thing to do, if I complete it by this deadline, give me my money back. If I don’t, you get to keep it.” And that will work for most things, it’s actually pretty surprising how well that works.

Thanh: Now the key thing to that technique is that you set aside the amount of money that will give you anxiety. Okay? So, let’s say $1.00 will probably not –

Aaron: – Motivate you to do very much.

Thanh: Yeah. Whereas, if you give your friend $500, then most likely you will get work done. So make sure that whatever the amount of money it is, or maybe even possessions – one time I did it even with a phone charger. Like I cannot live without my phone charger, so I knew for sure that I was going to get this work done.

Aaron: Most definitely. Alright, tip number eight is to break down the task into smaller tasks. So, one of the reasons that we procrastinate, is that we think that the task at hand is too much work, just too much effort, it’s too big. So what you want to do is, you want to take it and break it down into smaller distinct tasks. Start with something small and easy to finish and do a couple of these, and you will start to build up momentum to the point where running through the entire list of smaller tasks becomes relatively easy, and by the end of it you found that you just completed your original task you began with.

Thanh: Yes, there is like a little reframe technique that you can use in your head. Let’s say you have a task at hand, and you’re not really in the mood to do it. One reframe that you can do is, “Okay, how do I break this task down into smaller chunks?” Okay? So that’s one good reframe, because you start to look at the problem differently. And two, you’ll also be productive because you can see that most of the time you can break things down into really small things where you can make it seem accomplishable. So by breaking down things into smaller chunks, and completing those that will make you feel really good about yourself. Because if you complete a lot of different small tasks, every time you complete one, you give your body a good rush of emotion. If you keep that going, you build up momentum where eventually you will complete that project or that task at hand that you wanted to complete. So next time when you feel like, “Aw, no I can’t get this done.” Think about, “Okay, let me see if I can break this down into smaller things, and let me start with the thing that I can complete right now.” And build that momentum where you can complete all of them.

Aaron: Tip number nine is what’s called Parkinson’s Law. Which is the idea that a task will expand to fill the amount of time that you give yourself to do it. So the way this works in real life is that if you give yourself 2 hours to complete something, you will do your best to get it done in 2 hours. If you give yourself 24 hours to complete this same thing you will find that you will drag it along. So, we do all these things in between until that task takes 24 hours to complete. So what you want to do is you want to time yourself to a shorter time limit and it’s even better if the time limit leans more towards the ‘not humanly possible’ side of things. And the reason that works, is because some people are motivated by the thought of achieving the impossible, of performing I guess “great feats” in short amounts of time. Now, I personally took this one step further. I came up with something called ‘goal frameworks‘. Which is basically setting unrealistic deadlines for tasks, but doing it over the course of multiple days, weeks and months. And it’s basically planning a set of activities over an entire month and then start going at them as if it’s like a video game. So every time you finish something, you get a minor reward. And you do this repeatedly and what you’ll find, is that the things that you thought would take you days or weeks to do, start to take you hours to do. And yeah, every now and then, you fall behind, because things come up in your everyday life. But it does feel really good to complete tasks in shorter amounts of time that you thought would be possible. There is actually an article on this on the website at which you can look up.

Thanh: So the next tip, Tip #10, is keep yourself busy. Now, this may seem like common advice, but it’s a really, really good one. So, the key thought behind this one is, if you do things you really love to do, then you will automatically not procrastinate. Because if you have the drive of completing the goals you set up, the task that you want to complete that will work towards that goal, if you really have that drive inside of you, then you will most likely not procrastinate. A lot of times people procrastinate because they have to do things that they don’t like to. It’s only because an external authority said that you have to do this. Then, if there is no deadline, and a lot of times you won’t even complete, or even start it, or even look at the task. So, try to figure what is it that you really love to do and work towards that. Now sometimes, you know, especially when you work for a boss, sometimes you have to do things that don’t really motivate you or that aren’t really aligned with what you want to achieve in life. And, that’s just how it really works in the real world. Now, does that mean that you have to procrastinate every time that happens? No, of course not. We’ve given you a bunch of other tips that you can use. But, if you in everyday life procrastinate a lot, then that might be a sign that your values aren’t aligned with the things you want to achieve in life, so really have a look at that.

