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Having a hard time starting or returning to a project? Don’t worry – it’s not a reflection of your ability to manage time or be productive. In fact, recent research shows that procrastination results from how the brain processes and responds to emotion rather than laziness.  

 

According to a study conducted by researchers at Ruhr University Bochum, the urge to procrastinate is triggered by the relationship between two regions in the brain: the amygdala, which is responsible for processing emotions, and the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, which determines what we should do next. If we become overwhelmed by emotions such as anxiety, it’s simply much more difficult to take the next step. Of course, if we aren’t making progress on our projects, it’s easy for anxiety to build, creating a cycle of chronic procrastination.  

 

  1. Break tasks down into smaller steps
    So how can you break free of anxiety and stop procrastinating? Science says that you should start by making a plan with clear, actionable steps. Breaking down a larger project in to clear actionable steps helps relieve the cognitive pressure to determine the next step when you may already be feeling overwhelmed. 

  2. Give your tasks more context 
    Using tags is an easy way to add more context and keep your plan clear and organized. Tags are particularly helpful in larger, more complex projects that might require input from others. Let’s say you’re working on a proposal and need to include some slides from another department. As you wait for your colleagues to prepare the slides, you may feel stalled on the rest of the proposal. Rather than allowing the wait to become a blocker, just add #waiting to the task and move on to the next. Tags also allow you to find tasks and steps across multiple lists. When it’s time to follow-up, just click or tap on #waiting see a list of everything with that tag. 
     
    ProcrastinationAsset.pngUse steps to break down large tasks
  3. Work to your schedule 
    If you notice that you’re more productive at certain times of the day, try to schedule focus time then and use reminders to help you stay on schedule. We also recommend taking regular breaks. After 20 minutes of focus time, schedule a reminder to take at least a 5 minute break to stand up from your desk and get some fresh air. 
  4. Stay on track with an accountability buddy 
    Enlisting the help of an accountability buddy can also help you stay on track. Studies show that sharing a written commitment of what you’d like to accomplish means that you’re significantly more likely to follow through. Share your list with a friend and you can both add the tasks you each need to complete. Take the commitment level up a notch by assigning them to yourselves. You can help motivate each other by celebrating each and every ding together.  

  5. Focus on one thing at a time 
    Try to minimize distractions. An open browser tab or sudden notification can easily turn in to time spent scrolling rather than doing. Set yourself to do not disturb and close those tabs. Add your tasks to My Day to create a focused list of what you need to accomplish. If you’re on Mac, you can use Stay in Front to stay focused. Just set your Window to Stay in Front and double-click on a task in minimized view (2) to keep your action plan of next steps in view.  
    stay in front assigning.gifUse Stay in Front to stay focused
  6. Don’t be too hard on yourself 
    Finally, try to exercise self-compassion. If you’ve suffered from procrastination in the past, forgive yourself. Holding on to those negative emotions can re-trigger the cycle of procrastination. If releasing feelings of anxiety or guilt is difficult for you, try mindfulness meditation. It’s shown to decrease the size of the amygdala which makes processing those overwhelming emotions easier.  

 

With these six steps we think you’ll tackle your tasks in no time. Got any other tips for conquering procrastination? Let us know in the comments below or over on Twitter or Facebook