How To Improve Self-Discipline And Stop Procrastination—3 Effective Techniques
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Everyone wants to know how to be disciplined. We know leaving things to the last minute often causes a lot of stress and problems in our lives. We often know what we should be doing, but the pull of procrastination can be difficult to resist. That’s why, I’m going to share with you a few techniques to discipline your mind and stop procrastination from taking over your life.
We all know how it starts.
At first, you’re determined to start on something you’ve been putting off for a while.
Maybe it’s that crazy awesome business idea you had in mind. And today’s the day to finally start working on it.
You sit at your desk, flip open your MacBook, and stare at the screen.
Where do I start? Maybe I should write it down first.
You open Word and create a new document. The blank page stares back at you.
Maybe I should get some water. I might be thirsty later and don’t want to break my momentum.
You get up and go to the kitchen, taking your phone along with you.
As you’re going to get water, you’re scrolling through Facebook, then Instagram.
Ooh, a funny video. Let’s watch it. It shouldn’t take more than a minute.
One video, leads to two, which leads to three, and suddenly you’re stuck watching videos for the next 15 minutes.
The Problem With Procrastination—How It Harms Your Body And Mind
Procrastination is a pretty common thing. Everyone procrastinates doing something, sometimes.
You do it. I do it. I’m pretty sure even the most successful people in the world procrastinate as well.
And that’s perfectly fine.
The problem only arises when things start to pile up. When before you start on or finish a task, another one comes in.
And another. And another.
When that happens, it causes stress. Over a long period of time, this chronic stress can have negative effects on your body and health.
Lewin’s Field Theory—The Secret To Perfect Memory?
In the 1920s, a psychologist called Kurt Lewin noticed an interesting phenomenon at a cafe he was at.
It was custom that orders were not written down. Rather, servers mentally kept orders in their mind, and could add additional items as orders were taken. And they have a near perfect memory for the orders…
But only until a certain point.
Lewin noticed that when the bill was paid and the customer had left, when he quizzed the server on what the customer had ordered—they could not remember it at all.
He had a theory that when people start on a task, there is a task-specific tension established in the brain. And this tension is not released until the task is done. And any interruptions will not cause this tension to go away.
What Does This Mean For You?
That’s why, when we procrastinate, we create several task-specific tensions in our brains.
Maybe your partner asks you to go get something at the store, and your boss throws you a pile of reports to file through, and you need to mail out a letter to an old friend, and you need to get a birthday gift…
And then you have this business idea that you want to start working on but have been putting off.
The more unfinished tasks that pile up, the greater the tension. You may feel a loss of control, inability to focus, like everything is chaotic and messy…
And this low-level chronic stress builds up and may result in many health problems later on.
But Not All Is Lost
Fortunately, a student of Lewin’s studied this and found that this can actually also be flipped into a positive thing. If applied correctly.
His student is Bluma Zeigarnik, and the phenomenon became known as the Zeigarnik Effect.
In the next part, I will share with you how to apply the Zeigarnik Effect to have unstoppable momentum and kill off procrastination. But first, let’s start with…
Procrastination Killer #1—Tackle Important Tasks First
This one tip is incredibly simple to do, but can help you make huge strides in your career and life.
If you’re like most people, you’d probably list down your tasks by category. Maybe you categorize them in terms of work, family, friends, etc. And then split them into subcategories.
I used to do that, but found that it wasn’t that effective. Because often times, certain tasks are time-sensitive, urgent, or they force themselves into my to-do list suddenly and out of nowhere. Which messes up my schedule.
And sorting my to-do list by categories caused me to jump back and forth between categories because I was somewhat clearing tasks according importance anyway.
The real change came when I organized my list according to importance. It helped make things a lot clearer and I could just go down the list throughout the day.
It seems like a small and insignificant change. But trust me, when I tried it, the effects were much, much different.
Early in the day is when you have the most energy, focus, and willpower. Which is super important for handling important tasks.
Throughout the day, energy, focus, and willpower decreases. And that’s why leaving the smaller tasks to the end is much better.
Things such as replying to emails don’t really require a lot of focus and mental energy.
So, try it for yourself and see if it works for you.
Here’s How I Do It
Create 2 to-do lists: One is your Life List and another is your Daily List.
On my Life List, put projects, business, or things that you’re working on or that your want to accomplish in my life.
For example, one item on my Life List is to hit 10,000 followers for The Empowered Choice Instagram account.
For the Life List, “important tasks” are tasks that I need to accomplish to move on to the next stage.
That means even though my ultimate dream is technically “more important”, there are other things I need to finish before I can complete that task.
And on your Daily List are the tasks that you need to get done for the day.
Every night, before you go to bed, list down the things you need to get done the next day in order of importance.
Time-sensitive tasks that need to be done by a certain time in the day, put them at the top. Followed by tasks that require the most amount of focus and concentration.
