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5 scientifically proven hacks to beat procrastination

Sakhita Sharma

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Procrastination is the bane of all student life. Whether you’re tidying your room, sitting down to study or just trying to get up in the morning to go to lectures, wasting time on YouTube is an art perfected by the average university student. Your whole semester can quickly fly by leaving you with just a week to go before your exams or essay deadlines, so stop daydreaming about that EURail trip and read our tips below to discover five scientifically proven ways to beat procrastination.

1. Just Start

According to a psychological phenomenon known as the Zeigarnik Effect, the recall-value of an unfinished task is much higher than a completed task, meaning that we remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks much better than things that we’ve completed. This is because an unfinished task is more likely to get stuck in our minds and pester us all day until it’s been competed because it’s human nature to complete a task we’ve already started.

For as long as we don’t finish, there’s mental tension that keeps that incomplete action more prominent in our memory. Completion of the activity provides us with closure, a release of tension, and slowly we forget about it and move on to the next item on the to-do list.

So the best way to stop dilly-dallying around and beat procrastination? Simply start working. Once you’ve started, your brain will stop nagging you so much and allow you to focus and get sucked in.

2. Do a Power Hour

Research shows that doing 60 – 90-minute sessions of productive work followed by breaks of 20 minutes are optimal for increased focus and energy throughout the day.

The hailed Pomodoro Technique, which was developed by the entrepreneur Francesco Cirillo for increasing productivity, is a time management method which uses a timer to break down work into manageable intervals, separated by short periods of break. It’s a tried and tested technique to help you power through distractions, hyper-focus your attention, get things done in short bursts, and beat procrastination.

This is because our minds naturally go through cycles with peaks and troughs of concentration, so to maximise the output it’s vital to hone the power of the peaks by putting away all the distractions for your Power Hour, working in concentrated chunks of time, and then balancing the intense period of focus with a little rest and relaxation.

These short intervals for rest will help to harness the highest performance of your brain, reset your mind to concentrate for longer, and help you check off more items from that dreaded task list.

3. Kill ‘M’ With Kindness

By M, we mean the royal Me and your Mind. Research shows that the more you can forgive yourself for past procrastination, the more likely you are to overcome your current period of being idle and take action. Self-compassion is the key. Don’t forget to Love.Yo.Self. The quest for perfection and a fear of failure are two key ingredients for the procrastination cocktail. It’s a failsafe recipe. Eliminate this from your diet by listening to your inner monologue and flagging up any less-than-productive thinking.

Experts suggest that the best way to overcome this is by simply doubting your doubts. For example, try shaking your head while thinking those negative thoughts. Though it sounds ridiculous, according to a study, it can help silence the doubts by your internal haters and help beat procrastination.

4. Salivate

Well, not literally. We’ve all heard of Pavlov and his famous experiments with his pet pooch — yup, the one where he trained his dog to slobber in reaction to a stimulus. The point of his experiment was to demonstrate behavioural change in accordance to positive reinforcement so, in theory, by rewarding ourselves for completing a task, we can motivate ourselves to complete more and beat procrastination further and further into the back of our minds. Research supports this by showing that the human brain responds to reward stimulus and this can be an effective way to create useful habits to increase productivity.

5. Step by step

Now for the crescendo: according to researchers from Penn State, it’s in human nature to want to get small projects finished as soon as possible. Accomplishing something, even if it’s not the whole goal but just a small sub-project, is psychologically rewarding in itself, and in turn it increases motivation to complete all the other little parts that will eventually make up the whole.

So when in doubt, break up your work into mini projects. Deconstruct the process into discrete tasks and put back the pieces of the puzzle in a more manageable manner. The focus on each part also means that the end project will be completed to a higher standard than if it had been knocked out as a whole as more effort, dedication and thought has gone into constructing it.


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