You never have to procrastinate again.
That probably sounds a little hard to believe. People expect to hear “I got my procrastination under control,” or “I rarely procrastinate.” You probably don’t expect to hear that I never procrastinate. And believe me, I had it bad.
I was the student that was doing his homework 5 minutes before class.
You can succeed in ways you’d never imagine today. You can turn C’s into A’s when you can get things done. It can turn a run of the mill student into a top of the class one. Even after graduation, the ability to get things done without procrastinating will give you amazing opportunities.
Most of the people around you actively encourage your procrastination with the examples they set and the advice they give. It makes sense that you procrastinate. Most of the recommended methods of procrastination just exacerbate the problem. You’ve been taught wrong most of your life.
You don’t have to fear the monster of procrastination. It’s not an angry beast. It’s a cuddly little pet once you train it. After you learn just a couple simple things, you’ll notice yourself tempted to procrastinate but you’ll stop yourself. Procrastination will stop destroying your grades. It will stop making you miss opportunities. You’ll get things done before you need them. More importantly, you’ll learn the right way to use procrastination to get you even farther ahead.
First thing: you need to pay attention to what procrastination is doing to you.
How much time do you waste procrastinating?
Procrastination is the silent killer of most students. It’s a massive cost that everyone knows about but virtually no one fully appreciates. It is stealing your life away from you one second at a time. Whatever time you think you’re losing procrastinating, I can almost guarantee you’re underestimating it dramatically.
You can stop procrastinating.
Beating procrastination is often portrayed as a long-haul war against yourself. People will talk about how they “still fight with procrastination” even though they consider themselves better from it. I used to think this too. I don’t anymore.
When you learn the secrets to crushing procrastination you will not have to fight procrastination.
You will win against procrastination. You won’t have to force yourself to start doing what you need to do. You’ll just do it.
If you still struggle with:
- Having constant excuses why you’re not starting
- Rarely being prepared to start
- Failing to get motivated to start
- Or you just can’t get your body to start
Then you still have a problem with procrastination.
You can tell yourself “it’s minor.” Maybe you can live with it. Most people do.
You can live with procrastination but you don’t have to!
I no longer have any day to day problem with procrastination. When it is time to start something, I start it. I don’t need to pump myself up for ten minutes. I don’t need to do this one thing before starting. And… I’m always prepared for it. Most importantly, I have more time to do fun things than I ever had when I procrastinated.
The change you need to make is almost always simple but it requires a serious realization.
What Is Procrastination Really Costing You?
- Worse Grades
Studies estimate that nearly 70% of students procrastinate. The vast majority of students do their work a couple days before it’s due. That has a clear impact on the grades a student gets.
I bet you already could have guessed this.
It makes sense.
I bet you already know how stressful procrastination can be too.
With every day that passes your body makes you feel the looming schedule more and more. That increase in stress is exactly why you’re actually motivated to complete that studying the night before the test. The average student uses that stress as their ultimate motivator.
Without that stress, they’d probably never get anything done. (If you choose to let stress be your only motivator then DUH! You’ll be stressed.)
- Losing Fun Time
What if I told you the biggest cost of your procrastination is to your free time?
What do you do when you procrastinate?
Are you doing something you find fun or are you just doing stupid little things that probably don’t need to get done?
Most students procrastinate by picking some unfun task that they “need” to do “really quickly” before studying.
Maybe they’re researching a paper or Wikipedia when they see this link that looks interesting. They think, “well… I’ll look at this interesting page for two minutes…” That is the death rattle for a student’s productivity.
When a student procrastinates by doing something fun they feel guilty. When a student procrastinates doing something boring they’re usually just distracted. In both cases, nothing gets done. It would be better if the student just had fun because at least they’d feel guilty about it.
When you spend an hour procrastinating by doing something boring, you lose…
- the time you spent procrastinating
- the time you spent doing whatever distracted you
This means you have less time to actually enjoy your life…
Consider this: How do you think your brain responds when it loses time to do fun things?
