You wonder how to overcome procrastination. If you win, you can kick that 8h work-day, finish that 4K word essay due tomorrow, or whatever you’re putting off.
Wait, doesn’t that sound compelling?
I know what you’re thinking. You CAN do it, but you don’t want to.
You know what, when, why, and how. But you can’t stand committing so much for a task you don’t even like.
Whether it’s your passion or not, someone needs to do it. Sooner or later. If the project has no deadline, it could take you forever.
You complete the dreaded task, which leads to the next one. You find yourself always doing things you don’t like, wondering when it will end.
Would you have this problem if you had the habit of working hard?
Think of the tasks you procrastinated on two years ago. It probably sounds easy for you.
Here is the problem:
You’re too focused on results but haven’t taken enough action yet.
I know: results are the reason we work in the first place. People don’t care about the hours you work, but the results you get.
Although hard work isn’t enough, it’s a fundamental step for getting results. And you won’t need tons of hours to achieve it.
What if I told you a few minutes of work are more than enough to get 6-10 hours of work?
Doesn’t that sound easy and worth doing?
Hacking Willpower For Effortless 10X Productivity
Think of the last time you did something hard. If you look back, you may admit it wasn’t that difficult after all.
Yet, those minutes felt like hours.
Now, think of something you enjoy doing. Did you feel like time was flying by?
If so, does that mean you weren’t working hard?
Your impression has nothing to do with effort or the hours worked.
And when it comes to perception, the first five minutes are usually the most difficult.
But procrastinators believe every minute of work will feel arduous, so they never start.
All you need to do is work a little every day, and with the same willpower, you feel motivated to work more and for longer.
Of course, it’s easier said than done.
That’s why I created a five-step sequence to guarantee higher productivity:
- Break the loop
- Make work easier
- Energize yourself
- Decision hacks
- Stop working (you heard right)
Each one comes with three strategies you can use right away.
It will change the way you look at work.
Step 1: Break The Procrastination Loop
Problem: You just caught yourself procrastinating and can’t stop thinking about it. You prevent yourself from working, either by looking for excuses or beating yourself up.
Possible reasons include unrealistic expectations, negativity, and external failure (aka “bad luck”). Ironically, you have to forget about work to regain your focus.
Goal: Forget about your losses or change their meaning. Free your thinking from procrastination.
And there are three ways to do it.
1. Distract Your Brain with Tasks
How do you forget about excuses and negativity? You replace your thoughts with something else (preferably easy to do).
I recommend you try either detail-oriented or reflex tasks, so you force your brain to stay focused. We don’t want the brain to keep thinking in the background.
Here are some ideas:
- Running outdoors
- Cleaning your inbox
- Listening to a video-lesson
- Cleaning the dust
- Calculating numbers/personal finance
If they feel too easy, try doing them as fast as you can.
After you finish, the task will feel less intimidating. These tasks shouldn’t take you more than an hour, so don’t worry if the deadline is today.
As an extra benefit, you gained momentum to work better later.
2. Give Yourself Compassion
Being aware of procrastination and failure only puts more pressure on you. What if you feel really frustrated, or something external ruined your day?
Don’t be that harsh. Give yourself a break from work.
- Expressing yourself. Move the conversation from your mind to a piece of paper (Write why you think you feel that way). Write non-stop for at least two minutes
- Sharing it with a helpful friend
- Skipping work on purpose. It’s the only scenario where procrastination makes sense. As long as you don’t think about it (for at least 6 hours), allow yourself any distraction
Imagine you lost all last week’s progress today. You could complain and give up, but you eventually decide to work your way back.
The question is:
How long will it take you to accept it?
Use these strategies to break the doom loop, so you go back to work within a few hours as if nothing happened.
3. Change Your Perception of a Losing Day
You started your day with objectives but later find that you can’t achieve them. You can give up and hope for more luck tomorrow.
OR you can prepare today.
I’m with you. There’s no point in rescuing a bad day.
So why not use the remaining time as if it were a new day?
Instead of counting today’s work for this day, use it as a head-start for tomorrow.
You want to work 6h daily but failed today. If you now work for 2h, that counts for tomorrow’s goal, and you start that new day with 4h remaining.
