You’ve got loads of exciting ideas for 2018. You’re researching exotic travel destinations. You’re finally going to begin writing that book. You’re going to start saving for a house deposit. You’ve even done the ‘2018 is going to be MY year’ Instagram – that’s how damn empowered you’re feeling right about now!
You’re on a New Year’s high, and that’s fantastic. The optimism you feel at the beginning of a new year can be a powerful catalyst for positive change. But, as a former chronic procrastinator, I know that this motivation can be nowhere to be found come March.
We may be procrastinating because a task is downright tedious. No one enjoys taking out the rubbish – that’s why you cram as much junk in there as possible and just hope that someone else takes care of it.
When we put bigger tasks off, however, it can be because we are feeling overwhelmed by the volume of the work, or because we’re scared of failing. Feeling overwhelmed by a task and fear of failure are a natural part of being a human. But if we habitually procrastinate in order to cope, we can cheat ourselves out of achieving great things.
As 2018 begins, here are some strategies for breaking the cycle of procrastination. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t become Wonder Woman overnight though. Much like weight training, or being able to eat a whole family sized pizza on your own, you’ll need to practice if you want to reap the benefits.
1. Trick your mind
If you actively tell people what you plan to accomplish today, you’ll feel increasingly obliged to complete that task.
Think about it. If you tell your significant other or bestie that you are going to go to a class at the gym, you know they’re going to ask you how it went later. It’s like you’re tricking your brain. You won’t want to admit to them that you didn’t go, so you’ll force yourself to turn up to your HIIT class instead.
If possible, change your physical surroundings. For example, if you work from home, working in your bedroom will contribute to a drop in your productivity over time. Why would you work when you’re right next to your comfy bed? Additionally, working in your bedroom can lead to poor sleep quality – not ideal if you’re already struggling to concentrate. Shake things up, and take your work to a library or a café instead. That way, your brain will get the message that this new location is associated with productivity.
2. Break it down
If you feel overwhelmed, don’t use Netflix to cope. Make a list instead. Once you’ve written all your tasks down, you may realise that you’re putting too much pressure on yourself. If your list has got ten major tasks on it, each of which will take two hours or more to complete, then there just won’t be enough daylight hours for you to finish everything.
Instead, prioritise your tasks and be realistic about what you can achieve. On your list, write down how much time you are going to dedicate to each task, and then stick to it. You don’t always have to work on an activity to completion. Working for two hours on your essay is infinitely better than working for zero hours.
3. Ask yourself ‘How will I feel if I don’t get this done today?’
Once you have prioritised your tasks, and given yourself a realistic time frame to work on them, stop and think ‘How will I feel if I don’t get this done today?’. If you take a quiz to find out which loaf of bread you’re most like instead of drafting your request for a raise, you’ll feel disappointed in yourself.
Sure, you’ll know that you’re most like a cob loaf – you’re the life of the party and you get along famously with dip. And this information will certainly come in handy someday. But this won’t change the fact that you’ll feel that you let yourself down, and you’ll be no closer to getting that raise. By thinking about your future self, you’ll be more compelled to work hard in the present.
4. ‘Do The Worst Thing That Could Happen’ exercise
If fear of failure is holding you back, ask yourself ‘What is the worst thing that can happen if I give this a shot?’. If you spend an hour working on your novel, what’s the worst possible outcome? Sure, you might have a slow day and only end up with 200 words. But that’s about it. No one is going to laugh at your work or aspirations. If you want 2018 to be the year you open your Etsy store, what’s the worst that could happen? Business will be slow in the beginning, and you’ll make mistakes, but that’s all part of the process.
By doing this, you remind yourself that you’ve got nothing to lose and a helluva lot to gain. Ricky Gervais’ program ‘Derek’ wasn’t to everyone’s taste, but my favourite quote from the show was ‘I’m not a failure because I didn’t succeed. I’m a failure because I didn’t try’.
5. Social media lockdown
First you check Instagram. Then Facebook. Then Snapchat. Bit of Tinder, perhaps. Then it’s time to check Instagram again. Then Facebook. Then Snapchat (you can see where this is going, right?).
If you feel as though checking for social media notifications is addictive – you’re spot on. Dopamine is the chemical responsible for making you seek out gratification. Dopamine is partially stimulated by anticipation. That’s why you feel compelled to keep rechecking everything, even though you may have no notifications. Dopamine is also stimulated by unpredictability. We don’t know when a notification or text will pop up, or who it will be from, or what it will be about. So, when a notification does show up, we get this little rush. Then we want to experience that little rush again and again and again, so we get stuck in a dopamine loop.
The science behind social media is wild, guys.
When checking social media becomes a vicious cycle, you need to get tough on yourself. Leave your phone on silent in a separate room or in your car – anywhere that’s not in arms reach. If you have a busy day ahead of you, resist that first, sweet, sweet Instagram check for as long as possible – because once you start, your brain is going to urge you to do it repeatedly.
If you want to go hardcore, get a friend to change all your passwords so you’re locked out. I did this once when I needed to study, and even though I had to log back into everything by typing ‘Amysmells’ – I knew deep down who the real, un-smelly winner was.
That optimism you feel at the start of a new year is wonderful. Use it to make some real, lasting changes to your life. If time-wasting habits are holding you back, make 2018 the year you free yourself from the prison that is procrastination. 2019 you will thank you for it.