3 Steps to Kick the Procrastination Habit

By | March 20, 2007
Procrastination

We’ve all read a number of articles, tips and tricks on procrastination, but what follows is the most powerful method invented for beating procrastination.

It begins with the realization that procrastination isn’t something we’re born with, or something that can be beat with a simple hack or a few rewards. The truth is, procrastination is a habit, and like any habit, it can only be changed with a concentrated and proven method. What follows are three steps that can change any ingrained habit, from smoking to nail-biting to unhealthy eating to procrastination.

Before you start, however, here’s the key: focus on a positive habit change, not a negative one. So instead of ridding ourselves of procrastination, we are going to replace it with a positive habit: the Do It Now habit. To be more specific, we are going to define certain times in our work day when we must do work, and certain times when we give ourselves breaks — and during the work periods, our habit will be to Do It Now.

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1. Commit Thyself, Big Time. The first step in changing any habit is to commit yourself. There are several mini-steps within the Commitment step: first, commit fully to yourself. Don’t say, “I think I’ll change” or “I should stop procrastinating” but say instead “I WILL stop procrastinating, and I WILL start the Do It Now habit.”

Next, put it on paper. Write it down, exactly which habit you are changing, and what habit you are replacing it with. Write down a deadline, and write down a plan to create this new habit (and kick the old one). See below for more details on your plan.

Third, commit to doing this for 30 days. Don’t just try to do it for one day, or one week. And longer than 30 days, and it’s hard to sustain motivation. Commit yourself to a 30-day Challenge, and after that 30 days, your habit should have some good momentum. It will take 30 days of focused energy, but after that, it should be much easier to sustain the new habit.

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Lastly, commit yourself publicly … as publicly as possible. Tell the world. Tell your family and friends, put it on your blog, post it up in your workplace, commit yourself to daily email updates on your progress. If people not only know that you are making this change, but also are aware of your daily progress, you will be motivated to stick with this habit change.

2. Monitor yourself. Before you start the 30-day Challenge, take a few days to monitor your current habit. You can’t change something if you are not completely aware that it is happening, and with any habit, we often do it while on autopilot. So instead of working on that report, we might unthinkingly open up our favorite blog, our email program, or solitaire. The key is to become aware of those urges. So for the first few days, don’t try to change your habit. Just monitor your impulses. Simply keep a piece of paper with you, wherever you go, and try to put a tally mark on the paper for every single urge. When you get the urge to check your blog reader instead of doing work, write down a tally mark first, then go and check your blogs. After a few days, you’ll be very aware of your urges, and then you can begin to change them.

3. Practice, and practice some more. Do your new habit, Do It Now, every day for 30 days. Try not to make any exceptions, ever. If you make any exceptions, you are weakening your new habit. But if you make mistakes, do not beat yourself up about it. Just start again. Practice, practice, and more practice, and you will begin to get good at it.

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Some tips for the practice stage:

  • Track your progress. Do the tally marks again, but this time do it for every time you Do It Now. Set up a daily chart for your 30 days, and in each day’s box, write the number of tally marks you earned. (You can use gold stars or smiley faces if you want.) Watching your progress over time will motivate you.
  • Reward yourself. In the beginning, you should reward yourself often. Reward yourself every single time you Do It Now for the first few days. Then have rewards for the first week, second week, third week, and one month. List these rewards in your plan. Celebrate your progress often!
  • Post up a sign with the words “DO IT NOW” wherever you work.
  • Plan for ways to beat your urges and obstacles BEFORE they happen. Once your urges start, it’s harder to beat them. Your plan should include ways to combat your urges — things that work well are deep breathing, self massage, and drinking water. You should also list all obstacles, and plan to beat them. If one obstacle is the Internet, disconnect it except during certain pre-determined break periods.
  • Visualize success. Close your eyes and see yourself

The most important tip of all: Always think positive. If you have negative thoughts, doubts, or thoughts that tell you, “Just this once won’t hurt!” — squash those thoughts immediately! Do not let them stay in your head and fester, or they will win. Replace those thoughts with positive thoughts: I can do this!

And you will.

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Leo Babauta is a writer, a marathoner, an early riser, a vegan, and a father of six. He blogs regularly about achieving goals through daily habits on Zen Habits, and covers such topics as productivity, GTD, simplifying, frugality, parenting, happiness, motivation, exercise, eating healthy and more.

At the start of the year, if you had asked anyone if they could do their work from home, many would have said no. They would have cited the need for team meetings, a place to be able to sit down and get on with their work, the camaraderie of the office, and being able to meet customers and clients face to face.

Almost ten months later, most of us have learned that we can do our work from home and in many ways, we have discovered working from home is a lot better than doing our work in a busy, bustling office environment where we are inundated with distractions and noise.

One of the things the 2020 pandemic has reminded us is we humans are incredibly adaptable. It is one of the strengths of our kind. Yet we have been unknowingly practicing this for years. When we move house we go through enormous upheaval.

When we change jobs, we not only change our work environment but we also change the surrounding people. Humans are adaptable and this adaptability gives us strength.

So, what are the pros and cons of working from home? Below I will share some things I have discovered since I made the change to being predominantly a person who works from home.