Have you ever thought something like “I’ve been working too hard recently… I just need one night to have fun.” This is often a case of your brain saying “Wait a second!? Aren’t we supposed to be happy at some point.” If you don’t make time for pleasure then you’ll constantly be fighting your basic nature.
What Does Not Procrastinating Look Like?
Almost everyone in the world is a massive procrastinator.
Why is that?
I’ve heard explanations that it’s just a basic part of human nature. People are designed to do what they need to do just when they need to do it. (You can’t eat for two weeks from now. You need to eat for today.) It’s just unnatural to do stuff now for later gratification.
Heck, there are plenty of good reasons to procrastinate.
I don’t think that’s the real story, though. (I would agree there is some truth to it but it’s not the important part.)
I think the real story is a lot more simple.
Most people procrastinate because they consider almost everything procrastination when they have something due.
Depending on the person, all of this can be considered procrastination:
- Working on less important stuff
- Looking stuff up
- Thinking about what you need to do
- Entertaining yourself
- Distracting yourself
- Even… doing the work but not giving it a full effort
Let’s face it…
You will always have something due in life.
There is always something more productive you could be doing.
If you define procrastination broadly enough then you will always be procrastinating. Every time you have an assignment due in a few weeks, virtually everything you do (other than the assignment) could be considered procrastination.
If you’re going to procrastinate, it’s good practice to encourage yourself to be productive in some other way. You can use strategies designed to limit the damage. Procrastination isn’t so bad if you’re still staying productive.
The dictionary definition isn’t what most people are talking about when they say procrastination. By the dictionary definition, almost any form of planning fits as procrastination. Unless you plan on giving up on planning completely, you’ll never stop that kind of procrastination. (But I guess you can’t plan on that without failing.)
You need to develop a clear personal definition of procrastination.
Procrastination can’t be this random demon of unproductivity that you need to crush. It needs to be a clearly defined problem that you can wrap your head around. Once you wrap your head around it, you’ll be a big chunk of the way to solving it.
You can’t aim for a goal that you don’t understand.
If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.
Most people have never even considered what productivity means to them.
What would a day without procrastination even look like to you?
If you haven’t done this before then it can be pretty hard to imagine…
Is “not procrastinating” just doing what you need to do when you’re free to do it?
Probably not because there are better times to do things. There are also things that you don’t need to do something but probably should do it.
Is “not procrastinating” doing what you should do when you should do it?
Well… that’s not very helpful… is it? What should you do and when should you do it?
For me, a day without procrastinating is a day where my time spent is properly aligned with my priorities.
If you spend your time in a way that is aligned with your priorities then you’re not procrastinating.
To know whether or not you’re procrastinating, you need to know your priorities.
Do you disagree? Feel free to comment below and let me know what you think. In the meantime, this will be my working definition.
The Two Fundamental Questions To Priorities
There are two fundamental questions you need to answer in order to design your priorities.
1. What are you willing to give?
2. What do you want?
The order is absolutely essential.
You need to know what you’re willing to give before you start trying to define what you want.
We all want to be the coolest person in our social group. We all want to get perfect grades. We all want lots of things that we’ll never have any practical way to achieve.
Anything that you want requires you give something up in exchange.
To be the coolest person in school, you may need to spend more time making friends and less time getting better grades. To get the best grades, you may need to skip out on some friendships. Everything in life is a trade-off when you have limited time.
That’s why you should always start by asking what you’re willing to give.
1. What are you willing to give?
How much time are you willing to spend studying?
How much time are you willing to spend doing homework?
If your answer is high enough then getting amazing grades is an attainable goal. (It doesn’t have to be as high as you might think.) If your answer is too low then it’s unrealistic to set certain standards.
If you were to split the time of your day into different tasks, what would it look like?
Keep in mind, this is only for thinking purposes. I don’t recommend planning it out this carefully. This is just about understanding how you are willing to spend your time.
