What is the archenemy of any wanna-be productive worker?

A lack of time? Uncomfortable workplace? Stress? Loneliness? Depression?

It’s more prosaic:

Procrastination.

Most of us procrastinate without thinking about it. We check Instagram instead of writing; drink coffee and read Facebook news feeds to avoid studying; and get lost in meaningless phone games to avoid talking to people.

Here’s why:

According to psychologists, we procrastinate to avoid emotionally unpleasant tasks, substituting them with something that provides a mood boost. Meanwhile, we move further away from our goals.

Here’s the good news: You can beat procrastination.

And while repeated routines and painstakingly crafted new habits will help, the root of your procrastination should be your first focus. 

In other words, focus on the emotions that create the urge to procrastinate, and learn to replace those negative emotions with positive ones.

Easier said than done, I know. But all you’re doing is changing your perspective. Envisioning success at the end of a task—the completed chapter of a book, an event that went off without a hitch, or a presentation greeted with a round of applause. 

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning—when the real work starts—and follow it through to task completion. 

1. Combat boredom by getting to work

There are times when you can’t start working on a project because it’s boring. So, create a positive emotional experience by adding something uplifting to them.

For example, monotonous tasks are often performed faster and are easier to complete with music or a podcast running in the background. The entertainment and engagement of listening while working make the task go by more quickly. 

Oh, and make sure your boredom-killers don’t kill your productivity. There’s always a risk you’ll get into them and miss deadlines. So if you are playing music, set a timer or make sure the sound is low enough so you can still pay close attention to the task at hand.

Here’s another trick for dealing with dull tasks: Schedule “intermissions” to break up each task.  I like to set strict guidelines for these work breaks. For example, if you’re mired in work at your computer, then set aside 20 minutes in the middle of your computer-based task to leave the office (a must) and walk around without your phone. Nobody can disturb you, and you change your scenery long enough to give your mind a break.

When you return to your desk, you’ll be refreshed and ready to tackle the task with the endpoint—the light at the end of the tunnel—even closer. That alone will give you a positive boost.

2. Get rid of distractions

This may be a no-brainer, but what most people don’t do is take the time to think about what they’re biggest distractions are. For many, it’s not the traditional tech attention-grabbers.

For instance, while I just advocated for background music to help with monotonous tasks, for some people this kind of noise can affect concentration. So can an excess of light—or too little light. Or “busy” décor.

Ask yourself what environment is not best suited to work, but to concentration. If you start asking yourself about workspaces, your mind will leap to traditional models in office buildings, and those might not be the best for you. 

Also, try using applications telling how much time you spend on social media. Once you see the measured size of your distraction problem, you’ll take it more seriously—and can even have these apps shut off the offending devices.

If you’re really hardcore, you could follow the example of George R.R. Martin, who types “Game of Thrones” on an ancient computer with no internet access.

3. Forget about the “You of Tomorrow”

As Fuschia Sirois, a psychologist from the University of Sheffield, says, “Whenever we put things off, we kind of make that future self our beast of burden. ‘The me of tomorrow will have more energy, or the me of next week will have lots of time,’ we tell ourselves.” Such excuses never work; a new day comes, but we stay the same tired procrastinators we were yesterday.

The truth is, there is no abstract “you of tomorrow.” There’s only today, right now. So instead of wondering what you might be able to accomplish in the future, ask yourself what you can accomplish now. Once you realize what you can do in the moment, you won’t be able to use the same excuses.

And for heaven’s sake, don’t think about what’s on your calendar outside of the day you’re facing. Tomorrow will be tomorrow’s adventure.

4. Be realistic about your potential

There are times when we procrastinate because a task seems either too simple to complete—and therefore not worth our time—or it’s too complicated and can’t possibly wrap our minds around it. 

But instead of thinking of these tasks as either simple or complicated, think of them as necessary pieces to a puzzle your desperately want to complete. You know you can’t move forward without them—the final picture won’t make any sense. So instead of giving yourself a reason NOT to do these critical tasks, view them as pieces that bring your goal or dream more into focus.

If you still need a push to get started, then consider breaking it down into smaller pieces. Often, these smaller “mini tasks” are more manageable than bigger ones.

5. Make a plan—and stick to it

The strongest emotion feeding procrastination is fear—fear of tripping and falling, fear of outright failure, fear of never completing your task. 

That’s why turning the abstract task into a clear list of actionable to-dos is so helpful. 

For example, if you need to write an essay, start with a premise. What do you want to prove or argue? What’s your central message? Then, extrapolate in an outline, with arguments that support your main premise. Add in sources that confirm your points. Then, start writing. By the time you get to the writing stage, you’ve practically got the entire essay wrapped up!

Another key to this action item tack is to create deadlines for each step along the way. If it would help, let a friend or colleague know about the deadlines you’ve set and ask him/her to hold you accountable. There can even be penalties if you miss a deadline. 

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At the end of a day—productive or not—procrastination is part of the human experience. If you still struggle with completing tasks, then ask friends, coworkers, and colleagues how they jump the procrastination hump. Be sure to ask those who have similar personalities; it’s likely their struggles with procrastination will be very similar to yours

And be sure to get a Morning Routine in place that gets you the right productivity habits…

Sign up now to get our FREE Morning Routine guide—the #1 way to increase productivity, energy, and focus for profitable days. Used by thousands of fitness, business, and finance industry leaders to leapfrog the competition while making time for the people who really matter. Learn more here.

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Lesley Vos is a seasoned content creator, currently blogging for THE website on academic writing. She contributes to publications on business, career, and self-development, writes a non-fiction book on her hobby, and shares writing advice with peers. Feel free to get in touch on Twitter.

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