Aaron: Yeah. I mean, to expand on what Thanh just said, if you have a lot of things to do, then procrastination tends to become an unrealistic option. Because you simply realize that I haven’t got time to sit here and debate whether I’m going to do this. Either I do it or I don’t. And move on with the rest of my life. All of the things that you usually procrastinate on, you know, let’s go watch some tv, or daydream for a couple minutes, usually don’t happen when you have a big list of things to do, a lot of which are related to things that you want to do.

So, Tip #11, we call this You Get Courage After the Fact. And this is more of a shift in your mind than actual technique that you can use. It is something that we borrowed from Sales Training. It goes something like this: You almost never feel good before you do something that you perceive as hard. But as soon as you do it, you feel absolutely fantastic afterwards. The example that I like to use is skydiving. When you’re skydiving and you’re out there on a plane, and you don’t jump out, the instructor pushes you out of the plane. For the first 10 seconds, you are like “Oh, damn. I’m falling really fast toward the ground.” And then after that you really realize that it’s okay and that you’re not going to die. And that is actually pretty cool.

Thanh: The example I like to use is when you first start out going to the gym. Most of the time, when people just start off with a new work-out regimen or haven’t been to a gym in a long time, then yeah, like it’s going to be tough. Like the first step is, you know, getting your clothes on, and then the second step is actually heading out to the gym, and then most people kind of don’t want to do that. But once you have a good workout then you get those endorphins running and you feel good. You start to realize that, you know, you actually made a good decision by going to the gym and you feel great afterwards.

Aaron: Yeah, I mean this also runs on the principle of momentum in that, if you can just take that first step, as soon as you take it you get courage to go on to step number two. And something else you can do is, you can look for past reference experiences that you’ve had or things that you’ve done that will reinforce the positive in what you’re about to do. So, if you can think that, ‘Well, the last time I did this thing, which is similar to what I want to do now, I got it done and felt great.’ And you can use that just to give yourself enough push to start doing what it is you are procrastinating about. And as soon as you start doing it, you are going to start feeling better about it immediately.

Thanh: So the 12th tip that we have is it does not have to be perfect. A lot of times when people procrastinate is because they want to achieve perfection in what they do. So they will find out and look for ways to make everything perfect. Now the reality is nothing is going to ever be perfect. Like, especially when it comes to business, it’s more important getting work done than achieving something that is perfect. Because there is only a limited amount of opportunities you have, you have to go after. And the windows of opportunities, they close a lot, so if you didn’t go for it because you were too busy trying to find a perfect solution, or you wanted to make this line of code very perfect, or anything like that, is actually holding you back from the things you really need to be doing. So what you want to do is kind of recognize and see what you’ve done already and praise yourself for that. Say to yourself, “You know what, I’ve done this already. I know I still have to do this amount of work, but hey, you know, I got started already. I should be praising myself for that.”

Aaron: Yeah, one thing you can do is also start to systematically remove the words should and must from your database and replace them with want instead. The problem with should and must is that they imply perfection a lot of the time, in ‘it should be shorter’, ‘this must be more concise’. You don’t’ want that. If you to make it more concise, go ahead and make it more concise, you don’t have to procrastinate about it. But, you know, if you know that you should be doing something, but you’re not, that’s really not helpful and it’s not particularly productive. I guess, the short version of this is the principle of Ready, Fire, Aim, which is just start doing something, and when you are done with it, you can always come back and fix it later.

