Working Smarter, Not Just Harder

==> Go back to How to Get a Strong Work Ethic

Now that we’ve discussed the different definitions and meanings of ‘hard work’ and ‘work ethic,’ we get down to the question of how to improve our ability to work. In the end, it comes down not only to being able to work hard, but also to work smart.

To work smart means to get more done with less energy. This means we increase our productivity, or the output to input ratio. Someone who can get more output with a certain level of input can get more done overall, feel better about it, and maybe even enjoy a life outside of working all the time.

We could, of course, just put more straight effort into everything we do. And this will have beneficial effects. However, the effects may not be optimal or efficient. We may be working really hard at something that doesn’t produce that many results, and a little smart tweak could potentially make the work easier and more productive. We may find virtue in working really hard on something, but there’s no virtue or nobility in the idea of working hard at something in an inefficient or suboptimal way.

Thus, we need to figure out how to work smart, not hard, though of course this is not an excuse to be lazy. I don’t want to make this a battle of smart work vs. hard work, as both are necessary ingredients for success. The best aspect of working smart is that you’ll be more motivated as you will understand and be able to measure how well your efforts are rewarding you with success and products.

How to Work Smart and Work Hard

In the final analysis, we may need to change the definition of ‘hard work.’ We constantly think about it as the process itself, as the (negative) emotions we feel when doing it and the willpower that is needed in order to motivate ourselves to doing it. Maybe instead we should call ‘working hard’ those activities that are most effective, optimal, and productive, even if they may seem ‘easier’ on the surface. We could even say that getting rest and recuperation is an important ingredient of working hard! (More on this idea in a minute.)

These following ideas will allow us to make sure we’re working at an optimal and efficient level. Note that we can never work perfectly – there will always be inefficiencies – but at least we can try our best to optimize our efforts and get the biggest bang for our proverbial buck.

