How To Stop Procrastinating: 13 Quick Tricks To Kickstart Your Learning & Enrich Your Life
“The most pernicious aspect of procrastination is that it can become a habit. We don't just put off our lives today; we put them off till our deathbed.
Never forget: This very moment, we can change our lives. There never was a moment, and never will be, when we are without the power to alter our destiny.
This second we can turn the tables on Resistance. This second, we can sit down and do our work.”
“The most pernicious aspect of procrastination is that it can become a habit. We don't just put off our lives today; we put them off till our deathbed.
Never forget: This very moment, we can change our lives. There never was a moment, and never will be, when we are without the power to alter our destiny."
- Steven Pressfield
Sounds easy, right?
But we all know doesn't feel that way in reality.
In this post, I'll show you how to stop procrastinating with 13 quick tips you can apply right away.
So let's get started....
If there’s one skill that society has taught us to master, it’s procrastination.
And in an age where we all have instant access to the internet 24/7 through our phones, the possibilities for procrastination and wasted time are arguably greater than ever.
Humans are very good at doing things, we’re just not always that good at doing the right things.
Procrastination can take lots of different forms...
Personally, I define procrastination as the resistance that gets in the way of you achieving your goals or completing your projects.
It could take the form of half an hour on facebook when you should have been working...
Or it could be mindlessly browsing on your phone instead of reading that book you bought last week about your next travel destination.
Procrastination affects our work, our home lives, and yes,... even our travel experiences.
And if you’re anything like me, procrastination plagues your learning all too often as well.
Procrastination is a problem that affects all of us to some degree or another and it will inevitably occur at some time during your trip preparation.
The challenge is to develop an ability to beat procrastination as much as possible and to have a plan B for when it does attack you.
In this post, you'll learn how to stop procrastinating, so that you can spend less time on Facebook and spend more time learning about the things that will make you happy and enrich your travel experiences.
How To Stop Procrastinating - 13 Quick Tricks To Beat Your Lazy Brain
Start With Something Simple
If you’re really struggling to get started with your learning, begin with something short and easy and use it to gain momentum.
If you don’t feel like sitting down to read about history, challenge yourself to do something easy like watching a short video about the place you're going to travel to.
Just completing a short, simple activity like this can be enough to get the ball rolling.
Once you’ve gotten started it becomes much easier to motivate yourself and move onto the bigger tasks.
Work In Short Bursts Using The Pomodoro Technique
Oftentimes, we procrastinate because the task we need to do is long or difficult.
Maybe there’s a specific topic you want to learn about before your trip but getting started feels intimidating because you don't know where to start.
When this happens you can overcome procrastination by just getting started somewhere and working at it for a short period of time.
Try telling yourself “Ok, I’ll dive into this for 25 minutes and when the time’s up, I can take a break or do something else”.
More often than not, you’ll find that once you get through that first 25 minutes and you’ll be ready to keep going!
This technique of using bursts of concentration followed by short breaks is called the Pomodoro Technique.
I normally use a free online timer called Tomato Timer to time my pomodoroes.
Try to study in 20-30 minute sessions like this and take short breaks of 3-5 minutes between each session.
This will allow you to return refreshed and ready for more.
You’ll find that this makes it much easier to get started and beat procrastination.
After all, the idea of doing something for 20 or 30 minutes is much less intimidating than working on it for hours!
Learning in short bursts not only makes getting started less intimidating; there are other benefits too.
For a start, it’s much more efficient than reading or studying for long periods without a break because it allows you to give full concentration to your learning.
Maintaining a high level of concentration for hours on end just isn’t possible!
However, when you learn in short sessions, you can be attentive the whole time and as a result, you’ll learn the material much more deeply.
Give 100% attention for 25 minutes and you can easily learn as much as you would if you worked at 50 or 60% for an hour or more.
Know Your Own Motivation
One of the most common reasons that we procrastinate is that we’re not motivated by what we’re learning.
Or we're trying to learn without knowing what really motivated us in the first place!
Our motivation reminds us that the sacrifices we make in the short-term are not in vain. There's actually a bigger reason why we’re doing what we’re doing!
But in any learning project, there will be moments when you feel discouraged and that’s when you really need to remind yourself of why you’re putting in all this hard work.
So what can you do to keep your motivation sharp?
