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Procrastination Nation

Procrastination: a perfect method for adding drama to life by waiting until a deadline is just around the corner.

I love this quote, ““Procrastination taught me how to do 30 minutes of work in 8 hours and 8 hours of work in 30 minutes.”

Maybe you can relate? I can.

But exactly what is procrastination and how can you eliminate it (which is presumably your goal)? 

There are two ways to answer what procrastination is

What the dictionary says:

The dictionary describes procrastination as repeatedly delaying something that must be done, often because it’s unpleasant or boring. But it’s kind of counter intuitive because when we defer something it’s retained as cognitive load and our subconscious doesn’t let us forget it's not been done yet.

And interestingly, modern studies show that people more often regret those things they haven't done as opposed to the things they have done. And these feelings of regret or guilt resulting from these missed opportunities tend to stay with you much longer.

What neuroscience says:

Firstly, it’s important to understand that procrastination is actually a natural, biological phenomenon. It represents a loss of self control when performing actions that have emotional significance.

At the level of the brain, it's the gap between areas involved in intention, emotion, and action. These are three distinct areas of the brain that handle emotions and motivation, deciding which actions the body needs to take and executive action and control. And we can think of it in terms of resistance between these areas which is an inbuilt mechanism that’s trying to avoid expending mental energy.

So, how can you eliminate procrastination?

Here are four ways that can be incredibly effective and help you hack your biological predisposition to procrastination. 

  1. Using hyper clear goals
  2. Manage the challenge skills balance
  3. Actively Procrastinate the ‘small stuff’
  4. Act before you think

Let's take a closer look at each of these.

1) Hyper Clear Goals

Set wildly clear goals when executing any specific task. This will ensure that the brain doesn’t have to deploy any resources wondering how, why or what to do. And the magic here is to be specific. 

Let’s say you have to create a presentation for a big sales meeting. It’s not sufficient to set the task as ‘build a presentation, send it to the client’. The task needs to be broken down into micro goals, for example:

  • Pull the data from the past results
  • Get the graphics aligned with the brand colours
  • Select the images you want to use
  • … etc

You don’t need to spend hours doing this. It can take you 60 seconds for example: make the notes on your phone, a Google Doc, a scrap of paper - anything! What matters is that you do it as it's a functional tool that makes sure your brain doesn’t go into a divergent mode of questioning and wondering ‘what’s the first step?’. 

2) Manage The ‘Challenge Skills’ Balance

With this, you’re looking for a sweet spot where the challenge level of the task isn’t too high (which results in overstimulation and anxiety) and isn’t so low that you get bored (and be under-stimulated). 

So what is the sweet spot?

 4%. i.e. the challenge of the task outstrips your current skill level of that task by approximately 4 points - this is where you start to slip into a state of flow.

So if, for example, you're procrastinating about completing your tax returns, you can tune this painfully boring task so that you hit the challenge skills sweet spot and ‘get it done’. To achieve this you could reduce the time you allow yourself to complete the task. This is actually an example of gamification too but we’ll save that for another day.  

3) Actively Procrastinate The ‘Small Stuff’

Experience has shown that we need to start with a word of caution with this one… We’re all predisposed to slip into reactive, low value work such as pinging back emails in our inbox or checking teeny little things that really aren’t urgent. In fact, it’s not uncommon to find yourself completing ‘the small stuff’ even before it's due!

Maybe you can relate?

It’s not your fault. Each time we complete something off the ‘small stuff’ list we are rewarded with a little dopamine hit and it feels goooood…

But this is where you can perform a classic switcheroo and use procrastination to slash procrastination! The trick here is to make the task that you're procrastinating about as small as possible. Chunk it down into its component parts and, therefore into what almost feels like the ‘small stuff. That way, you'll get the desired dopamine hit as you charge your way what feels like something as easy as the small stuff.

4) Act Before You Think

Counterintuitive as this sounds, by implementing a 5 second rule where you act before you think enables you to beat your emotions to the party. This is important because the emotional parts of your brain override your ability for self regulation and this opens the door to procrastination.

You can practice this technique with a cold shower or ice bath. Rather than the usual dilly dallying and delaying (which is the emotional part of your brain trying to protect you) before climbing in, apply the 5 second rule; use the logical part of your brain (telling you it's good for you) and jump in before your 5 seconds are up! 

Once you commit it's too late for the emotional part of your brain to step in and start the cycle of procrastination. This could be applied to making a difficult phone call, doing a tough workout or public speaking. Same technique, same outcome! 

So there you have it.

Now, why not challenge yourself on your next big task? It doesn't matter if the task only requires an hour or two, it's worth running as an experiment with yourself and seeing if it helps lead you to laser like execution.

My only hope is that your reading this isn’t part of a procrastination loop you’re in because you have a deadline due tomorrow…

If this article has piqued your interest and you want to learn how you can eradicate procrastination and optimise your performance then you may be an ideal candidate for our 12-month peak performance program, Unleashing Potential.

We have an incredible, hyper-engaged community with an ‘all-star’ coaching team comprising Special Forces veterans (like Commando Steve), elite athletes, and subject matter experts across subjects like positive psychology, flow state, sleep, stress management, nutrition, and much more.

It’s not for everyone and that’s why we take our application process seriously. That said, it's a heap of fun, incredibly immersive, and sets participants on a path of peak performance, health, fulfilment, and success, at work and in life.

If you’d like to know more we’d suggest completing our ‘Impact Scorecard’ (Get Your Score) which will get you an instant score, an emailed report, a (physical) copy of the bestselling 'Lead By Example' book, and the opportunity to jump onto a 1:1 coaching call with our co-founder Mat Lock.


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