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How to beat procrastination- scientifically proven methods

Procrastination is a common phenomenon in the learning environment. If you are familiar with the situation when you have problems with completing tasks or finishing a project on time, then this article is for you.

So why does procrastination happen? If you put aside time management, sleep patterns, and social media misuse, procrastination is the brain's defence mechanism. When we think about an unpleasant task, the brain activates its area responsible for the pain perception. In other words, it tries to distract us from performing tasks related to negative emotions.

Procrastination is common to all people, and it can only be partially muted by experience. Here are some useful tips for overcoming that daunting task you've been avoiding, based on science:​ ​

1. Forget about multitasking. 

Doing several tasks at a time might bring you a sense of productivity, while it is just destroying your focus and making you exhausted. The first and one of the most important rules in top corporations is the following:

“In the morning, make a list of all the tasks that should be done for today. No less than 3 and no more than 7. Then, pick one task from the list and continue working on it until it is done”

It is that simple and yet very productive. Start by choosing just ONE thing that you’ve been procrastinating and do not switch your attention to other tasks.

2. The earlier you start, the earlier you will finish. 

Once you focus your attention to one task, you should start implementing your day plan. It may feel de-motivating, and sometimes you don’t think you have enough time to complete it. In this case, use a great lifehack below.

3. The Five Minute Sparkling.

This is one of the best techniques for beating procrastination. The Five Minute Sparkling is based on the simple question: “What action can I take for  five minutes TODAY that can move me forward in my task?” When you’ve identified this 5-minute action, set a timer for five minutes and work on this task.

Research shows that once you start something, you’re much more likely to finish it. Remember: Small action is still action. Five minutes can make all the difference

4. The Power Hour.

The Power Hour is a method of putting away all distractions and working on your task with as much concentration as possible during one hour. It is a great tool to boost your productivity and reach successful completion of undesirable tasks just within one hour per day.

Remember to put off any possible distractors and devote your time to practice. Important note here is that after The Power Hour you should give yourself a high reward (it is a good idea to have a list in advance). 

5. The Pomodoro Technique.

Set the timer for 25 minutes before starting work, and then work until the timer rings. For the first 2-3 minutes of working, the brain manages to get involved, and subsequently does not recognize the activity as a prolonged negative stimulus. Take a 5-10 minutes break after each “Pomodoro” and start working again.

Science has discovered that our brain naturally goes through cycles with peaks and valleys. To maximize your output, it is vital that you honor these peaks and valleys by balancing concentrated, focused time with relaxation and integration.

6. Practice routine.

Our brain is lazy. Once we establish a habit or a sequence of action, it will be easier for the brain to follow the process without evaluating it. In other words, establish a routine before starting your study: clean your workplace, make a cup of tea, or even put some study-songs which you listen to only when you are studying. After that, when you practice these actions, your brain will automatically focus on task performance rather than on watching YouTube videos :)

7. Reflect on your feelings. 

It is extremely helpful to realise why exactly you have been procrastinating a specific task. It might be often an issue with your perfectionism or fear of something. Do you feel overwhelmed and don't know where to start? Fill in the sentence; “I’m avoiding this task because…” or “I’m avoiding this task because I’m afraid that….” And see what shows up. Identifying your fears can help you realise the monsters in the closet aren’t as bad as you think.

The process of beating procrastination is a tough task. You should keep in mind that a successful process of overcoming procrastination is rather a combination of several techniques, than using one method all the time. It is a good idea to write a reflexion log, where you would record the results of your experimentation. The more you try, the more interesting outcome you might get. 

Good luck in your fight with procrastination and in your experiments!


References:

Emmett, Rita. The Procrastinator's Handbook. NY: Walker & Company, 2000.

Steel, Piers. "The Nature of Procrastination: A Meta-Analytic and Theoretical Review of Quintessential Self-Regulatory Failure." Psychological Bulletin 133, no. 1 (Jan 2007): 65-94.

Maguire, E.A., E.R. Valentine, J.M. Wilding, and N. Kapur. "Routes to Remembering: The Brains Behind Superior Memory." Nature Neuroscience 6, no. 1 (2003): 90-95.