For example, you might split it like this:
30% Sleep (8 hours)
20% Bodily Needs like eating and cleaning up (5 hours)
25% School (6 hours)
10% Studying/Homework (2.5 hours)
15% FUN!* (3.5 hours)
*Never underestimate the value of fun. Spending an hour or two a day slacking (or doing a fun hobby) is a way to decrease your random days where you do absolutely nothing productive. It’s a “burnout insurance policy.” (BIP for short!)
If you spend 2.5 hours studying and doing homework then you can consider your day a success regardless of how much work you still “have” to do. By making this limit, you train your body and brain to know how to relax.
Okay… so not everything can always get done. That doesn’t mean you have to suffer for it.
In financial circles, they have the rule “pay yourself first.”
They say, “even when you can’t pay all your bills, put x% away in a savings account.” Does that mean you stiff the people you owe money? No… it means you’re going to get external motivation for how to improve your life in the future. (It’s easier to make more when you have bill collectors bothering you. It makes you more motivated. It’s also easier not to take out debt for stuff you can’t afford.)
Planning for fun is the same concept. It’s hard to pay yourself in fun but it’s easy to not procrastinate when you know a teacher or parents are hounding you about it (or you’re losing points for late work.)
The funny thing about this is: once you set this rule, you learn to almost always get everything done. It’s motivating to know that you will stop at a certain point. You learn to prioritize properly.
Once you have a general idea of the time you’re willing to invest, you can start looking into the second question:
2. What do you want (with respect to what you’re willing to give)?
Do you want perfect grades? Are you willing to invest the time required to get perfect grades? I personally don’t think it’s worth it. You can get near-perfect grades while spending dramatically less time studying.
But… what else do you want?
Do you want to play video games for 3 hours a day? (It doesn’t matter how stupid anyone else thinks your goals are. Your life shouldn’t be about pleasing others. Sure… it plays a role but it’s okay to think of yourself.)
Do you want to kick-ass at a sport?
Do you want to be more fit than an ugly compact automobile?
Do you want to get rich selling real estate with no money down? (I can’t help you with that one…)
What do you want and how can you make that align with what you’re willing to give to it?
Expect all your estimated time requirements to be wrong but if you can’t make your goals make sense in this fantasy then you’re probably expecting too much from too little time. (If you estimate in the other direction then you can always add more stuff to do later.) You can’t have everything in life. This is the fundamental realization of any good set of priorities.
Why You Are Still Procrastinating?
To stop procrastinating you need to deal with 3 important issues.
1. Know What Procrastinating Really Is
2. Know What You’re Trying To Achieve
3. Do it…
One is what we discussed first. Two is what we just discussed.
I know… step 3 can be really complicated. That’s what I want to deal with now.
Once you’re motivated and know what you’re trying to do, you need to do the physical actions required to get it done. Eventually, you need to pull out the textbook to start studying. Eventually, you need to get the job done.
Think about it this way: You don’t need to motivate yourself to do everything in life.
When you’re hungry you might find standing up and heading to the fridge is almost automatic. When you need to use the restroom you rarely have to “pump yourself up” to go. When you want to play a video game, you probably don’t need to finish your “7 step starting to game” plan. It just happens.
This is how you can work. This is how you would naturally work if it weren’t for something stopping you. What is that something? That’s the question you need to answer.
Here is something you should learn to accept about yourself:
You always have a smart reason to procrastinate!
Really… think about all the good reasons you have to do what you need to do tomorrow (or later:)
- You might fail today.
- You want to do something else right now.
- You need to think it over a little more.
- You still have time to do it later.
- You might find out it doesn’t even have to get done.
If you put the effort in, you will always have a “good reason” to procrastinate.
Whenever you seem to get trapped in procrastination, you’re doing it for one of these smart reasons (or something similar.) Your body is not working against you. This is not a vice of yours. You weren’t born a procrastinator.
You are a logical human being doing exactly what you were meant to do. The only reason you aren’t doing it is because you are not emotionally aligned with your priorities. If you really wanted to do something, you’d be doing it.
