The short answer is that you can’t overcome procrastination by trying to overcome it. It’s ineffective to try and force yourself to do a task, when you don’t want to do it! You don’t want to do a task because you don’t understand the connection between the benefit of the task and how it impacts you.
Therefore, building clarity about the benefit of the task so that it’s obvious to you is how you eliminate procrastination completely. Once the benefit is obvious, you simply do the task.
Procrastination is an issue that keeps popping up in communities that talk about being productive or achieving goals. Many people have trouble with it even though there are already solutions available.
That means there is a disconnect between the solutions and what people truly need to overcome procrastination. In this article, I take a look at what I believe to be popular but ineffective ways to overcome procrastination, and I share what I find to be the correct way to eliminate it.
Table of Contents
#1 – Setting a Deadline, Based on What?
Setting a deadline is often proposed as the solution to overcome procrastination. The assumption is that a deadline will force you to take action and get the job done. In some cases, it can work, but there is an underlying problem as to why this method is ineffective.
One cause of our procrastination is that the deadline of a task is arbitrary, meaning there is no natural reason behind the deadline other than because another person, or ourselves, said so.
Even if the reason is to pursue an event at a certain date, that event is set arbitrarily by a different person. Arbitrary timelines make for weak reasons, because we, or other people, can always change them at a whim.
Relying on made up timelines isn’t an effective method to eliminate procrastination. If it’s another person’s timeline you have to follow, then you may do the task to avoid an unwanted consequence.
When it’s a timeline you made yourself, and it involves no consequence from other people, there is no urgency to get the task done. Trying to trick your mind into thinking it’s urgent to get a task done won’t work most of the time.
There is a case where setting a timeline worked. My business mentor sold tickets for a training seminar to a live audience, before that seminar was made. He sold the tickets, and people bought it, before he did any work preparing the seminar. Taking that risky move gave him the kick to start working and gathering the materials, booking the venue and crew, and preparing for the event. He was successful.
The timeline is still arbitrary, but there was a consequence if he didn’t do it. At least, the people who bought the tickets would be outraged if the seminar never happened, and it would ruin his personal brand. In his case, it wasn’t the timeline that made him do the work, but because he was clear about the outcome (he already received the money) and he had to deliver his part of the deal.
#2 – Using Willpower to Power Through the Task
You can’t rely on willpower to get a job done. Willpower can get the job done sometimes, but it’s too unstable to rely on it long term. Your performance will be sporadic, at times you feel full of energy, at other times you feel in a slump and it confuses you.
Procrastinating an activity implies that there is an aspect of that activity that you don’t like, whether it’s boring, tedious, embarrassing, or frightening. You have difficulty getting the task done because you don’t like these unlikable aspects. In some cases, you can muster enough will power to through them, but in most cases procrastinating becomes inevitable.
It’s ineffective to try to “just get it done” because you don’t want to do it in the first place! Trying to force yourself is ignoring or neglecting that there is an aspect you don’t like. It conflicts with what you want to do, and therefore you have to rely on willpower to force it. But at some point, you will run out of willpower and fall back into the habit of procrastinating.
#3 – Giving Yourself a Reward, Until it Gets Too Big
Another ineffective way to get a task done is giving yourself a reward once it is finished. This method is ineffective because it implies you are tricking your mind into doing something it doesn’t want to do. You don’t want to trick your mind into doing anything, what you want is to achieve mental clarity so that you do what you need to do without relying on tricks or gimmicks.
That said, I do give myself rewards sometimes after finishing a big task. Giving yourself a reward can maintain and uplift your performance to some degree, especially if you see it as a celebration and an expression of gratitude. But you ought not to see it as the main “trick” to get a task done, because at some point you will feel that the reward isn’t worth the task, and a bigger reward would be ridiculous.
#4 – Eliminating Distractions, But You Still Procrastinate
One method that is effective to overcome procrastination is minimizing or eliminating distraction. It means that you need to quarantine yourself away from distractions, which may or may not be simple depending on your work environment. Some distractions are so normal and frequent that you may have to remodel your environment to prevent distractions.
Distractions are a form of energy that distract you from focusing your energy on a task. It makes sense to eliminate energy disturbances so that you can channel all your energy on the task you need to do. It works to some degree and helps to increase your chances of not procrastinating.
Still, minimizing distractions doesn’t guarantee you won’t procrastinate, because procrastination comes from within your mind. The biggest obstacle that makes you procrastinate is in your mind.
You can isolate yourself in a seaside cabin, without internet, without other people, to write a book, but you end up sitting on your chair, staring at your computer screen doing nothing but procrastinating. That’s because you can be free of distractions but still blurry about the benefit of the task, and you end up procrastinating anyway. To help with this, I occasionally use guided hypnosis to help me eliminate mental distractions.
Make the Benefit of the Outcome Obvious
The correct method to overcome procrastination is by building clarity. I often mention the importance of clarity and how it can dissolve many of your mental problems that slow down your success. You can eliminate procrastination by becoming clear on the benefit of the outcome of the task you need done.
In other words: make it so obvious that it would be ridiculous not to do it.
You procrastinate because you’re not clear about what you will get when you finish a task. Sure, you may identify what you get when you do a task, but you may not truly understand the impact and importance of it. There is a disconnect between what you see you will get and how it impacts you. Since you procrastinate, you can be sure that you are still blurry about the benefits you get.
For example, finishing a task might reward you money. You see the money (in your mind), but you still procrastinate. That’s because you don’t understand why the money is important, you don’t connect the dots that make you realize “a-ha!” the money is important. On the surface level, of course you say that money is important, but on the mental understanding level, there is no connection.
If there were a connection, if you are clear about the benefits, then you would do the task without any feeling of reluctance or procrastination. As an extreme example, if a person guarantees to give you a million dollars if you go to him now, and he is within sensible distance, and you are clear about the guarantee (there is no doubt he will give you the money), then would you procrastinate?
When a benefit becomes obvious, it’s obvious to do it. You procrastinate because it’s not obvious. You haven’t connected the dots. You aren’t sure whether you will get the benefit if you do the task. You can say you will get a benefit, like money, but is it obvious? Or are you still blurry about how the task and whether the outcome, if you get it, will benefit you?
Of course, the question then becomes how do you get clear about the benefit of the task? How do you make it so obvious that it’s ridiculous to not do the task?
In the case of my business mentor, he was able to move the outcome of the task so that he received it before he did the task. It became obvious to him to do the task and it would be ridiculous not to do it. He already had people signing up for his seminar and already paid the money, it made sense to do the job.
It doesn’t always work. Right now, there is the emergence of the cryptocurrency industry. In it, some companies sell initial coin offerings where people buy the right to receive a certain amount of a new cryptocurrency. The companies that sell these offerings can raise up to tens of millions of dollars before they release any product.
However, most of them end up not fulfilling these promises, or the customers end up owning currencies that become almost worthless. Though the benefit of the outcome is clear where the company receives the money they need, it didn’t give them the motivation to develop a finished product, or they release a half-baked product. Some of them don’t care if they get a bad name or tarnished reputation, perhaps because they already received a very big reward (millions of dollars).
Moving the benefit to the front doesn’t work in other cases, such as the goal to lose weight. It’s not possible to get the weight loss upfront and then do the diet and exercise later. Even so, the examples above serve to illustrate that being clear about the outcome and making it obvious is how to overcome procrastination. Once you can figure out how to make the benefit so obvious for your specific case that it would be ridiculous not to do it, then you will dissolve your habit of procrastinating.