Procrastinating is something that everyone struggles with, even the most successful one of us.
The Dalai Lama for example used to be a bored student who found it hard to get motivated. He was like most people of his age; he only studied when facing a difficult challenge or an urgent deadline.
Bill Clinton was described by Time Magazine as a “chronic procrastinator”. When he was president, his assistant would give him months to comment on drafts of important speeches. The process always ended with last-minute cut and paste sessions.
Even Leonardo da Vinci, known today as the Genius of the Italian Renaissance, was said to spend his days dreaming and never finished a project on time. His most famous work for example, the Mona Lisa, took him 16 years to complete!
So even the most famous, productive or spiritual people, postpone what they have to do. The question is why do we do that? Why do we tend to choose what we want over what we should do?
Well there is a biologic reason for that.
The biologic reason behind procrastination
Scientists have spent years to understand why we tend to procrastinate as human being. One of them Timothy A, Pychyl, Ph.D a psychology professor at Carleton University in Ottawa, explains that procrastination is due to the anatomy of the human brain.
When we speak about procrastination 2 parts of the brain are involved:
The limbic system is one of the oldest and most dominant part of brain and it’s on automatic. It tells you to pull away your hand from a flame for example but it also tells you to flee from unpleasant tasks. It basically looks for “immediate mood repair” as the professor explain in his book The Procrastinator’s Digest: A Concise Guide to Solving the Procrastination Puzzle.
On the other hand, the prefrontal cortex, which is a newer and weaker portion of brain, is meant to integrate information and make decisions. Unlike the limbic system, this part of the brain is not automatic and is weaker.
As a result when you postpone a task you don’t want to do it’s because your limbic system takes over.
So don’t blame yourself, if you procrastinate it’s not because you are lazy, it’s for biological reason!
Now it doesn’t mean that you can’t do anything about it. There are some tricks that can really help you get things done.
The most efficient technique to beat procrastination
There are many techniques out there to beat procrastination such as:
- Reward yourself for getting things done
- Ask someone else to check up on you
- Identify the unpleasant consequences of not doing the task
- Keep a to-do list
And many others
Victor Hugo, who wrote Les Misérables, even used to ask his servant to strip him naked in his work and not give back his clothes until the appointed hour, just to stave off procrastination (not sure this technique really works)
The problem is that most of those tricks are not really efficient. You implement them one day or two and then give up.
The technique that I believe is the most efficient and long lasting is to break everything you do into tiny actionable tasks that you can immediately work on. So for example if you have a Power Point presentation to make, you don’t want to think about doing the presentation, you want to think about what you will write in the first slide, and write it, then the second slide…
As you break down your project into very small tasks, it allows you to immediately identify where you need to focus your attention on, which will ease the process of starting your work.
If you implement this technique, it won’t change your biology but will definitely increase your productivity!
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