Whether it’s binge-watching your favorite TV show or scrolling through your socials, chances are, you’ve procrastinated. It can be a difficult habit to break, but it’s not impossible. And learning how to stop procrastinating can help you take control of your time and tasks.
In fact, Nir Eyal knows a thing or two about the matter. As he explains in his bestselling book, Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life, “Most people don’t want to acknowledge the uncomfortable truth that distraction is always an unhealthy escape from reality.”
As a renowned expert on behavioral design and trainer of Mindvalley’s Be Focused and Indistractable Quest, he has valuable insights on how you can break the cycle and get things done.
Staying up late Netflix-ing or going down the rabbit hole of cat videos can be entertaining. However, as with any bad habit, giving in to distractions can have some unfortunate consequences for your productivity and well-being.
What Does Science Say About Procrastination?
We all put off tasks—that’s the reality of life. So much so that according to research, 20% of Americans are chronic procrastinators, meaning they put off doing things at home, work, school, and in relationships. Another study found that 88% of people procrastinate for at least one hour a day.
It begs the question: why? Science suggests that procrastination is due to how we manage our mood.
Think about it this way: if you’re assigned a task that you don’t really like, don’t find interesting, or that you feel you’re not really good at, you’re more likely to put it off until the last minute. And when you dodge an unpleasant task, you also dodge the negative emotions that come along with it.
“Anything that stops discomfort is potentially addictive,” explains Nir. So when you procrastinate, your brain can feel good because it releases a chemical called dopamine, which makes you feel rewarded. This may make you want to drag your feet even more. Also, when you’re afraid of failing or lack confidence, you’ll more than likely avoid difficult tasks and do things that are more enjoyable instead.
In today’s world, if you delay doing things you need to do, it can make it hard to be successful and can even add to your stress levels. However, according to Nir, if you know the drivers of your behavior, you can take steps to manage them and learn how to focus.
Nir Eyal’s Tips on How to Stop Procrastinating
Procrastination can be a major obstacle to success, but it’s not an insurmountable one. Being an expert on habit formation, Nir has some great tips on how to stop procrastinating so you can make progress toward your goals and be, what he calls, “indistractable.”
Work can be particularly challenging. If you work at the office, you’re at the beck and call of your coworkers, meetings, phone calls, and intraoffice messages. And if you work from home, the pile of laundry, your children, and your cat are begging for your attention.
In these cases, it can be helpful to break down the tasks into smaller, more manageable steps. Nir suggests time blocking, one of the main habits of highly productive people.
It’s a relatively easy concept: block a time and dedicate it to accomplishing one specific task. For example, you block off 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. to write and reply to emails. Then, that’s the only thing you do in that block of time. No chatting with coworkers, no social media, no meetings…
As you learn how to stop procrastinating at work and develop good habits around time management, it can make daily tasks less daunting. As a result, it can help you make progress toward completion.
Nir Eyal’s insight: “It doesn’t matter what you do with your time; rather, success is measured by whether you did what you planned to do.”
We’ve all been there: pulling an all-nighter for your big paper, struggling to focus on homework, or series-binging instead of writing your college essay. Procrastination is not your best friend here.
Even research shows that 75% of college students consider themselves habitual procrastinators. Furthermore, almost half of them consider this habit a real and persistent problem—one they’d like to tackle.
If you feel you’re part of this majority, it’s possible to learn how to stop procrastinating on your homework. One suggestion Nir provides in his book is to reward yourself.
Break down your homework into smaller tasks. For example, if you have to write a paper, break it down into an introduction, the first body paragraph, the second body paragraph, and all the way to the conclusion.
Then, once you’ve completed a section, give yourself a small reward as a way to stay motivated and focused on the next task.
Nir Eyal’s insight: “Being indistractable means striving to do what you say you will do. Indistractable people are as honest with themselves as they are with others. If you care about your work, your family, and your physical and mental well-being, you must learn how to become indistractable.”
With your health
Procrastination is typically associated with work, school, or tasks in your daily routine. However, you can also delay improving your health.
Yes, your well-being begins with your mindset. But, as Nir explains, “instructing people to deal with their problems by only changing what’s in their heads precludes us from changing the world around us.” It takes more than just meditating; sometimes you need to stand up and change things.
Change how and what you eat. Change how often you move. And change your lifestyle.
One example of how you can implement changes is by doing low-intensity aerobic exercises like yoga, which have been shown to help with productivity and brain function. In fact, in one study, the participants reported a 72% improvement in time management and workload completion when they exercised on a workday.
Nir Eyal’s insight: “Schedule time for yourself first. You are at the center of the three life domains [you, relationships, and work]. By not allocating time for yourself, the other two domains suffer.”