If you know you’re starting the day with an advantage, you’re more likely to keep working.
But if you see yourself losing, you will want to procrastinate.
Step 2: Make Work Easier
Problem: You don’t mind putting the hours, but you don’t see the fruit of your work. You worry about wasting your time.
What if I work for ten hours today but make no progress? It would be no different than if I took the day off.
Goal: Reduce friction to get the most work done per minute. Prioritize tasks while allowing flexibility.
Here are three ways to do it.
1. Prevent Performance Bottlenecks
When your project has many moving parts, it may feel like no work will move you forward.
You can plan your actions, but by the time you finish editing your strategy, you’re too tired to work. Decisions cost energy.
Ideally, the only thing you should have in mind is executing the task. Only by the end of the day you can review and update your plan.
- Make all the decisions the day before work
- Structure your tasks in time blocks from most to least important
- If one task depends on another, follow that order
- Create a checklist for your morning and work routine, so you no longer need to think about it
- Get the most done as early as possible. What you do or not do in the morning will affect your energy and momentum for the rest of the day
Mind that you don’t need to start working from the beginning (unless there are dependencies). If you feel stuck on Step 1, but Step 4 is easier for you, start with four, and go back to one later.
Choose whatever order you like to stay in the flow.
2. Avoid Monotony with Time Blocking
Unless you love what you do, you will dread spending 12h a day working on that task. It’s much more bearable to lower the pace and add other projects you enjoy.
Try adding 3-5 time blocks for your day:
- Time to work on your main project
- Blocks to learn something you find fun
- Time for personal finance and planning
- Time for hobbies, friends, and relaxation
You are no longer sacrificing your day for a task you hate. Most people will find it reasonable to spend a few hours simply to get better at baring hard things (which will never go away).
Remember to keep variety in balance. Three to five is optimal, but more than that is distracting.
Yet, you might want to work 10h straight on a single project some days. If you have no problem with monotony and can keep it consistent, then you don’t need to follow this advice.
You will get further by sticking to a single project. But if you can’t, add more time blocks.
Do NOT try too hard to organize blocks by hours.
Say you need to work from 9 AM to 12 PM:
- If you don’t finish work by noon, you’ll feel stressed. You wanted to get it done, but it’s time to switch tasks
- You may feel bored. Because no matter how much you get done (even if there’s no work left), you won’t be “free” until noon. If you only have one hour of work, it ends up taking you three hours
My advice is, let it take whatever needs to take:
- If you are motivated and completing a lot of work, don’t let the fun stop when the block is over. Keep working
- Allow yourself to finish earlier if there is less work today. You’ll have more free time for other tasks
- If an emergency prevents you from working, move it to another moment of the day by removing a less relevant block (e.g., hobbies, relaxation)
- If you feel stuck and can’t make progress on the current block, don’t waste time waiting for it to finish. Start the next block
This way, you progress in all projects daily while having free time for fun and emergencies.
3. Block Distractions
You heard this a million times, so let’s go straight to the tactics:
- Put your phone far away. You can still walk to the other room and check it. But at least you won’t be worrying about notifications every 30 seconds
- Set site blockers on all your devices. None of these are infallible, by the way. But if it takes you ten minutes to disable a blocker, that should be enough to dissuade you from trying
- Use social accountability. Work with teammates, or go somewhere where anybody can see you working (like a library or cafe). Even if the people around you aren’t working, you don’t want to look bad in public
Maybe you use distractions as a reward: ten for every fifty minutes of work, for example. But then you come up with “one minute more.”
Set that alarm far from your room. When it goes off, you need to interrupt your task, walk away, and turn it off.
If your phone is your alarm and distraction, find another alarm device. When the break is over, leave your phone in the room where you used it.
Step 3: Energize Yourself
Problem: You feel passive and not interested in work. You prefer not to do anything today rather than conquer those goals.
Goal: Get so much energy that you feel uncomfortable with inaction.
Here are 3 tactics.
1. Intentional Sleep
A restful night will wake you up more than five cups of coffee in a row. I bet if you gave yourself an extra hour, you would find work surprisingly easy.
