Ask LH: How Can I Stop Making Excuses For My Procrastination?

Hey Lifehacker, I have a problem: I suffer from chronic procrastivity. I am ridiculously creative at coming up with ways of procrastinating, and even worse, internally justifying that procrastination as being genuinely productive. How do I break free from this disease and fool my devious subconscious into letting me add real value in my home and work environments? Thanks Procrastivator

Procrastination picture from Shutterstock

Dear Procrastivator,

If you truly want to curb your procrastination problem it helps to understand the science behind it — there’s a lot more going on than just being lazy. This in-depth guide explains precisely why we procrastinate; from the part of the brain that dictates decision-making to the role of ‘temporal discounting’. Here’s a brief extract from the linked article:

The part of the brain that acts as the control centre for deciding whether to perform certain behaviours is the prefrontal cortex. It plays an important role in assigning positive (or negative) values to outcomes, and encoding what actions were performed. [clear] [clear]This process means you are more likely to do something if it previously resulted in a good feeling. This area of the brain is therefore important for making value-based judgements as well as for decision making in general; we undertake certain behaviours because we’ve learnt that they make us feel good. [clear] [clear]Neurotransmitters in the brain process rewards and generate pleasurable sensations. Rewarding behaviours result in the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain. And, dopamine reinforces such behaviours in turn, making us feel good and increasing the chances that we will perform them again.

Pretty fascinating stuff, eh? The below video by AsapSCIENCE offers some additional insights into the nature of procrastination alongside ways to effectively manage it:

Now that you have a better understanding of what causes procrastination, it’s time to try out some psychological hacks to nip the habit in the bud. Asian Efficiency writer Thanh Pham suggests adopting the Clearing To Neutral (CTN) method. This involves optimising your tools and surrounding environment to eliminate friction prior to engaging in a task.

“By making sure you clean up your environment and toolkit, you ensure that the next time you need to use them there will be no friction at all. In other words, you make it easy for your “future self” to get started,” Pham explains.

Some examples of CTN approach include:

  • Getting enough sleep — energise yourself so you set yourself up for the next day.
  • Close relationship loops — do you have unresolved issues with people, especially people you see on a regular basis? Close them so there is absolutely no friction when you two need to work together.
  • Clean your desk – whenever you finish a task or you call it a day, clean your desk.
  • Wash your dishes as soon you finish eating – don’t let dishes linger around for too long. The longer it is in the sink, the dirtier it will get.
  • Close all programs — as you finish your work on your computer, close all windows so you only see your desktop.
  • Post-morning ritual — whenever you finish your morning ritual, set everything up for the next morning.
  • Note – this applies on a larger scale too, like in clearing the small tasks on your to-do list. Sometimes the simple presence of these two-five minute tasks is enough to make you procrastinate on doing bigger and more important things.
  • [clear] [clear]
    Another tried and proven method is running a series of timed dashes. If you keep putting something off, set a timer for just ten minutes and promise yourself a break at the end of that time. When the timer goes off, you might not have achieved much but the important thing is that you stopped procrastinating and got started. The trick is to apply the same rigid time-restriction to your break and then repeat the process.

    According to Lifehacker ebook authors Adam Pash and Gina Trapa, after applying the dash a few times, you’ll experience something amazing: when your timer beeps, you’ll want to keep working.

    “As you become more proficient at working the dash, you can adjust the amount of time you set up to work your tasks.” Pash and Trapa explain. “Depending on your energy level, available time, and total stress level around a certain task, extend — or shorten — the length of your dash.

    “The goal is to work up to 30-minute or even 60-minute dashes, but everyone has different workplace circumstances and attention spans for bursts of focused activity. Find your comfort zone, set that timer, and go. You’ll be amazed at how much you can get done in short, focused bursts.”

    If the above approach appeals to you, you’ll naturally need a timer. Here are five Windows timer applications that are worth checking out, although a tangible egg timer might be a better solution.

    Alternatively, you could sign up to the web app stickK, which allows you to pre-commit to a goal that you must complete by a certain deadline. The beauty of this app is that it encourages you to put real money on the line. You have the option of laying down cash, and if you miss your deadline the money becomes locked and is donated to a charity.

    To really turn the screws tighter, you can purposely choose a “charity” you hate such as the Westboro Baptist Church — if that doesn’t galvanise you to pull your finger out, nothing will!

    As always, we’re keen to hear from any readers who are former procrastinators. How did you manage to break your habit? Share your tips in the comments section below.

    See also: Six Scientifically Supported Ways To Crush Procrastination | Get Motivated With The Procrastination Equation Flowchart | The Many Reasons We Procrastinate


    Got your own question you want to put to Lifehacker? Send it using our [contact text=”contact form”].

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