The 13th tip that we have for beating procrastination is Just Outsource it. Now, this is actually part of a bigger idea, where you really should be deciding if you actually need to do something at all. Because there are other things out there that we do on a day to day basis that we actually don’t need to do, we just think that we do. The example that I’m going to give is grocery shopping. That is something that you can actually pay someone else to do and you don’t have to do it yourself every week. Now the thing about outsourcing tasks is you need to make sure that they’re things that either you are not directly responsible for or you don’t have to be responsible for. So, in your personal life, things like laundry, like grocery shopping, you can probably pay someone else to do. If you run your own company the obvious ones are like technical work, web design, you know, programming, graphic design, things that, yes, you could do yourself, but you could also pay someone else to do it. And, that way you don’t have the issue of procrastinating over it. Because you don’t know how to do it properly, or for whatever reason it doesn’t even come up as an issue at all.

Thanh: Yeah, and if you already have an established business running, what you can do is often you can hire interns and get them for free actually, like non paying internships. That is actually one of the core things I like to do where I get a bunch of interns, of course I screen them, but then because it’s non-paid you get free labor. So that will give you a lot of opportunities to outsource the work that you don’t have to do it. So every time you get a task in front of you, ask yourself, “Am I the perfect person to do this?” If this is yes, then you will most likely want to do it yourself. If someone else can do it instead, then it’s better to outsource it. Especially if you can get free labor or even cheap labor.

Aaron: So in closing, there is no real reason to procrastinate. We just gave you 13 very good counter reasons and ways to stop procrastinating. Let’s also remember that there’s nothing physically stopping you from doing tasks most of the time, it’s just a mental hang-up that we have and something that just comes up that stops us from doing it.

So, in summary, here are those thirteen tips again.

  1. Pomodoros
  2. Make it Fun
  3. Take a Break and Breathe
  4. Creative Procrastination
  5. Frog Eating
  6. Reward Yourself
  7. Set Deadlines
  8. Break it Down into Small Tasks
  9. Parkinson’s Law and to Set Time Limits
  10. Keep Yourself Busy
  11. Remind Yourself that You Get Courage After You’ve Done It
  12. It Doesn’t Have to be Perfect
  13. You can always Outsource It.

So thanks for listening. Im Aaron.

Thanh: I’m Thanh.

Aaron: And, we’ll see you guys next time.


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Posted by Samuel  | February 13, 2015 at 3:37PM | Reply

Nice! I’ve used the several of these techniques before thanks to reading some of your previous articles and they are all working better than I had ever imagined. Thank you for introducing me to all the other techniques you’ve mentioned here. I’ve added them to my Productivity Arsenal and am already having good results with them.

The one that has been life changing to me personally is “It Doesn’t Have to be Perfect”. Wow, what a concept! I can’t count the number of opportunities that I’ve missed out on over the years because I was busy “getting ready” to do something. I wanted to make sure I had the process down perfectly but by the time I “had it down”, the process had changed or the window of opportunity had closed. From this moment forward, I will do what I need to do now as best I can at the moment and will not try to make it “perfect” because I now know it will never be perfect and I can always go back to tweak it later, if need be. That was exactly what I need to hear. Thank you, guys!

Posted by Thibaut  | May 21, 2012 at 12:08PM | Reply

Thanks again fot this great content, I will definitely try the Promodo technique !

Posted by Nicole  | November 16, 2011 at 12:11PM | Reply

Thanks for these tips guys!I’ve been struggling with this problem for a couple of years now and it has completely destroyed my ‘joie de vivre’. I can’t wait to put your tips into practice and see this through one step at a time! If I may ask Thanh, what did you do to stop procrastinating?

Posted by Thanh Pham  | November 16, 2011 at 12:24PM

All of the tips above :-)

Posted by Spence  | September 21, 2011 at 2:43PM | Reply

Thank you.  Great ideas for one of my biggest failings.

Posted by Thanh Pham  | September 21, 2011 at 11:10PM

Keep working at it Spence, anyone can overcome this. I used to be a huge procrastinator myself but not anymore. So if I can do it, so can you.

Posted by Chris R  | February 25, 2011 at 4:29AM | Reply

awesome article, awesome website. please keep it coming lads!

Posted by AE Thanh  | March 2, 2011 at 2:53AM

Thanks Chris. We will for sure keep posting awesome articles :)

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