You need to remind yourself of your reasons for learning regularly.
Write down your reasons for learning and make sure you can easily find that list whenever you need it.
Add pictures of your destination and the places you're excited to visit when you get there.
You can print it out and pin it to the wall above your desk, or save it to your computer desktop.
Just make sure it's easy to find for when you need a burst of motivation to overcome your procrastination.
If your motivation is strong, it will be easier to sit down and learn even if you're not in the mood for it.
Find An Accountability Partner
Learning has lots of ups and downs, especially if you’re learning alone.
That’s why having someone to share the journey with is a huge help.
If you find yourself struggling to maintain your motivation or get things done, teaming up with someone else who’s also actively learning something is a great idea.
If you're going to be travelling with a friend or partner, why not read some books, take a course or learn the basics of new language together?
Sharing these experiences will bring your closer together and help you both get even more excited ahead of your trip.
Nothing helps more with procrastination than knowing that someone else is depending on you.
When you’re learning alone, it’s easy to skip days or procrastinate - no one knows but you!
But when you’re committed to a learning routine and someone else is expecting you do it, it becomes much harder to put it off!
Are you really going to want to have to admit to your friend that you didn’t live up to the plans you set for yourself?
Make A Plan & Write It Down
Procrastination can strike at any time, but it's much easier to overcome if you know what you're supposed to be doing.
If you simply have a block of time you've assigned as ‘study French history’ or 'practice Spanish vocabulary', you're more likely to procrastinate than if you have a clear plan.
Sit down once a week and decide what specific topics you want to focus on learning in the week ahead.
Make a plan for how you'll tackle these topics and write down the actions you need to take each day to achieve your goals.
This way, when it’s time to learn, you’ll know exactly what you need to be working on. So you can just sit down and get started.
It’s a lot easier than thinking “hmm, ok, what should I work on today?”
Set Specific, Time-Sensitive Goals
In university, did you ever procrastinate writing a paper for weeks and weeks, then suddenly manage to write the whole thing the day before the deadline?
When we don’t have a deadline or timeframe, we don’t feel compelled to do things urgently and we ending up putting them off.
“I’ll do it later” turns into “I’ll do it tomorrow” and before you know it weeks have passed.
The way to avoid this is to add a sense of urgency to what you need to do.
Setting goals with clear deadlines can spur you into action so procrastination doesn’t become a problem.
Setting short-term weekly goals can be a great way to apply this trick.
Goal-setting is also closely linked to knowing your motivation and having a plan.
If you don’t know what you’re trying to achieve, you’re going to waste a lot of time!
Unless you have clear goals, you won’t know what to learn and you won’t be motivated to get started!
On the other hand…
If you know what your goals are and what you need to do to achieve them, it's much easier to take action.
Completing a book or course BEFORE you go on your trip is normally a pretty good starting point if you need a deadline 😉
Find The Right Learning Environment
If you can’t concentrate you’re not going to learn very much.
And nothing disrupts concentration and creates procrastination faster than a bad learning environment.
Everyone’s different and my idea of the perfect learning situation might not be the same as yours…
- Some people like silence, some prefer music in the background
- Many like the comfort of learning at home, while others prefer to escape their everyday surroundings
- Some like to do their learning in morning, others prefer late at night
Just figure out what works best for you and stick to it.
Silence your phone or consider leaving it in another room while you study and avoid social media at all costs.
Know Your Weaknesses
What are the things that are most distracting for you?
What's your personal vice that you know will distract you from your learning?
Take a moment now to think about your weakness and make note of them.
These are the cues that kick off your procrastination habit.
By being conscientious about what causes your procrastination, you can take action to avoid it happening.
For example, if you know that youtube tends to lead you down a rabbit-hole of one pointless, distracting video after another, don't use youtube as part of your core learning time.
Focus instead on choosing learning resources and situations that help you to get the most out of the time you spend learning.
Learn First, Reward Yourself Later
Another way to overcome procrastination is to make a deal with yourself...
- 30 minutes of focused learning, followed by a small reward or a break
This trick can work really well, just remember … if you're tempted to 'treat' yourself, do it after your learning time, not before.
Use it as a reward.
For example, if you're compelled to watch silly youtube videos or play a game of Angry Birds, challenge yourself to do 20 minutes of solid learning first.
