If you need to stop procrastinating—you’re not alone.
Procrastination has plagued us for thousands of years.
“Akrasia” is what ancient Greeks called it, which meant “doing something against better judgment.”
Avoiding akrasia was how Aristotle helped one of his students become Alexander the Great.
Want to stop procrastinating? Start by reading this guide.
Think Forward to Avoid Procrastination
The delay between the present moment and a deadline, that’s the procrastination trap.
If it’s Monday and a task’s not due until Friday, you’re unlikely to start working on it right away.
When you’ve got a meeting scheduled at 11:30, you’re likely to sit around and waste time up to thirty minutes before.
By not maximizing the present, you’re stealing from your future.
Time is a zero-sum game. Time wasted takes away from time needed for getting stuff done.
According to a 2012 study on “procrastinary cognitions” Procrastination is a vicious cycle.
Putting off what you know needs to be done causes you to stress out more which turns to self-blame, and leads to more procrastination...
Do these scenarios describe you?
- You spend countless hours going back and forth with coworkers over email.
- You spend too much time on low value tasks, such as waiting on hold with customer service, or watching dance videos on YouTube.
- You want to create a healthier schedule and daily habits, but never seem to be able to start.
- Persistent procrastination causes you to experience FOMO, but you seem powerless to control it.
Meanwhile, that to-do list keeps getting longer and more overwhelming.
Understand Why We Procrastinate
The English word “procrastinate” means “to keep delaying something that must be done” (Cambridge Dictionary).
To stop it, look for the triggers.
Tim Pychyl, a professor who studies procrastination has found seven common triggers that make someone more likely to avoid doing a task.
- We find the task boring.
- We find the task too difficult.
- We become frustrated.
- The task seems ambiguous.
- The task is unstructured.
- The task is not fun (intrinsically rewarding).
- The task lacks personal meaning.
Remind yourself that procrastination is not logical. It’s the emotional part of your brain taking control of the situation.
You need to find a reward your brain likes more than procrastinating.
The dopamine rush you get from earning points and certifications does the trick.
Gamification helps people complete cognitive tasks faster. It’s a powerful motivator.
But everything can’t be a game.
Procrastination does the most damage when we’re paralyzed by inaction.
Passive procrastination is like poison—avoid it at all costs.
Dr. Piers Steel, a professor of motivational psychology at the University of Calgary and the author of “The Procrastination Equation: How to Stop Putting Things Off and Start Getting Stuff Done” created this procrastination formula:
Motivation = expectancy x value / impulsiveness x delay
A 2005 study of 262 Korean undergrads showed that procrastination was associated with a lack of motivation and low incidence of flow state.
Feeling motivated and being in the flow is the opposite of procrastination.
To increase motivation, force yourself to start. Many avoidance triggers die once you’re in the process of doing something.
Higher value tasks have higher intrinsic motivation because we expect positive outcomes to result from them.
The Secret of Friction vs Value
There is something you can do to avoid procrastination and reclaim lost time in your life.
It’s a mindset shift.
Want to start crushing it? Take decisive actions that will put you in control of your time and accomplishments.
Start managing the friction in your life.
Friction is caused by too many low value activities in your day—having to return something you didn’t order, or scrolling through emails to find someone’s phone number.
- Waste time.
- Sabotage motivation.
- Reduce output.
Once friction has too much control, it multiplies, building up and holding you back.
Friction keeps you from the good stuff—the high value actions with the sweet rewards.
Think of it as a friction to value ratio.
Most people spend a majority of their daily cognitive load on low value things.
This leaves little brain power for the high value stuff that would help them get where they want to be in life.
Researchers at Cornell estimate that we make 35,000 remotely conscious decisions each day!
Most of those are not high value. They’re along the lines of “what should I wear today?” No wonder that 4 pm burnout hits so hard!
Unimportant decisions are burning us out. It’s time to take that brain power back.
Surgically cutting out the unnecessary requires making strong choices.
When Friction is Necessary
The beauty of leveraging friction is that it works both ways.
You can add friction to discourage bad behaviors.
Make the cookie jar hard to reach to stop snacking on junk. (If you live alone, you probably shouldn’t even own a cookie jar.)
Make the things you don’t want to do harder to accomplish.
Why Victor Hugo Worked in His Underwear
In 1830, French author Victor Hugo filled his days with low value tasks (entertaining friends, working on vanity projects) when he should have been honoring his agreement to complete his next book.
In response to his procrastination, Hugo’s publisher gave him six months to finish “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”
Hugo knew completing his book on time would take drastic action.
He went into his dressing room, gathered up his clothes and locked them away.
If Hugo couldn’t get dressed, he’d stay home and write.
The tactic worked. “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” was published on January 14, 1831—two weeks ahead of schedule.
You don’t have to burn your clothes, but you could sleep in workout apparel and keep a pair of Nikes by your bed to start a morning run habit.
The idea is to create mental shortcuts that encourage optimal decisions with minimal cognitive burden.
The Genetics of Procrastination
Why do we procrastinate? We know it won’t benefit us.
We avoid daily exercise when the long term health benefits are impossible to ignore.
According to science, you could be delaying that morning run because of what’s baked in your genes.
A study led by Professor Wei Li from the Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology in Beijing discovered a gene mutation that could explain why some people exercise less.
If you have a couch potato gene it doesn’t mean you’ll never get fit.
Environment, diet, and even starting to exercise against your will can force your genes to produce new proteins. When that happens, couch potato genes transform into high-performance machines.
Harvard researchers put lazy mice on a treadmill and discovered that workouts activated new genes and increased production of a protein which enhances cognitive function.
The right actions will pay off. Trying to overcome procrastination starts with activity that increases learning and memory.
But procrastination doesn’t only affect fitness. It can trash work and relationships as well.
You Can Avoid Procrastination with the Right Training
Cutting out the friction in your life is like tuning a car for high performance.
Here’s 3 ways to reduce friction and increase the value of your time.
- Figure out what things in your life can be “set and forget.”
- Spend money to reduce friction by determining your hourly rate (this is explained in our webinar below).
- Learn to hack flow. This one’s the most life altering of all. Being able to tap into an optimal state of consciousness makes hours feel like minutes (and is at the core of our Zero to Dangerous training program).
Friction is a time suck. It encourages procrastination and hinders flow.
You’ve got to take control and get rid of it.
Want free training on the 4 Keys to Eliminating Friction?
Register for a spot now and learn about this cutting-edge neuroscience behind peak performance.