Pro #1: A More Relaxed Start to the Day

This one I love. When I had to be at a place of work in the past, I would always set my alarm to give me just enough time to make coffee, take a shower, and change. Mornings always felt like a rush.

Now, I can wake up a little later, make coffee and instead of rushing to get out of the door at a specific time, I can spend ten minutes writing in my journal, reviewing my plan for the day, and start the day in a more relaxed frame of mind.

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When you start the day in a relaxed state, you begin more positively. You find you have more clarity and more focus and you are not wasting energy worrying about whether you will be late.

Pro #2: More Quiet, Focused Time = Increased Productivity

One of the biggest difficulties of working in an office is the noise and distractions. If a colleague or boss can see you sat at your desk, you are more approachable. It is easier for them to ask you questions or engage you in meaningless conversations.

Working from home allows you to shut the door and get on with an hour or two of quiet focused work. If you close down your Slack and Email, you avoid the risk of being disturbed and it is amazing how much work you can get done.

An experiment conducted in 2012 found that working from home increased a person’s productivity by 13%, and more recent studies also find significant increases in productivity.[1]

When our productivity increases, the amount of time we need to perform our work decreases, and this means we can spend more time on activities that can bring us closer to our family and friends as well as improve our mental health.

Pro #3: More Control Over Your Day

Without bosses and colleagues watching over us all day, we have a lot more control over what we do. While some work will inevitably be more urgent than others, we still get a lot more choice about what we work on.

We also get more control over where we work. I remember when working in an office, we were given a fixed workstation. Some of these workstations were pleasant with a lot of natural sunlight, but other areas were less pleasant. It was often the luck of the draw whether we find ourselves in a good place to work or not.

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By working from home we can choose what work to work on and whether we want to face a window or not. We can get up and move to another place, and we can move from room to room. And if you have a garden, on nice days you could spend a few hours working outside.

Pro #4: You Get to Choose Your Office Environment

While many companies will provide you with a laptop or other equipment to do your work, others will give you an allowance to purchase your equipment. But with furniture such as your chair and desk, you have a lot of freedom.

I have seen a lot of amazing home working spaces with wonderful sets up—better chairs, laptop stands that make working from a laptop much more ergonomic and therefore, better for your neck.

You can also choose your wall art and the little nick-nacks on your desk or table. With all this freedom, you can create a very personal and excellent working environment that is a pleasure to work in. When you are happy doing your work, you will inevitably do better work.

Con #1: We Move a Lot Less

When we commute to a place of work, there is movement involved. Many people commute using public transport, which means walking to the bus stop or train station. Then, there is the movement at lunchtime when we go out to buy our lunch. Working in a place of work requires us to move more.

Unfortunately, working from home naturally causes us to move less and this means we are not burning as many calories as we need to.

Moving is essential to our health and if you are working from home you need to become much more aware of your movement. To ensure you are moving enough, make sure you take your lunch breaks. Get up from your desk and move. Go outside, if you can, and take a walk. And, of course, refrain from regular trips to the refrigerator.

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Con #2: Less Human Interaction

One of the nicest things about bringing a group of people together to work is the camaraderie and relationships that are built over time. Working from home takes us away from that human interaction and for many, this can cause a feeling of loss.

Humans are a social species—we need to be with other people. Without that connection, we start to feel lonely and that can lead to mental health issues.

Zoom and Microsoft Teams meeting cannot replace that interaction. Often, the interactions we get at our workplaces are spontaneous. But with video calls, there is nothing spontaneous—most of these calls are prearranged and that’s not spontaneous.

This lack of spontaneous interaction can also reduce a team’s ability to develop creative solutions—there’s just something about a group of incredibly creative people coming together in a room to thrash out ideas together that lends itself to creativity.

While video calls can be useful, they don’t match the connection between a group of people working on a solution together.

Con #3: The Cost of Buying Home Office Equipment

Not all companies are going to provide you with a nice allowance to buy expensive home office equipment. 100% remote companies such as Doist (the creators of Todoist and Twist) provide a $2,000 allowance to all their staff every two years to buy office equipment. Others are not so generous.

This can prove to be expensive for many people to create their ideal work-from-home workspace. Many people must make do with what they already have, and that could mean unsuitable chairs that damage backs and necks.

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For a future that will likely involve more flexible working arrangements, companies will need to support their staff in ways that will add additional costs to an already reduced bottom line.

Con #4: Unique Distractions

Not all people have the benefit of being able to afford childcare for young children, and this means they need to balance working and taking care of their kids.

For many parents, being able to go to a workplace gives them time away from the noise and demands of a young family, so they could get on with their work. Working from home removes this and can make doing video calls almost impossible.

To overcome this, where possible, you need to set some boundaries. I know this is not always possible, but it is something you need to try. You should do whatever you can to make sure you have some boundaries between your work life and home life.

Final Thoughts

Working from home can be hugely beneficial for many people, but it can also bring serious challenges to others.

We are moving towards a new way of working. Therefore, companies need to look at both the pros and cons of working from home and be prepared to support their staff in making this transition. It will not be impossible, but a lot of thought will need to go into it.

More About Working From Home

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