Lastly, put smaller tasks like checking emails, etc at the bottom of the list to be done at the end of the day.
Also, put an estimated amount of time you need for each task. After all, we only have 24 hours a day. So time-management is super important.
You can follow my method or create your own version. Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.
Procrastination Killer #2—The Tomato Timer Technique (Also Known As Pomodoro Technique)
This method was created in the 1980s by Francesco Cirillo. The idea is to break your working time into short manageable bursts, separated by short breaks.
It is named after the tomato shaped timer (pomodoro timer) and Cirillo used as a university student. Here’s how the Pomodoro technique works:
1. Decide on what you want to do
2. Set the timer (traditionally to 25 minutes).
3. Work on the task.
4. End work when the timer rings and put a checkmark on a piece of paper.
5. If you have fewer than four checkmarks, take a short break (3–5 minutes). Then set the timer and go again.
6. After four cycles, take a longer break (15–30 minutes). Reset your checkmark count to zero, and start on your next task.
The Tomato Timer Technique Helps You Be More Disciplined And Productive In Several Ways
1. It helps you structure your day efficiently
When used together with your to-do list, you can very easily organize and tackle tasks one by one.
When estimating the amount of time needed per task, you can roughly guess how many Pomodoro cycles it takes to complete it.
2. More productive use of time
Because each cycle only lasts a short 25 minutes, you will be less likely to slack off or procrastinate.
The average human attention span is about 20 minutes. Which is a perfect fit for the Tomato Timer Technique.
Because the moment concentration fades, the cycle is over. And you can take a short break to recharge.
Also, the goal of using this technique is to reduce interruptions. Because it will be much easier to postpone, negotiate, or reschedule an interruption for 25 minutes. Or, risk abandoning that cycle altogether.
3. Added sense of accomplishment
On top of striking tasks off your to-do list, checking off Pomodoro cycles also makes you feel good.
This good feeling is added motivation to get more tasks done, making the idea of self-discipline come easily and naturally.
A Hidden Added Benefit Of The Tomato Timer Technique
The basic idea of this technique is to be productive. That’s why, if you complete a task within the 25-minute cycle, it doesn’t mean that you end the cycle and rest early.
Any additional time after the task is done should be spent overlearning.
Overlearning is exactly what it sounds like. Read a book or watch an educational video training. Get new perspectives and ideas that you can apply and perhaps get better results.
Self-observation and improvement is also part of overlearning. This can help you better understand how you allocate time to various tasks and plan better in the future.
Procrastination Killer #3—Hack Your Momentum By Doing Tasks Halfway
Using this little-known technique, when combined with the previous 2 techniques, will help you get unstoppable momentum to coast through your tasks every day.
First, let’s refresh what The Zeigarnik Effect is.
It’s a theory that states we are more likely to remember things (retain cognitive tension) if a task is incomplete. And the tension is only released after the task is done.
So, Zeigarnik observed a few university students. And he found that those who broke up their studying sessions with unrelated activities—such as playing games or studying unrelated subjects—they were more likely to remember what they studied.
Whereas, students who studied one subject in a single session without a break, were less likely to remember what they studied.
This explains why most people procrastinate. Because they tend to take breaks only when a task in completed. That’s when the tension is released.
And after the break, there is a resistance to starting again, because that means starting a new task (or, adding more tension).
How To Apply This To Get Unstoppable Momentum
Do you see now how the Zeigarnik Effect can help you become more productive?
By breaking up your tasks into chunks, and not completing them in each cycle, you are far more likely to pick up quickly from where you left off.
That means, because you do your tasks and take breaks halfway…
The mental tension is never released. Your breaks occur mid-task. And when you finish a task, and it’s mid cycle, you are forced to start on the next task.
Which means the break is likely to happen in the middle of the next task. Rinse and repeat.
That tension is kept at a steady, healthy level and it can also push you forward to tackle things on your to-do list one at a time without overload.
That’s powerful stuff right there.
Closing Thoughts—Procrastination Is Simply Inertia
When we understand the science behind procrastination, it becomes easier to structure your life to avoid it—and essentially kill procrastination.
The three techniques I shared with you:
- Tackling important tasks first,
- The Tomato Timer Technique, and
- Arranging your tasks to help continue your momentum using the Zeigarnik Effect…
Once you get your engine running (with morning coffee), it can and will effortlessly run throughout the day. That’s the success secret behind disciplined and motivated people.
I hope you found this article useful, and if you did, I’d love to hear from you.
What have you tried? What kind of productivity “hacks” do you use? How are they working out for you? Which of these 3 techniques do you find most useful and surprising?
Let us know.
Also, NOT procrastinating and disciplining is just one side of the coin. Once you get started, the question is how do you focus and maximize the time you have. If you want to know where to go from here, click here to find out some productivity secrets to maximizing your time.