  1. Always focus on outcome, not simply appearances. In the end, we all want to be effective, not ‘efficient’ for efficiency’s sake, or neat for neatness’s sake, or whatever. What matters in the end is actually being productive, so focus on the activities that will lead you to success.
  2. Don’t only focus on productivity – focus on what’s valuable. Sure, perhaps you could do a project really quickly and effectively, but it’s often better not to do it at all if it provides no value for you. Be ruthless here – you can often go back and do the project if you need, but it’s impossible to go back and “undo” the project and regain the time you lost.
  3. Make a good plan. Really analyze what needs to be done, and the steps that need to be completed in order to finish a task. Focus on the essentials. Investing this ‘non-productive’ time may actually make you fantastically more productive when it comes time to actually do the work.
  4. Don’t work for appearance’s sake when it comes to impressing others or getting sympathy for others. There’s absolutely no point to staying late at the office if it will yield you no benefits. It will usually be better to go home and get rest so that you can be at your top performance level the next day. The fresher you are, the better you’ll perform.
  5. Learn about and understand the Pareto principle. This idea states that approximately 20% of the activities we do will lead to 80% of the benefits. To put it more simply, there are certain activities and actions we do that contribute the most to our success; other activities may be important, but they are secondary to these main contenders. Thus, we need to focus on those 20% activities that will lead us to success. Highlight the tasks in your work and personal life that give you the biggest benefit, and then focus on them.
  6. Make sure you’re organized. If you have to struggle to find what you need or wade through the garbage in your office, room, or desk, you are being terribly inefficient, as you are spending resources trying to navigate your environment. Make sure your space is clean and organized so that you can move from task to task and goal to goal efficiently.
  7. Don’t try to be perfect – avoid perfectionism. Nothing will ever meet these impossible standards, so being a slave to them will do nothing but allow you to beat your head against the wall. Work smart, not just hard!
  8. Block your time so that you’re focusing on one task at one time, then moving on after completing the task (or at least hitting a milestone). Multitasking, as we’ve discussed elsewhere in this book, is the bane of our existence! The worst part about it is that it seems productive, even more productive, than simply focusing. Unfortunately, scientific studies have shown that this couldn’t be further from the truth.
  9. Block out your day in advance as much as you can. Anticipate the times of the day when you’ll have to do required activities and try to make your workflow as efficient as possible. Those who get the most done are the ones who are able to slot in little work sessions in even the smallest section of the day.
  10. Make sure you have the right tools and equipment for the job. Doing things the “old fashioned way” may look like you’re working hard on the surface, but instead you’ll just be wasting time and energy. Use the right tools for the job in order to take the “shortcuts” that will make you get more done with less energy.
  11. Give yourself a break! Make sure to take breaks throughout the day to account for the natural ebb and flow of your attention and energy. The more you understand your ‘natural’ work process, the more efficient and productive you’ll be through the day. Sometimes truly working hard is not about “bearing it” but about doing things the ‘smart’ way, even if others may see it as slacking or have a weak work ethic. When you blow them away in terms of results, then they’ll see.
  12. Be adaptable. If something isn’t working, change it! There’s no sense steering your ship into the shore if you can manage avoiding a disaster. Sometimes changing your plan during the middle of the process can help you avoid many problems and can increase your overall efficiency.
  13. Get help! Sometimes people will do things better, faster, and cheaper than you. Don’t be afraid to delegate, as this is one of the best ways to work smarter. You can then focus your time on your high value tasks and not have to waste it being stuck in the trenches.
  14. If you have a team, make sure all the components of the project are worked on in harmony. Managing these parallel processes can be complex, but there’s nothing more important. Watch out for the bottlenecks and the ‘limiting reagents’ that will keep back the entire project. Try to minimize their impact and increase the efficiency of the project as a whole.
  15. Don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ to avoid tasks that will yield you no positive benefits. Much of what we think we “have” to do is of course not mandatory at all – you may be surprised at what you can cut out of your life without measurably harming it or others. Many people just generate all kinds of busy work and time wasting without stepping back and calling it what it is: junk. Of course, sometimes these tasks will be unavoidable, and it’s a really great thing to help out other people in need. Still, be smart about your selection and your efforts – you can help more people in the end if you are productive and efficient than if you are scattered and out of focus.
  16. Don’t get bogged down in the details, but make sure to take care of them. There is nothing efficient about skipping or slacking on the critical aspects of the job, only to have to return to them later to fix the big mess that was created. Get the job done right the first time.
  17. Figure out your own habits that will lead to increased productivity. For instance, do you work better at a particular time of day? If so, focus your biggest tasks then. Do you find yourself working better in certain places than in others? Focus on getting yourself into the better environments. This isn’t rocket science, obviously – listen to your intuition and trust your judgments. More often than not, you’ll be happily correct.

Don’t Forget to “Work Hard, Play Hard” Too!

We can’t forget, finally, that life isn’t all about hard work, despite what our work ethics might tell us. Life is about fun, recreation, and recuperation as well. In addition, you will be able to work both smarter and harder if you take a rest; working too hard can lead you total burn out, which will absolutely ravage your ability to actually accomplish something. Slow and steady wins the race – don’t burn out your abilities!

Thus, don’t forget to work hard, play harder – enjoy your time off when you’ve earned it. There’s no reason to feel guilty about not working when you’ve actually done something to earn that pleasure.

==> Go to Chapter 7: What is Time Management?

How to Get a Strong Work Ethic

==> Go back to What is Hard Work?

One of the biggest compliments you can give and receive is to be associated with having an excellent work ethic. But what does it really mean to have a good work ethic? We can know its definition, just like with procrastination, hard work, and time management, but what does it truly mean, i.e. what is its significance in our lives? This section of the chapter on “hard work” will discuss the concept of work ethic, how it goes hand in hand yet also differs from ‘hard work,’ and how we can develop good work ethics in our day to day lives.