But what do I mean by intentional? More than just laying in bed.
Remember when I mentioned a “relaxation time block”? It fits perfectly here.
- How much sleep do you need to feel good? Give yourself an extra 30 minutes in case you have a bad night
- 30-60 minutes before sleep, you should have everything ready for bed
- Use the rest of the time to review your day, plan for tomorrow, and think of what you would like to do
- Stop thinking of notifications, messages, or work. Avoid using devices
- If you feel like it, have a walk or meditate 1-3h before bed
If you tend to overthink when you’re trying to sleep, this exercise will fix that. Assuming you always set the alarm at the same time, it will help you wake up with energy before it goes off.
Diminish the importance of sleep, and you will fall for the procrastinator trap.
2. Avoid Big Meals Before Work
Wait, doesn’t food give more energy? It does, depending on the meal quality.
Have you ever wondered why you feel tired after eating?
We like to believe what we’ve just eaten gives energy immediately. In reality, it takes 6-8h to digest food, if not 36h.
If you overate (especially proteins), it consumes 15% of your energy on average.
If it’s already hard for procrastinators to work, imagine a 15% slowdown.
Solution? Don’t eat before working.
If you work first thing in the morning, eat after you finish. If that’s too long, wait until the afternoon.
Sometimes, you’ll feel too hungry. It’s better to take a snack than having a king feast for breakfast.
As for meal frequency, choose whatever works better for your schedule. Whether to eat +6 times a day or -2, scientists have mixed opinions.
3. Use Boosts Wisely
Warning, expert strategy ahead! Only use it if you know what you’re doing.
Think of all the tools you can use to make work easier:
- Rewarding after work sessions
- Listening to focus music
- Working with a team
- Drinking coffee
- Taking brain supplements
- Block websites on Chrome
If you use any of these (or all at once), you can know nothing about productivity and still get massive work done. They are that powerful.
Why is this a problem? Because you’re “hacking” your environment to make work easier.
You got the work done. But did you become a productive person? Or did you become weaker?
The real world is NOT an ideal environment. What do you think will happen if you get used to an easier life?
- You use these “cheats” and get work done. They boost your productivity by, say, 50%
- After using them daily for weeks, you raise your tolerance. They no longer give you a boost, but you need them just to be okay
- If you stop using them, you’ll perform under 100% and feel sluggish
If you stop using them, you eventually get used to the harder environment and become productive without them.
What does this all mean for you?
The idea is to improve yourself so that you don’t depend on anything. Even in the toughest conditions, you want to thrive.
To take or not to take?
Drink coffee daily, and you’ll feel drained when the effects fade. Drink it once/twice a week, and you’ll get the energy without the drawbacks.
Best of all, you can use them to stop procrastinating.
Use them as emergencies. When you’re having a bad day, you use them to get back to work with ease.
But if you take them daily, you no longer have that emergency tool.
The solution? Moderation.
Step 4: Decision Hacks
Problem: Whenever you think, your brain persuades you to procrastinate. Distractions are too convincing compared to hard work.
Goal: Instead of fighting thoughts with reasons, change the way you make decisions.
Here are 3 ways to do it.
1. Lie Without Lying (aka Chunking)
You may have heard of this. If you distract for five minutes, it will take hours.
So if you tell yourself to focus on the task for five minutes, you’ll work for longer. But the brain isn’t stupid.
You eventually stop believing your lies. Now what?
Simple: deliver on your promise. Stop after 5 min.
Here’s what I do:
- I focus on the task for that time
- After 5 minutes, I’m free to stop working. I decide whether I want to stop or keep working
- Because of momentum, I’ll probably continue
- If I don’t want it anymore, I’ll take a break (1h max) until I can tolerate working for 5 minutes again
If you do it enough times, you will feel comfortable with more time, like 20min.
2. Delay Your Decisions
Like the previous example, you get better at delaying decisions when you practice more.
Imagine that after reading this article, you learn how to overcome procrastination and start working (hopefully!).
You haven’t even been five minutes in, and you already feel like “I need to get out of here!”
Fine. Allow yourself a 2-min delay before confirming your decision. After that time, ask yourself if you still think that way. “Do I feel like I can handle two minutes more?”