It's very easy to convince yourself 'just one more video' or 'just one more level' before you get started.
Don't let yourself fall into this trap because it tends to spiral and all of a sudden half an hour has gone by.
(On a related note, if you want to learn the basics of new language for your trip, avoid the the silly apps - they don't teach you much and super distracting! Get yourself a book or serious language course instead.)
Keep the rewards for after you've completed 20 or 30 minutes of learning.
Research shows that the ability to delay gratification is one of the strongest indicators of success and productivity, both in learning and in life.
If you learn to delay the rewards until after your learning is done, you’ll get more done and make far more progress.
Build Good Learning Habits
As I mentioned in #3, knowing your motivation really helps you to beat procrastination.
But in the long-term, motivation alone isn’t enough.
There are bound to be days when you just can’t get yourself motivated and if you don’t have a plan B, you’ll be in trouble.
What should that Plan B be?
Make learning a habit.
Habits are actions that our brains have learned to do automatically because we’ve repeated them consistently over a period of time.
It could be...
- Visiting the same cafe every time you want to get some good learning done (I used to do this all the time when I lived in Lyon!)
- Studying at the same time every day
- Connect your learning to something else you do every day (i.e. do an hour of learning immediately after you eat your breakfast each morning)
Small actions, but with the power to make a big difference.
Imagine how much more you would learn if you could simply sit down each day and spend some time studying without having to fight procrastination constantly?
That’s what’s on offer if you can develop strong learning habits.
Learn At The Same Time Every Day
The easiest way to turn learning into a habit is to do it regularly and at the same time every day or week.
If your learning schedule is unpredictable, you’ll miss days and skip learning sessions.
But by reading or studying at the same time each day, you can guarantee yourself some learning time no matter how busy your schedule gets.
Personally, I like to do my learning first thing in the morning because it's when I’m most alert and it means that my learning is never affected by changes in my daily schedule.
Use Learning Materials You Enjoy
If you’re using a boring, theory-heavy book or other uninspiring materials, you’re probably not going to be very motivated to learn are you?
To avoid procrastination you need to build excitement about learning and a great way to do this is to use resources that make you want to practice.
Before you start, it’s worth taking a little bit of time to find resources that are high-quality and that you really like.
- Books with a writing style that captures you
- Well produced videos that explain concepts graphically
- Audio lectures you can listen to on the go
At the end of the day, any resource is only as good as the time you spend using it!
You can have the greatest book or app in the world, but if you never use it you won’t learn anything.
Find something that motivates you to practice and you’re much less likely to procrastinate.
Just Get Started!
No matter how small or insignificant, just do something to take the first step and get started.
It could be something as simple as opening a book from where you left off or taking out a pen so you’re ready to make notes.
Just get started, take the first step and you'll be surprised how much easier the second step becomes.
It's Time To Tackle Procrastination Head On!
So there you have it! You now know how to stop procrastinating and have armed yourself with 13 quick tools to get started.
Remember, procrastination isn't something you remove from your life in one fell swoop...
It's something you develop an ability to overcome by consistently using tricks like the ones in this article over a long period of time.
At first, you might find it difficult to tackle your procrastination. But with practice you'll get better at it.
You'll also learn to identify cues that trigger your procrastination and be able to cut it out at the source.
So what are you waiting for? Let's get learning!
Resources Related To This Article
The Anti-Tourist Club
The Anti-Tourist Club is a training and support centre for curious adventurers who want to do travel differently.
It is where anti-tourists like you and I come together with a common mission:
To put learning at the heart of our adventures and unlock the kinds of meaningful travel experiences most tourists never have.
The War Of Art
The War of Art is a little book of tough love that will motivate you to overcome "resistance" (or procrastination) in your learning and your work. I'm not a fan of the more religiously-themed second half of the book - it's not necessary or relevant to bring religion into the equation! But the non-religious first section of the book is one of most helpful things you'll ever read.
Tomato Timer is a free online tool you can use to apply the Pomodoro Technique and stop procrastinating. A standard Pomodoro block is 25 minutes, but you can also run 5 minute breaks between Pomodoroes when you need a rest. At the end of a block the timer will beep to notify you. It's simple to use, but this little tool will soon become an important part of your learning.
What are your 3 big takeaways from this article? Leave a comment below and let me know!