I’m in the more stressful phase of writing my BA thesis. So procrastination and I are in an intimate relationship right now.
The hardest thing to do when you’re procrastinating is sitting down and getting started. And we have valid reasons for delaying work:
Did you know that when you think about the thing you’re procrastinating on, it lights up the pain region of your brain? It’s literally painful.
It’s no wonder we flee and turn to Netflix instead. But fear not: The good news is when we stop procrastinating and actually start working, that pain goes away within a few minutes. The working itself isn’t painful, it’s the thinking about work beforehand that feels bad.
That’s why we often realize this thing we were procrastinating on wasn’t as hard as we thought it would be once we actually did it.
Even when the work does turn out to be hard (which isn’t the same as painful), we usually stick around and get some work done. The trick is to get started.
So how can we stop procrastinating and get started with our work?
How to stop procrastinating
Well, what’s helping me put more distance between me and Mr. Procrastination (he’s clingy) is using the Pomodoro technique. Have you tried it? It’s super simple.
Here is how it works:
You work without interruptions for 25 min, then take a break for 5 minutes. Rinse and repeat. (I use a Pomodoro timer addon for my browser. You can get it here for Chrome or Firefox.)
Why does this help me stop procrastinating? Because 25 minutes is easy. The end is in sight, even as I’m getting started. It takes the fear away.
And when I’m done I get to have a 5-minute break which feels really nice, because I almost have to take it. I’m not procrastinating, I’m officially doing what the Pomodoro technique tells me to do. Ha!
As a side effect, these short breaks also increase concentration, research suggests. So the Pomodoro technique can help us get started and stop procrastinating. But is there a way that we can make procrastination occur less often?
How can we convince our brain that working on The Scary Thing isn’t painful and horrible?
Again, with the Pomodoro technique. That’s what the 5-minute break is for. It’s meant to be a reward (drinking tea, dancing around, prepping a snack) to teach your brain that working isn’t as bad as it feels at first. Stepping away from your computer is probably a good idea to make sure you actually feel rested and not just numbed out.
25 minutes is all it takes to break the cycle.
So go easy on yourself: Give 25 minutes of working on that scary thing a try and reward yourself at the end. You might just find that you wouldn’t mind another 25 minutes.
Also published on Medium.