You’re sitting there dreaming of all the wonderful things you want to accomplish during your retirement…
You visualize your exciting plans and then start to think about what you need to do to make it happen.
You start grand and then go narrow, processing not only what you need to do this year, but also what’s in the coming months and weeks.
And then it hits you – today’s to-do list is the last thing you want to conquer.
Compared to all the big activities in your daydream, it just seems so… dull.
We’ve all been there (and probably more times than we’d like to admit).
We humans are designed to procrastinate. That’s right – as a human, your brain was created to be an excuse-making machine (more on that later).
Basically, don’t beat yourself up for procrastinating the next time it rears its ugly head. It’s a natural inclination to put off tasks for later.
But – while it’s perfectly normal, procrastination prevents you from reaching your ideal active, healthy, and engaged retirement lifestyle.
Sadly, I’ve seen it too many times.
Distractions, delays, postponements and everyday life stand in your way of a purposeful retirement life.
So, to help you fend it off altogether, I’ve put together four tried-and-true ways that show you how to stop procrastinating.
But first, let’s dig into why you so easily fall victim to procrastination, which will help you recognize it at an early onset.
Why do we procrastinate?
We procrastinate because we’re designed to procrastinate – as a way to avoid anything unpleasant and reserve energy to survive in the wild.
Let’s tackle the unpleasant part first.
According to Dr. Tim Pychyl of the Procrastination Research Group at Carleton University, procrastination has nothing to do with putting off the task itself. Tim claims it’s based on your mood around the task, rather than the task itself:
“It’s all about our feelings. Procrastination is the misregulation of emotion. We think that by putting things off, we’re going to feel better.”
Mel’s also spreading the message that procrastination is a bad habit.
The habit of stressing – sound familiar?
If it doesn’t sound familiar, your subconscious is at least well aware of it. Let me explain.
Your brain has a habit of making sure you don’t spend energy making conscious active decisions throughout the day. In fact, you make about 35,000 decisions per day, most of which are subconscious (because that’d be way too many active conscious decisions) on autopilot.
And these subconscious decisions take place in your basal ganglia instead of your prefrontal cortex.
The reason is we were built to reserve our energy for fight-or-flight mode to survive in the wild. What’s more, we’re made to procrastinate to avoid any stressors in life.
Plus, the idea of exerting energy on something for your future self is out of context for your brain. It’s mostly concerned with what happens now and how it impacts your current self.
And your current self is starkly different from your future self. It is on a neural level, anyway.
According to Dr. Hershfield’s research out of the Department of Psychology at Stanford University, on a neural level, you see your future self as more like a stranger than as part of yourself.
So, when you procrastinate, you’re sending a message to your brain that the task you’re delaying is basically someone else’s problem to deal with. The task is no longer associated with one that’s your own responsibility.
Which becomes a freeing moment for the rational part of your brain and a way to protect and reserve your energy.
As I mentioned before, it’s basically your brain’s job to be an excuse-making machine.
The glaring problem is: We’ve evolved from a time when this was useful. We’ve evolved from a time period when it was a good thing that our brains try to put on the brakes for us and reserve our energy for fight-or-flight mode out in the wild.
In modern day society that just doesn’t work in our favor…
You actually need to take not-so-fun action (consistently) for anything magical to happen.
For instance – want to learn a musical instrument? It’s going to take repeated daily practice and studying before your first song sounds easy-on-the-ears.
Or take, for example, your desire to travel the world. While it’s a grand activity, there’s a lot that needs to go into it before your journey comes to fruition:
- There’s the planning – Choosing a destination, making travel arrangements, coordinating with travel buddies, clearing your calendar, researching and studying.
- There’s the health check – Are you healthy enough? Do you need to get physically fit first? What activities can you physically partake in while traveling?
- There’s the prepping – Getting your passport, meds, shots, currency and mail collected. And don’t forget about packing and hiring a house-sitter, dog-walker, plant-waterer, etc.
- There’s the financial piece – Do you have enough money for your trip? If not, you need an action plan for saving and budgeting, plus, a timeframe.
All of these are action items and tasks that need to happen before your dream of taking an adventurous excursion. With a giant to-do list, procrastination can easily fall in between you and your travels.
Which is why you need to adopt a few clever ways to trick your brain into being rational. Trick it into doing the things that you need to do to ultimately reach your most meaningful and fulfilling goals.
To that end, here are four powerful ways to end procrastination once and for all.