The question is why you don’t really want to do it.
Don’t go telling me about how you “have to” study. Logic doesn’t control your actions. You’re an emotional creature. If you aren’t doing it then there is something in your emotions that don’t align with your goals.
I know of 7 emotional traps that inevitably lead to procrastination. I’m going to be writing up a free pdf guide to help beat all of them but here are the most important 5 of them.
Do you want to get your hands on the free pdf guide? You can access it here.
The 7 Reasons You Procrastinate (And What To Do About Them)
This is a question that your brain will constantly be asking itself.
Most people never start because they’re always worried that they’re going to fail. Most people will recognize this phenomenon in essay writing. They’ll sit staring at a blank page for hours trying to think of the right words. Since they’re focused so much on not sucking, they end up never getting anything done.
This problem can be dealt with in two main ways:
If you’re confident then you won’t fear failure. This is usually the more powerful solution. It can also be really difficult.
2. Fail Fast Mentality
In the tech industry, this is the standard.
You only have so long to live. At a certain point, planning provides less value than it’s worth. It’s better to get things done now and correct it later.
And, heck, if you’re going to fail anyway, you might as well save some time with it.
This is a common occurrence for high schoolers. I still have it years later, though.
Despite logically knowing that completing their work is good for them, they just hate to do what they’re told. When a teacher tells them to do a paper, it just decreases the odds they’ll want to do it.
This is natural.
When you don’t have a choice to do something, your body isn’t going to want to do it. School is a “have to” instead of a “get to.” As long as that’s the case, you’re going to feel a bit of a rebellious spirit fighting for your freedom.
The ideal solution is to turn school into a “get to.”
You don’t “have to” go to school. You get to.
(This is one of the reasons I regularly get in trouble for recommending high school students consider dropping out. When you accept dropping out as a possibility, you can emotionally feel like you are making the decision to be in school.)
If you don’t know which direction you need to go then you shouldn’t be surprised if you don’t start going there.
Confusion can come from a number of different things:
- Your teacher providing crappy directions
- You not having a plan
- Your own life priorities being a mess
- Big unexpected (and mind-consuming) problems
The solution to this is pretty simple too.
You need to get rid of the confusion.
Ask questions to people.
Reassess your priorities.
Solve your other problems (or accept you’re a human with limits. There are good reasons to put something off.)
“You know… I just start playing video games and the next thing I know it’s nearly midnight…”
This is one of the common things I hear.
If you’re distracted from what you need to do then you won’t do it.
When your mind is consumed by something you find interesting, you can’t expect starting something else to be very easy. This is particularly true with most traditional entertainment.
Entertainment is built on cliffhangers. It’s meant to drag your brain in and not let it go. (Textbooks are not written with cliffhangers.)
There are two main solutions to this:
1. Make it habitual with a trigger.
If you happen to study every day when you get home from school, you won’t need to worry so much about distractions. Since you’re studying at the same time, based on the same trigger, you won’t completely forget to study.
You just need to plan what you want to do based on something that’s consistent in your life. If you do something every time you wake up in the morning, it will become automatic. If your priorities are in line then you’ll never struggle to start.
2. Make it the distraction.
Find a way to make what you want to do a major distraction from what you’re normally using to distract yourself.
Do you want to study two hours from now? Then set an alarm and put it across the room.
This will break your distracted state. It will force you to move around. This will give you a good chance to actually remind yourself of your priorities.
Have you ever thought, “well… I’ll do it better tomorrow.” This could be fear but it isn’t necessarily. Maybe it really would be better if you did it tomorrow. Maybe you’ll have more time. Maybe you’ll be more prepared. But… then again… maybe you’re full of crap.
This is one of the biggest killers of productivity.
You cannot handle every good management excuse you have to not start.
They will always be there. You’ll be telling yourself:
- You can do it better later.
- You’ll have more time tomorrow.
- You need to have this one other thing first.
