How To Beat Procrastination
Eliminate distractions to stop time-wasting
As long as humans have roamed the planet, procrastination has been an ever-present companion.
We tend to think of procrastination as a modern phenomenon, but the truth is the great figures of the ancient world experienced it too.
The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius talked about in his notes to himself, Meditations. The philosopher Seneca was no stranger to procrastination either.
In his brilliant essay On The Shortness of Life, he describes it as follows:
“Putting things off is the biggest waste of life: it snatches away each day as it comes, and denies us the present by promising the future. The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today. You are arranging what lies in Fortune’s control, and abandoning what lies in yours. What are you looking at? To what goal are you straining? The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.”
Procrastination is the art of delay. It involves finding excuses and reasons not to do something now and postpone it for later. The problem is that you can only postpone a problem for so long.
If you’ve been to university or had assignments in school, you’ll know that there is only so long you can delay the inevitable. The longer you delay, the more you exacerbate the problem.
Instead of completing the task in a reasonable with no additional pressure, you are now reducing the amount of time you have to complete the task before the deadline.
While this approach may work for students who need the pressure to thrive and produce a quality piece of work, it’s not a viable strategy in real life.
What happens when you delay something with no deadline that you know you should do but don’t want to?
With no impetus to stop delaying, you’re unlikely to do so.
The problem with procrastination is that even though it feels like it benefits you in the short-term, it doesn’t. Nor does it benefit you in the long-term either.
Whatever way you look at it, procrastination has a price. It’s a price that you don’t need to pay and one that will cost you if you continue.
Delay, Delay, Delay
I have a confession to make, I can be a terrible procrastinator. I have a bad habit of putting things off until I absolutely have to do them.
I did this when I wanted to travel to Australia. I quit my job in the middle of August intending to book a flight a few weeks later, but I didn’t end up going until the middle of November.
This was down to the fear of going to the other side of the world by myself, which made me delay my decision for as long as I could. During that time, I spent two months not doing much, when I could have been working or travelling.
The same thing applies when working. I like to listen to music when I work as it provides background noise which helps me focus.
Normally, I will listen to songs on Spotify, but sometimes I’ll listen to them on YouTube instead. Whenever I listen to songs on Spotify I seem to be much more productive than when I listen to them on YouTube.
This has nothing to do with the merits of either platform, it has everything to do with me. On Spotify, I’ll choose a playlist and let it play. I can get on with my work and I rarely change the song.
However, the same is not true with YouTube. After three or four songs, I find myself gravitating back to change the song. When I click back to the homepage my eye is drawn to the various recommended videos which I end up watching.
This is terrible for my productivity. I’m wasting a lot of time watching videos that I don’t even want to watch. Needless to say, I don’t get much work done when I listen to music on YouTube.
As soon as I recognised this, I stopped listening to music on YouTube and stuck to Spotify, since then I have been much more productive. One of the keys to beating procrastination is to figure out what causes you to procrastinate in the first place.
It’s only when you recognise the symptoms that you can work towards implementing a cure.
The problem wasn’t that I was watching one video on YouTube, it’s that I would watch one, then another, and then another, until I realised I had wasted a whole chunk of time.
Procrastination is a lack of self-control. It’s a dangerous habit to slip into if you want to accomplish anything because you will always assume you can do it later, but that’s not always the case.
A lot of opportunities have time limits. This is referred to as opportunity cost. The more time you waste putting things off, the less time and opportunity you’ll have to implement them.
The longer you procrastinate, the less likely you are to complete something. All of us have had grand goals such as writing a book, starting a website or joining the gym, but the longer we delay making these decisions, the less likely they are to happen.
Even if you have made the decision, you may find that once you’re into your endeavour, your resolve starts to waver. You don’t go the gym for a week, you don’t work on your blog for a week or two, the longer this goes on, the less likely you are to recover.
Slipping into a comfort zone is the ideal breeding ground for procrastination. When you’re comfortable, you’re less inclined to take risks and chances.
Big changes are hard to make, but when you’re procrastinating on small tasks, then you have a problem. Paying the bills or doing the shopping requires little motivation, it requires no drive, yet we delay them anyway.
The issue is that procrastination comes down to the belief, that whatever you need to do, it can wait until later. The problem is, later is rarely better and in terms of big life changes, may never come.
The best way to beat procrastination is to figure out what causes you to procrastinate and eliminate it. YouTube was a huge distraction when I was trying to get work done, so I stopped using it.
I thought I could do the work while using YouTube, but I underestimated my willpower. The temptation to drift back on to the site and watch random videos was too strong.