4 Powerful Ways to Stop Procrastinating
#1. Break up your task into smaller micro-steps
My favorite way to kill procrastination is to break down your task into smaller tasks.
More specifically, the trusty recipe that works wonders for my students is micro-steps + mini-goals.
The reason why it’s so powerful is it allows you to get so specific about your task that it takes the guessing and mind-wandering out of your to-do at hand. In other words, it removes overwhelm out of the equation.
So many of my students initially talk to me about how overwhelmed (or underwhelmed) they are by the big picture. They have a grand idea of their larger goals, yet no clue where to start.
Which is why their day-to-day ends up looking pretty similar across the board and time continues to speed on by with no real changes being made.
To the rescue: Breaking everything down into mini-goals + micro-steps never fails.
By breaking down your goal into smaller and smaller chunks, you whittle your list of to-do’s down to a singular action item that you commit to. Repeat this enough times and, all of a sudden, you’ll have accomplished your mini-goal.
Why it works wonders: You create a routine, which is essentially a good habit, that you no longer have to actively think about. If you stick to one tiny micro-step per day toward one mini-goal and don’t allow yourself to stop and think about it, you’ll continue to make progress.
It’s like practicing an instrument, to continue the music example. Playing for five minutes every day is way more effective than sitting down for an hour and a half for only one day per month (believe me, I’ve tried both).
Plus, according to Northwestern Medicine, routines can provide you with benefits like:
- Better stress levels – reduces anxiety while improving your mental health
- Better sleep – boosts your emotional well-being and energy level
- Better health – helps you partake in health-conscious activities
And if you remember Mel’s take on procrastination, it has everything to do with your stress level. So, you may as well work in a routine to knock out bits of your tasks regularly.
And what if you’re having trouble committing to a consistent schedule?
Put a timestamp on it. More specifically, try breaking it down into a two-minute ritual.
James Clear, author of New York Times bestseller Atomic Habits, recommends the “2-minute rule” as a form of breaking down your task on a consistent basis.
How it works: You simply commit to doing two minutes of the activity you’re putting off on a regular basis and ritualize the beginning of a process.
Who it’s for: The 2-minute rule works especially well for people who have trouble committing to a consistent task.
Why it works: Two minutes (or any super scaled-down version of your task) is a small enough task that you can mentally and physically tackle it easily. Once you repeat it enough times to turn it into a ritual that you don’t have to think about, the resistance is released.
Take, for example, getting on a regular exercise regimen. One of James’ readers used the 2-minute rule concept to lose weight.
In the beginning, he went to the gym for no longer than two to five minutes per day. After a few weeks of going consistently, he decided he may as well stay a little longer since he was already there. The habit continued as such and, a few years later, he lost over a hundred pounds.
On the topic of timekeeping and creating rituals, the next tip follows along the same vein.
#2. Separate your times
Another one of my favorite tactics for overcoming procrastination is to separate your times: your time to think and your time to act.
Here’s what I mean: Assign a very clear “time to act” and a very clear “time to think” – and simply commit to those assigned times.
The good news is there’s already an ideal place for your “time to think” – your morning routine. It isn’t complicated if you simply squeeze in a little ritual of thinking about which tiny action you can take that day toward a single mini-goal.
Basically, dedicate space in the morning to thinking about one micro-step – and do this every morning consistently. The trick is to commit to one micro-step for one mini-goal until you’ve achieved it.
If you can write down your single micro-step for the day, even better. That’s an excellent way to materialize your “time to think.” And as you’re doing this, also write down next to your micro-step your “time to act” for the day.
And simply commit to the action when the time comes.
Yes – life is going to get in the way. But if you make it a non-negotiable action item and knock out your achievable micro-step at some point during the day, you will find a way to squeeze it in as best you can.
Why this works: You don’t allow yourself to think your way out of taking action. When your mind is on the loose it wanders… to not so great places. Places that allow your feelings and emotions to get in the way.
After all, you procrastinate when you’re stressed, right?
By letting your “time to think” cross over boundaries into unproductive-irrational-territory-with-no-contained-structure, you come up with all the excuses and reasons under the sun not to take action simply because you don’t feel like it.
When you’re stressed, a certain part of your brain goes haywire as you wait to feel like doing something before taking any action. And that’s where all the excuses and fears and negative self-doubt pop in.
The unfortunate news is you’re never going to “feel like it.”
On a neuroscience level, when you’re stressed you trigger your limbic system, which is charged with irrational behavior and emotional responses that work against your real desire of completing an important task.