If so, keep working. If not, you’re free to quit.
It doesn’t matter whether you get work done or not. As long as you respect your decision time, you get better at it.
Over time, you learn to wait 30+ minutes, if not hours, before the decision.
Practice more, and impulses will no longer distract you. Because emotions change after a few hours, you’re less likely to procrastinate if you wait for later.
Procrastinating on procrastination, you could say.
3. 3rd Person View
Have you wondered why it’s so easy to give others advice but hard to give it to yourself? Funnily enough, it happens to me as a writer.
Even if you relate to others, you don’t see their emotions and excuses. But people are “trapped in their minds.”
This trick requires imagination. You want to see yourself from the outside, thinking about how you think rather than the thoughts themselves.
You can apply this as a mini-meditation exercise:
For the next two minutes, imagine how you look from a 3rd-view angle (like a Sims video game) and observe yourself.
You start thinking much more logically.
Step 5: Stop Working!
Problem: You want to work as much as possible, which ironically prevents you from doing it. If you don’t see any rewards at the end (more like an endless to-do list), you won’t see the point in pushing your limits.
To add insult to injury, you want to work for, say, “8h productive hours.” It frustrates because even with godlike productivity, you still need to sit there for 8h.
Why give your best only to start another more challenging task? Burn out appears.
Goal: Stop when it’s time to stop, not when you can’t push anymore.
Here are the 3 strategies to do it.
1. Rest Regardless of Your Progress
You can’t promise long-term productivity without talking of rest. We expect success to be rewarding, preferably more pleasant than grinding for years.
I got good news:
You don’t need to work insane hours to succeed at anything (except becoming a world champion). If work hours make linear progress, taking breaks is a multiplier.
Even with perfect sleep, you start your day with slightly lower energy than the day before. This penalty adds up over the weeks until you can’t keep going.
Instead of joining the 16h-workday group, try to:
- Rest a few hours before bed to ensure productivity tomorrow
- Take one day off per week to relax. You can review your weekly progress
- At least, take a one-day vacation per month
- Don’t work for a week or two at the end of the quarter
If the day feels so dull you want it to end, take a break from work.
Hey, this also motivates you before the break.
If you find distractions at work, you’ll ignore them because you’re more excited about the vacation days ahead.
2. Define Your Work Range
What’s the minimum work amount to consider your day successful? This number should be easy enough to avoid skipping days.
The second variable, your maximum limit, should be close to your minimum (20-40% more).
Every day, you need to hit that minimum. If you win many times in a row, you can raise the standards.
But how do you ensure daily consistency? The max limit is the key.
If you want to work as much as possible, you could burn in the process. You also have an excuse not to work tomorrow because “you got three days of work done in one.”
Only increase your maximum after your minimum.
3. Follow Your Instinct
This won’t be abstract. I promise.
Take everything you’ve learned from and create your strategy. Do you know how to overcome procrastination this time?
Are you sure you’ve spotted your mistakes and fixed them? Or do you need to keep learning?
You’re more likely to succeed with a strategy you believe in. If you don’t, you can find more anti-procrastination material in this blog.
Now, there’s a thin line between strategy and perfectionism. If you have covered everything but still feel uncomfortable with action, do it anyway.
Your Next 5 Minutes
I know I covered a lot, and it may take days to assimilate it. But you neither need to follow this guide to a T.
You can be ready in just five minutes with this six-bullet script:
- Write down what you want and what you need to do
- Start working for two minutes on the easiest task. If you don’t know where to start, take 5-10 minutes to plan the project
- Gain momentum with 2-min tasks that aren’t related to work
- If you use boosts (coffee, music), only take them while working (or after you spend X time on the task)
- If anytime you feel like quitting, delay the decision before confirming. “Can I bear an extra 2 min?”
- Start with 2 min sessions. Keep working if you feel like it, but if you don’t, do something else until you forget about the task. Within one hour or less, try again
I know you want to finish work asap. But these strategies do more than that.
You get better at doing hard things. You don’t need to love the task to complete it.
How to overcome procrastination in one word? MOMENTUM.