- You should do one other thing first.
Sometimes they’re true. Sometimes they’re not.
Forget about trying to figure them out individually. Accept that they’re all completely false until you have some really good proof that they’re true. You should virtually never act on one of these excuses in the short term.
You can plan to do something later but don’t change your plan 5 minutes before you’re supposed to do it. When you’ve made a plan, follow through with it.
99% of the time you’ll be better off for it. This comes back to the “fail fast” policy recommended for when you’re scared to start. It’s better to produce mediocre work now than perfect work later. That’s because perfection is dramatically more likely if you start now. (You’ll have more time to review what you do.)
You don’t need the situation to be right. If you planned to do something then do it whether it’s the right time or not. (If it’s not, then aim to plan better in the future. That’s where you’ll see some amazing improvements.)
I’ve created free pdf guide to help beat all 7 of these.
Do you want to get your hands on the free 15+ page pdf guide? You can access it here.
The 7 Reasons You Procrastinate (And What To Do About Them)
The Simple Plan To Consistency
I’ve gone over a lot of concepts in this article. (I don’t call this the ultimate guide for nothing.)
I realize this whole article can be a bit of a brain full. Trying to digest everything can be complicated. That’s what this final section is for. I’m going to reveal a simple plan to ending procrastination for good. I will be avoiding the philosophy as much as possible but just reference back to the earlier sections if you want a more thorough explanation
There are 5 keys to solving procrastination:
1. Procrastination prevention habits
People with habits don’t procrastinate. If you have a smart set of habits then it’s virtually never a challenge to start doing what you need to do.
- What makes you start?
- What do you get for doing it?
Another commonly used strategy is the 30-day plan. By planning to do a habit for 30 days, you give yourself a test run of the habit. By the end of it, you’ll have the habit. The whole time you’ll be able to tell yourself “I only have to do it for x more days.”
One of my personal favorite ways to develop a habit is what I call a soft start. Instead of starting a tough habit, start a super easy to follow habit. Then, after developing the easy habit, ramp up the intensity.
So… if you want to study every night, start by pulling your textbook out every night for a week. The next week, force yourself to study it 2 minutes. Then keep increasing that intensity until you have a reasonable study routine.
Once you do what you need to do habitually, you won’t need to worry about so much procrastination kicking in because the stuff you need to do will already be done.
2. Distraction Destruction
Distractions can kill your productivity when you’re not being careful. Sometimes the best route to dealing with a potential distraction is to shut them down.
When you’re supposed to be studying from a textbook, put your laptop someplace far away. Put your phone on silent and throw it in the river (or just in another room.) Tell your roommate that there will be extreme consequences if they interrupt you for anything less than a fire. (So… tell them… if it’s not important but they insist upon interrupting you, make sure they set a fire first.)
This is even more true while you’re trying to develop a habit.
While you’re trying to develop the habit of studying, it can also be a good time to eliminate other habits or behaviors you’d want to stop. This can add to the difficulty of following through with the habit but it can also make it easier when you’re disciplined.
For example, I used to get stuck playing video games for insane amounts of time. I would get rid of my guilt by occasionally taking a few weeks off them completely. During those periods when I gave up video games, it was easy to start studying because, quite frankly, there wasn’t too much else to do.
When you create a vacuum with your schedule, it’s going to get filled by something. If you’re motivated to study then studying can be what it’s filled with. (If you’re not careful it can also get filled with other bad habits.)
This doesn’t mean you give up on the things you enjoy. In the next section, I’ll discuss that.
One more thing to note: Sometimes distractions are more complicated than alarms going off or surfing the web randomly. Stuff as simple as a messy bedroom can be a distraction.
If it occupies your mind when you should be focused on something else then it’s a distraction that should be taken care of.
3. Plan Your Fun Time
People always seems to want balance in life.
It will never happen, though.
Life is too volatile to balance everything. It’s more fun to learn to ride the waves.