All in all: Separating your “time to think” vs. your “time to act” allows you to eliminate irrational negative emotions associated with your task.
So, if procrastination is about your mood and stress around a task, by removing that part from the equation, you’re left only with the option of tackling the task at hand (aka using the rational part of your brain).
Speaking of drawing clean boundaries, the next tip also relies on them.
#3. Get crystal clear on your deadlines
The third way to halt your procrastination habit is to explicitly define your deadlines.
Generally speaking, the more exacting you are with your tasks and goals, the more likely you’ll accomplish them. So, when it comes to your deadlines, the same applies – the more specific you are, the better.
There’s evidence that backs this up, too.
A study out of MIT showed that a group of students who were given three specific deadlines to complete three assignments not only suffered less from procrastination, but they also performed significantly better than students who were asked to complete all three assignments by one final deadline.
Another interesting finding from the same study is people tend to procrastinate less when the deadlines are set by someone else. Put another way, when it comes to procrastination and delaying your tasks, self-imposed deadlines don’t work.
What’s the perfect solution?
Bonus Tip: Get an accountability buddy and have someone else set your deadline for you.
If that’s too intense for you, simply tell someone about your goal and give them permission to check up on your progress.
Plus, there are social benefits when someone else holds you accountable. By merely engaging with another person about your dreams, goals and tasks, you’re boosting your social activity, which leads to so many health benefits, especially among seniors.
(If you’re looking for reliable accountability for really accomplishing your ideal retirement lifestyle, book a 1-on-1 breakthrough session. The consult is free, so you have nothing to lose. The catch is it needs to be a good fit for working together – technically, still nothing to lose.)
Whether or not you have accountability support, the gist is to set clear deadlines for your tasks and stick to them.
And I’ve got one more anti-procrastination tip for you to tackle today.
#4. Remove distractions when it’s time to take action
Finally, another effective way to avoid procrastination is to limit the number of distractions that lure you away from completing your task.
These days, one of the biggest culprits for distraction is the rise of technology. Which, of course, means your daily digital go-tos: your TV, your iphone, your online news articles, your Facebook scrolling, your ipad games, your online shopping… all of it.
If there’s a screen attached to it, it’s likely going to steal your attention away from your meaningful tasks.
Which makes sense because procrastination runs more rampant today than it did 30 years ago. In fact, it’s more than quadrupled over the past three decades.
In 1978, only 5% of the population admitted to chronic procrastination compared to today’s staggering 26%.
Wowsa – digital devices really do have a hold on diverting your attention from your biggest dreams and goals (which, by the way, can only happen by conquering one task at a time).
Not to mention, smartphone addiction is real. So much so that of the 58% of smartphone users that attempted to limit their usage, only 41% were successful at it.
What’s more, in a survey of 75,000 married couples, 79% admitted that technology distracts them from connecting with each other. If technology is more inviting than bonding with another person, it makes sense that it pulls you away from tasks, too.
And, of course, there’s my all-time favorite stat, which is senior-specific. Adults aged 65+ average over 48 hours of TV per week.
Sheesh – With a powerful pull like that, electronic devices can distract you from anything that doesn’t seem initially fun.
Electronic device or other forms of distraction, the moral here is to remove them from the room – especially ones that you habitually partake in – when it’s your time to take action.
Why it works: Out of sight, out of mind reduces the temptation of distraction.
In the same way that removing the temptation of office candy from your line of sight reduces your consumption of it, removing distractions from your task is just as effective.
Closing Thoughts: It’s About Tricking Your Brain
Procrastination is an ailment you can shed from your life by simply tricking your brain.
You were built to procrastinate so you could survive in the wild. (After all, humans needed to reserve energy for hunting and gathering.)
But – what worked back in the Stone Ages doesn’t apply to your life today.
So… you need to trick your brain.
Which you can do by using these four trusted tips.
Caveat: While they’re simple, they’re not always easy.
The real power will be in getting into the habit of killing procrastination. It requires physical inertia to snap your brain out of the trap that is procrastination.
And if you can unleash this small-but-mighty power consistently, I’ll bet a dollar you’ll accomplish your biggest dreams and goals…
…and actively live the ideal retirement lifestyle you deserve.
If you want help ending procrastination once and for all (and pinpointing your ideal retirement lifestyle), watch this free workshop on How to Live a Purposeful Retirement Life.
I’m rooting for you…