“Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.”
— Benjamin Franklin
Ever hear a teacher proudly quote this famous saying? While this may have been quite the inspiration in the 18th century, we currently live in a time where distractions fill our every waking moment. With all the push notifications, hashtags, social networks, software updates, and advertisements it’s no wonder that procrastination is more prevalent than ever before.
You are not alone.
According to a study by Steele, only 5% of the population in 1978 admitted to being chronic procrastinators compared to roughly 26% of the population today. While this study points out an increase in chronic procrastinators over the years, it’s important to note that procrastination isn’t just a modern phenomenon. People have struggled with habitual hesitation from the beginning of time. In a writing dated around 800 B.C., the Greek poet Hesiod cautioned not to “put your work off till tomorrow and the day after.”
The ugly side of procrastination.
Not to frighten you, but procrastinating writing that essay, studying for that test, or tackling that science project, not only leads to a worse quality of work (since it leaves little to no time to edit/revise), but it can also be damaging to your health. According to an article on Psychology Science, procrastination leads to higher levels of stress and lower well-being. In addition, studies have found that procrastinators may carry accompanying feelings of guilt, shame, or anxiety when they delay.
Ok you’ve officially scared me. How do I stop procrastinating NOW?
While there is no “one size fits all” plan of attack for combating the ever so mighty procrastination, there are some tools that can help you beat procrastination once and for all. After you’re done reading this article you’ll know how to create a ‘start work’ ritual, how to maximize your productivity with the help of technology, and how to build an effective ‘beat procrastination’ playlist. Before you know it, you’ll be ticking off tasks on your todo list faster than the Kardashian clan can upload another selfie. #success
Create A Ritual To Ease Into Work Mode
So you want to be more productive, but you don’t know how to get started. The bad news is that your productivity is not just going to magically improve overnight. There is good news, however. The mere fact that you’re reading this article means you are ready to take the necessary steps to train your brain to get to work. Just like taking a bath, sipping warm tea, and spraying your pillow with lavender at night prepares you for sleepdom, a well-planned ritual can train your brain to effectively beat procrastination and get to work.
The best way to reclaim that precious time you spent scrolling through Facebook, answering emails, tidying your desk space, ordering lunch, or shopping online is to create a personal ritual. Scott H Young, a LIfeHack journalist, says that “by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.”
So how exactly do you create a ritual?
To begin, write out a sequence of behavior that has less than four steps (as your sequence becomes second nature, you can always add more.) Gregory Ciotti, a journalist for 99u, assures us that if we want to make positive habits stick, we have to build them into our current routines. Attach a work related goal with an environmental trigger, and you’ll be well on your way to ritualizing your way to productivity. For example, instead of saying “I will blog more,” say, “After I have my second cup of coffee on Monday morning, I will brainstorm 3 blog ideas. Then, I will narrow it down to one and begin drafting an outline. When I finish my mid-morning dog walking session, I will write the blog post and schedule it accordingly.” Relying on contextual cues (instead of willpower) is far more effective when it comes to creating habits that stick.
How long does it take?
According to Phillippa Lally, a psychology researcher at University College London, it can take anywhere from 18 days to 254 days for people to form a new habit. The study followed the habits of 96 participants over a 12-week period. Each person chose one new habit they wanted to automate (such as drinking a bottle of water with lunch). At the end of every day, they reported whether or not they did the behavior and how automatic it felt. On average, it took participants 66 days to feel like their behavior was second nature (a big difference from the 21 days you often hear spouted in self-help books.)
Don’t get discouraged if you aren’t seeing immediate results, it can take up to 254 days for your new ritual to stick. However, if you do manage to ritualize a successful start work routine, you’ll always be able to tap into that resource whenever you find yourself up procrastination creek without a paddle.
Filter Out Distractions With A Technology Toolkit
A study done by the American Psychological Association revealed that anywhere between 80 and 95 percent of college students procrastinate on their schoolwork. So what gives, why is procrastination so prevalent? The influx of technology could have something to do with it. Simply put, scrolling through Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and Pinterest is more fun than writing a 25 page essay on which historical events contributed to the transition from the Renaissance to the Neoclassicism art period.
Technology doesn’t just have to be a huge distraction and time waster, however. With a little help from us, you can learn how to adopt the right technology toolkit to help you kick procrastination to the curb. Below are a few tools that are musicto tested and approved.
- For Teams: Time Doctors
- Time Doctors is a time-tracking software that allows you to manage outsourced workers or manage yourself to increase productivity. The price increases with every worker you want to track. Though this tool seemed a little"big brother" to us at first, we can see how it would be great for project managers or startups who want to measure how long it takes their team to complete certain tasks. It would also be a great tool for companies that want to keep track of remote employees.
