Do you struggle with procrastination in your schoolwork or your job? Let me give you a powerful solution to beat procrastination so you can be more productive.
First, let's review how procrastination disrupts the learning process. To learn new material very well, you must expose your mind to the information multiple times.
This deepens neural pathways to ensure a solid memory, but it takes time to do this. Procrastination or time-wasting is therefore a great enemy of learning.
Second, let's not forget how procrastination sabotages your projects. Many types of projects at school or at your job take a lot of time to plan and complete. Procrastination leads to late projects or low-quality project outcomes.
So how can you be rid of procrastination forever? The secret is simple: Just get started.
Stay with me! I'm going to show why that really is the solution to overcoming procrastination. I'll also give you a tool to help you beat procrastination every time.
Scientists have discovered the feeling of dread you experience when thinking about schoolwork or projects is actual mental pain.
You know why you procrastinate. You delay studying or starting your project because just thinking about all the work required creates mental stress. Worry and distress about the upcoming studying or project gives you an unhappy feeling.
To escape this unhappy feeling, your mind desperately switches your attention to something else. You look around for something fun and enjoyable to do. Maybe it's a distraction like watching a TV show or playing a video game or going shopping or visiting with friends.
If you are truly overwhelmed by the studying or the project, you might even accept another type of work to avoid it. For instance, you might decide it's suddenly very important to do yard work or clean your house or organize the attic.
Don't feel guilty about the inclination to procrastinate. According to scientists, the perceived mental unhappiness you feel associated with procrastination is actual literal pain, similar to other types of pain.
In their study, "When Math Hurts: Math Anxiety Predicts Pain Network Activation in Anticipation of Doing Math," researchers Lyons and Beilock found this to be the case. The mental pain associated with dread of studying or of a project is not just your imagination or some weird psychological state.
In this study, the region of the brain associated with physical pain, the insular cortex, lit up in brain scans when students who hate math were told they needed to solve math problems. You'd think the pain would happen while working on math, but in fact it occurred before they even started!
Not only that - and this goes to the secret of defeating procrastination - the pain went away once the students started solving the math problems. A few minutes after they began working on the math, the pain region of their brain no longer lit up in the brain scan.
So the trick is to simply begin, but this begs the question: How can I get started when I don't want to? How can I get over the hump and just tackle the studying or project?
Of course, you could try sheer will power. Remind yourself in strong terms that you simply need to get started.
But that would be relying on your mind which is already affected by the urge to procrastinate to overcome that same desire. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps, as it were.
You already know that isn't going to happen. If you had that kind of willpower, you wouldn't be reading this article on how to beat procrastination. You would already have it beat!
What you need is some help. Perhaps an anti-procrastination tool of some kind.
Enter the Pomodoro technique. This is a timer-based method to get you started on your work and stay focused. It includes built in rest-periods to allow your mind to relax.
The concept here is really simple but also very powerful. What you do is work in a highly focused way for 25 minutes.
Then give your mind a 5 minute break from the work. Repeat that "Pomodoro" cycle as many times as you need.
The Coursera course "Learning How to Learn" describes the Pomodoro as a "25-minute mental workout at a mental gym, followed by some relaxation."
The key points to using the Pomodoro successfully are:
25 minutes of time on your studying or project
Focus! No interruptions, no distractions
Reward afterward - a few minutes of web surfing, coffee, even a stretch or a chat. This allows your brain to enjoy changing focus for awhile.
You can use a kitchen timer or a stop watch to keep track of the actual time. But there are also many free Pomodoro apps you can use for this.
For example, the Moosti website is itself a free Pomodoro timer. Moosti is what I normally use when I'm studying or working on projects on my computer.
If you prefer, you can also search the Apple App Store or Android Google Play Store on your smart phone for "Pomodoro" and find several others good Pomodoro apps, for use on your phone.
I don't have to tell you that procrastinating makes your situation worse. It relieves the mental pain temporarily, for a little while, but the studying or project you need to do remains. You'll still have to complete the work, but now you have even less time than before.
So first recognize it's okay to feel unhappy when you've got a load of studying or other work to do. That feeling is perfectly normal.
But now go one step further. Decide right now to complete a couple pomodoros of work. Sit down, turn on your kitchen timer or Moosti or a Pomodoro smart phone app, and work for 25 minutes.
Be sure to reward yourself during the 5-minute break afterward. For an additional feeling of accomplishment, after each Pomodoro write a checkmark on a piece of paper to keep track of how many Pomodoros you've completed today.
Remember, the mental pain associated with procrastination is only there before you begin. Just get started, and in a few minutes you'll have forgotten all about it!
References for Beat Procrastination:
1. Lyons, Beilock. "When Math Hurts: Math Anxiety Predicts Pain Network Activation in Anticipation of Doing Math," (2012). PLOS One. http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0048076
2. Oakley, Sejnowski. "Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects." Online course. https://www.coursera.org/learn/learning-how-to-learn
Last Updated: 06/11/2020
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