There will be times when you’re too busy to do fun things. Accept that. There will also be times when you have way more fun stuff to do than productive stuff to do. Take advantage of that.
When you know you have a slow weekend coming up, plan for it with something fun.
I know… in the back of your brain you feel guilty about it but you need time to do the things you love. It’s part of what makes you good at everything else you do. It makes you who you are instead of a robot.
By planning these times in advance, you can be sure you’re not just randomly burning out. You’re strategically taking a break.
This also helps you get through the harder times when you don’t have time for fun. You can tell yourself “on that day I’m going to make up for this extra work.”
Then… follow through with your fun days. If you can’t trust yourself with your fun days then the value of them is almost completely eliminated. Learn to relax. Plan for it.
4. No Excuse Mentality
There is always a good excuse to not do stuff.
- You could do it better tomorrow.
- You’re not prepared
- You feel more like doing something else
- You won’t need it for your future.
- You don’t want to.
Cool… Now that you know you always have an excuse… Stop caring.
Excuses don’t get things done. Doing them does get them done.
You can spend your effort working on excuses or you can stop treating them seriously. By having a basic plan of what you’re going to do, you will know when it’s time to do something. If yesterday, you told yourself that you’d do something today, you do it (always.)
There is absolutely no acceptable excuse. They all mean nothing in relation to your plan.
Your plan should always trump your excuses.
Quality may suffer but you’ll actually have something finished. Having something finished is a higher grade than an incomplete.
This offers you another important advantage, though.
When your plan is more important than your excuses, you plan better.
Most people plan in an instant without even thinking about it. They might say, “I’ll do it Thursday.” Then on Thursday they’ll say, “I’m way too busy today. I better put it off.”
When your plan commits you to completing something, you’re going to start slowing down in your planning. Instead of instantly saying you’ll do it on a particular day, you’ll pause and make sure you really have the time for it.
Stefano’s 2 Minute Rule is a good way to deal with this. If it takes less than 2 minutes then do it.
If it takes more than 2 minutes then do 2 minutes of it! Starting is the hardest part. Once you start, stopping becomes the challenge. It’s essentially the first law of motion for productivity.
5. Accept You’re Human
“I failed to follow through. I’m a failure. My life is over. This whole plan is a shame!”
This is the kind of melodramatics that many students put themselves through.
Ending procrastination isn’t an instantaneous or easy process. It’s long and sometimes a little painful. You’ll relapse regularly. It doesn’t even matter, though.
What you did yesterday doesn’t define what you’ll do tomorrow.
What you did today doesn’t define what you’ll do the rest of the day.
When you screw up, you can’t punish yourself too severely. Realize you screwed up. Then move along.
Most of my major screwups come after too long a period of “all work and no play.” They’re mini-burnouts that consist of the realization that I spent almost no time having fun. These days, all I have to do is remind myself to create a date for fun and I go back to following my plan on autopilot.
(I used to have burnouts that would last weeks on end. These days they tend to be 10 minutes of thinking, “wait… something is wrong…” )
You don’t have to be a procrastinator.
You don’t “have to live with some procrastination.” (In any bad sense. By definition, procrastination isn’t even that bad. It’s just planning.)
Procrastination comes down to your day to day choices. No… it’s not as easy as making the right decision. It’s complicated. You need to put yourself in the right state to make the right decision. It also takes knowing what the right decision is.
I realize this article is huge but I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss anything important when it comes to crushing procrastination for good.
Do you want to get your hands on the free 15+ page pdf guide? You can access it here.
The 7 Reasons You Procrastinate (And What To Do About Them)
This article shouldn’t be the end of this: What have you learned about how to limit your procrastination? How much have you been able to eliminate it from your life and how?
Take This Advice From A Harvard Grad
“Find your tribe. Quickly.”
That is the first piece of advice he gave to other students going to Harvard.
It’s deeper advice than it sounds.
The people you surround yourself with can make or break your academic experience.
Smart Student Secrets is a tribe and a great place for you to start.