- For Everyone: Get rid of push notifications.
- This is the easiest thing you can do (right now) that will help prevent you from getting distracted. Go to the App Settings in your phone and turn off push notifications for ALL of your apps. Not only will this prolong your cellphone’s battery life, but it also means you will no longer be alerted (aka distracted) when someone likes a photo on your Instagram, views your LinkedIn profile, or matches with you on Tinder.
- For Freelancers/Students: Buy the Saent device
- Saent is the first smart device and software that claims to “halt productivity distractions at the push of a button.” How does it work? First, you push a button on the Saent device to launch a focused work session. Saent then blocks you from social networking sites and other unproductive applications. If you try to access these “no-no” sites during a focused work session, a reminder will pop up telling you to stay focused.
- The Saent device gets smarter the more you use it. Eventually it will learn your work patterns and suggest apps that will help you to be more productive. Because humans work better in 30, 50 or 90 minute intervals, Saent will also recommend frequent breaks and provide you with an optimal time to start working again.
- The best part is that Saent rewards you points for each ten-minute block of focused work you achieve. If you are the competitive type, you can sync your Saent with friends, family members, and co-workers to see who is the most productive. Read more about Saent here.
- Install a productivity tracker
- There are plenty of productivity trackers out there. So you don’t waste precious time reading blog after blog about which productivity tracker is best, take our word for it and download Exist, a web app that also works across your desktop, tablet, or mobile device.
- Exist collects data from the services that you are already using (such as FitBit) and then turns that data into an aesthetically appealing report complete with helpful insights and correlations so that you can better understand where your wasted time is spent. Exist sets realistic goals for you based on the averages of your previous data (think of it like competing against yourself) and as you reach those goals, Exist will keep raising them higher and higher.
Create a Technology Toolkit to help you filter out distractions during work time. Though we are bombarded with a superfluous amount of digital stimuli every day, our brains haven’t yet figured out a way to tune out this unnecessary noise. By implementing the right technology resources, you can train your brain to stay focused on the task at hand. And forget about trying to multitask--studies show that 97% of us are terrible at it--unless, of course, you like making careless mistakes and producing shoddy results.
Create A “Beat Procrastination” Playlist
Much like technology, music can either be a huge distraction or a powerful tool, depending on how you use it and the nature of the task. According to an article on Psychology Today, listening to music is a great way to boost motivation before tackling a particular task (and don’t worry about whether or not your task is a cognitive one or creative one, studies have shown that music helps you conquer both.) This study revealed that undergraduates who listened to an up-tempo song by Mozart prior to taking an IQ test performed better than when they listened to a minor-key piece by Albinoni. Another study revealed that Japanese children who drew while listening to familiar children’s songs, not only spent more time drawing but their pictures were more creative than when they listened to an unfamiliar classical song.
The next time you find yourself needing motivation to conquer a daunting task, fire up your favorite music player (Spotify, iTunes, Tidal, Soundcloud, etc.), put your earbuds in, and hit “play” on your Beat Procrastination Playlist (but make sure that each song has the right BPM (beats per minute.))
Beats Per Minute is a unit of measurement that describes the tempo of both music and heart rates. Though human beings can distinguish BPM between 40-300, studies show that we actually prefer a rather narrow range of BPM. From the 1940s until now, the average tempo of our most popular songs fluctuated no more than 5 bpm, between 117 bpm to 122 bpm.
In fact, 120 bpm seems to the tempo we resonate with most. According to a study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, our preferred BPM might actually be part of our biology. Whether study participants were tapping their fingers, applauding, or walking around, the average tempo of their locomotion fell somewhere around 120 bpm (with no evidence of correlation with gender, age, height, or weight.)
The further we move from 120 bpm however, the more volatile we may become (not exactly something you want to be when trying to get and stay focused, am I right?) Therefore, when building the perfect “Beat Procrastination” playlist, make sure to only add songs with a BPM falling in the 117-122 range. (If you are wondering how the heck to figure out a song’s BPM, there is a great website called Song BPM that allows you to type in any song and see what its BPM is. Check it out here: https://songbpm.com/. )
Once you have found a few songs that fall in the correct BPM range, add it to your very own “Beat Procrastination” playlist, or better yet, listen to the one we curated below. You can either add the individual tracks to your own “Beat Procrastination” playlist, or you can simply stream the entire “Music To Beat Procrastination” album all at once.
People who procrastinate often do so for three main reasons, a fear of failure, a lack of self-confidence, or physical stress/fatigue. Regardless of which category you fall under, creating a ‘start work’ ritual, implementing a technology toolkit, and incorporating upbeat music with a BPM around 120 can help you get your motor running. Once you have managed to tackle procrastination and are successfully working, you’ll want to maintain the flow. Learn how to do so here.