How to Stop Procrastinating Right Now and Forever
The real reason we’re not living the kind of life that we know we deserve is that we keep getting in our own way. We keep getting distracted.— Nir Eyal, trainer of Mindvalley’s Becoming Focused and Indistractable Quest
Whether it’s spending quality time with your family, being more productive at work, having optimal health for longevity, or whatever area of your life you want to improve, it all requires focus on your part. It requires being “indistractable.”
In order to do so, there are four keys to indistractable focus. Let’s explore deeper so you’re able to easily get in the flow.
1. Identify your triggers
Most people think that the opposite of distraction is focus. But according to Nir, the opposite of distraction is traction.
The source of both words—traction and distraction—comes from the same Latin root, which means “to pull.” And both words end in the same six letters that spell “action.”
So traction is any action that pulls you towards what you want to do, while distraction is any action that pulls you away from what you plan to do. And with this understanding, it becomes clear that anything can be a traction or a distraction; it all depends on what you want to achieve.
Most people believe that motivation is about the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain (what Sigmund Freud called “the pleasure principle”), but it turns out this isn’t actually true. What’s happening inside our brains is not the desire to pursue pleasure and avoid pain but rather the desire to escape discomfort.
So what causes discomfort? Your internal and external triggers:
- Internal triggers come from within you. They prompt worry, stress, fatigue, and uncertainty. These are uncomfortable sensations in your body or feelings that cause you to look for a distraction. When that happens, your mind wanders, your attention wanes, and your focus is all over the place.
- External triggers are all about the pings, the dings, the rings—anything in your outside environment. This could be your phone, your computer, or your kids—any of these can either pull you away from or towards your task.
Having those unpleasant feelings of discomfort is completely natural. What’s important to understand is that they happen outside of your control.
2. Master your triggers
You have only two potential choices when it comes to triggers:
- Change the source of the discomfort (if you can). For instance, if noise becomes the source of your discomfort, go to a quieter place.
- If you can’t change it, then learn how to cope with that discomfort healthily.
“We can cope with uncomfortable internal triggers by reflecting on, rather than reacting to, our discomfort,” Nir explains. Reimagine the task by looking for the fun in it, and, most importantly, “we can change the way we see ourselves to get rid of self-limiting beliefs.”
This means dealing with that discomfort in a way that doesn’t cause you to procrastinate.
And the next point is one of the most effective ways to do this.
3. The 10-minute rule
When you want to focus on the task at hand but get tempted by a distraction, tell yourself, “I can give in to that distraction in just 10 minutes. Just 10 minutes.” It’s a tip to trick your brain when you get that procrastination itch.
While you might think that completely restraining yourself is better, it can actually backfire on you. When you limit yourself with a “hard no,” it’s like pulling on a rubber band; eventually, it’ll snap and come back on you hard.
That’s why the “10-minute rule” has been shown to be much more effective. (It is a high-performance habit, after all.)
For Nir, when he finds himself wanting to check his phone when there’s nothing better to do, he tells himself it’s fine to do so, but not immediately. Instead, he gives himself a wait time of 10 minutes.
“This technique is effective at helping me deal with all sorts of potential distractions,” he says, “like googling something rather than writing, eating something unhealthy when I’m bored, or watching another episode on Netflix when I’m ‘too tired to go to bed.’”
When you feel that temptation or that itch, set a timer for 10 minutes. You may just realize that sensations are impermanent in nature—they come and go in waves, and if you can just ride them, you’ll get to the other side.
4. Make time for your distractions
As mentioned, block time for everything. Whether it’s eating breakfast, watching Netflix, playing video games, painting, or whatever—schedule it in. What used to be a distraction is now traction, which you can enjoy guilt-free.
It’s such a useful technique that one study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology found that there’s a higher rate of completion when an intention is planned. The results showed that only 34% of the participants performed 20 minutes of exercise when the intention wasn’t set into a plan. However, when the intention to exercise was planned, the rate increased to 91%.
So, as Nir suggests, for you to truly live your values in each of the three life domains (you, relationships, and work), you should reserve time in your schedules to do so. “Only by setting aside a specific time in our schedules for traction can we turn our backs on distraction,” he says.
Because without planning ahead, it’s difficult to tell the difference between traction and distraction.
Get Things Done, Indistractably
Procrastination can be a real productivity killer, but it doesn’t have to be the thing that holds you back from achieving your goals and living the life you want. The key to “killing” the horrid habit? Become “indistractable.”
To be “indistractible” means you know what you want, you know what you need to focus on, and nothing can pull you away from that.— Vishen, founder of Mindvalley
You can learn how to stop procrastinating and, instead, reclaim your attention with Nir Eyal in his Becoming Focused and Indistractable Quest on Mindvalley. When you sign up for a free account, you’ll be able to sample the first few lessons of Nir’s practical and realistic approach to balancing the distractions of modern life with your well-being.
Remember, you have the power to become indistractable. And with it, you’ll have the ability to awaken your greatness.