We need to stop procrastinating. As a college senior, I have been in school for almost two decades now. But, I still find myself completing my projects only at the very last minute (assuming I even complete them). Funnily, I am always optimistic about completing my tasks promptly on the first day I receive them. But, at the back of my mind, I know very well that the procrastination bug is going to tightly grip my neck till at least the night before the deadline.
After going through countless books on how to stop procrastinating (yes, I procrastinated reading them too…), I might have found one that will crack the code. I am not saying that you will turn into a proactive, project-completing junkie but it will definitely change how you navigate your thoughts. So give it a go!
To cut down on procrastination, you need to generate ACTIONABLE tasks.
What does “actionable” mean? When a task is actionable, it can be done immediately, without hassle. This is one takeaway you need to remember. Let me use an example to illustrate. Say you need to do your laundry. So, you diligently put on your to-do-list, “Do the laundry”. Seems pretty straight forward but many of us still have piled up laundry begging for our attention.
Now compare these two sentences:
“Do the laundry” VS “Put clothes in the laundry basket into the washing machine”.
The first sentence says that you have a chore to do. But the second sentence says that you will take maybe three hand motions to complete your task. Which one are you more motivated to listen to? The second one. The second sentence is an actionable task. An actionable task has the power to coerce your brain into completing it.
That was a fairly simple example though. Doing laundry may not be a daunting task yet to those who still haven’t tumbled into the deepest webs of procrastination. What about tasks that are more complicated and require multiple actions to complete? For this, let’s think about another task, “Complete your history essay”. Again, this task seems like it is actionable, but it is really not.
Remember, a task that is actionable is something that you could do immediately, without hassle.
Doing an essay actually has so many complexities that your brain cannot dive into it with ease. Before I do an essay, there are many things my brain is subconsciously stressing about: What will I write about? How many arguments will I make? How do I get an A+?
As a result, your brain gets clouded, becomes daunted by the task and then tries to avoid thinking about it. If you want to stop procrastinating, you have to find a way around this.
So, to comfort your brain, you have to tweak the wording of your task by using simpler, actionable terms to break it down. Breaking such a big task down till you can generate actionable sub-tasks will motivate your brain to actually do it right now.
Going back to the essay example, think about the things that completing it requires — you need to brainstorm your points, maybe have about 4 body paragraphs, an intro, a conclusion, etc. These can be broken down to become more actionable. For example, when you get the essay homework, start with a sub-task, “Draw a mind map for the essay structure in 20 minutes”. This seems more doable than “Do your essay” because you know exactly what you are supposed to do and for how long you need to do it. In other words, try to make the sub-task straight-forward and time-bound. This is another takeaway you need to remember.
Also, psychologists say that once you have started on a task, you are more likely to continue committing to it. Breaking down a complicated task into actionable sub-tasks makes you more likely to do the first sub-task. Doing the first sub-task will give you the momentum to continue with the following sub-tasks till you actually see the whole big task through.
Tweaking words to transform a task into an actionable one takes practice. Turning a complicated task into smaller, straight-forward chunks is not easy to do. I am not perfect at doing it myself. But, understand that for any task, the simpler and easier-to-do it seems, the more likely you are to do it! So, you can stop procrastinating and get things done!
Just a free-spirited person with a desire to share everything that has helped me become a more productive and aspirational person.