The Definition and Meaning of Work Ethic

What is work ethic? We’ve asked this question other times for other concepts around hard work and procrastination, so we must also ask this for work ethic, and in the process find out both its “definition” and its “meaning.” Most people think work ethic means that you’re a hard worker, and while this is true, it’s focusing too much on the first half of the phrase, “work.” What about the second half, “ethic?” In what sense is there a concept of ‘work ethics’ or the ‘ethics of work’ that we can understand and apply to our own lives? If you look in the dictionary, you will find that work ethics is defined as “the principle that hard work is intrinsically virtuous or worthy of reward.” This is an interesting definition, as it emphasizes that work is ‘good’ in the sense that it provides either intrinsic or extrinsic rewards. Having a good ‘work ethic’ thus doesn’t necessarily mean that you work hard in itself, but that you believe (and your behavior reflects) the notion that hard work is good in itself as well as in the products that it can help create. Where does this idea come from?

The Source – The Protestant Work Ethic

While the concept of ‘hard work’ and ‘work ethic’ is quite general and universal, most people associate its rise in importance with the rise of the so-called “Protestant work ethic.” This was the religiously rooted belief (especially through the Calvinists) that hard work, and the success in this world that came with it, was a sign of a person’s salvation. Thus, it was ‘required’ in a sense to work hard, because otherwise being lazy would be a sign that you weren’t one of God’s chosen or someone who would be saved.

Even if you are not Christian or religious at all, you have still felt some of the effects of this philosophy in the way our society holds up a strong work ethic as something to be praised and valued. While most people today don’t believe that you will go to Hell if you don’t work hard, we still believe deep down that hard work is good for our body, our mind, our soul, and our society.

Of course, as we discussed in the section on the concept of ‘hard work,’ sometimes this obsession with work ethic can go way too far. We work ourselves so hard that we hurt our bodies, our minds, our souls, and our relationships. Thus, an important component of a good work ethic is the ability to stay in balance – to dedicate ourselves to a cause and a project, yes, but also to remain in balance and be able to sustain such effort. And in the end, we work hard because we want to enjoy life, so letting work dominate our lives in such a way that it harms the quality of our life significantly is going against the principle reason why we want to work so hard in the first place.

Thus, the concept of “work ethic” means not just what it produces but also what it reflects about our own character; it’s our position statement with respect to what we believe our efficacy is in the world. We look up to those who work hard not simply because they are successful but because they are in some way inherently noble and good. Tales of amazing work ethics abound; there are plenty of work ethic examples out there if you look in nearly every human endeavor. From business to sports, academia to industry, to hobbies of every shape and size and all human pursuits, we praise people and seek to emulate those examples of people who work hard and grow in their chosen domains and as people.

Note that other cultures too have their own versions of work ethics, so I don’t mean this just to be about one culture or about one religion. The point is to see that our beliefs about hard work are embedded in our culture in significant ways, and that avoiding them can be difficult even for the nonreligious.

Does Work Ethic Matter?

In general, having good work ethics should translate into personal and professional success. Companies are always looking for people who work hard (but work healthfully, too). However, in some situations it may seem that working hard and having a good work ethic isn’t really worth it for the worker. This is a sad situation and should be avoided, both by the worker and the company or organization that is creating such an environment. In a perfect world, people should be rewarded in proportion to the value they create and how hard they work, but unfortunately it doesn’t always work like that in practice. Still, this is no reason then to throw up our hands and slack off at everything. On average, working hard will lead to better outcomes in our lives, so we should try our best to do it.

Note as well that work ethic goes hand in hand with other qualities – that is, that are certain work ethic characteristics and values that go along with someone who works hard. These qualities may be valuable and noble in and of themselves. These values include punctuality, cooperation, persistence, integrity, creativity, responsibility, and more. By strengthening our work ethic, we can develop other qualities and values that others will admire and respect and that will help us succeed in all domains of living.

How to Improve Your Work Ethic

If you believe that you are lacking in this area, don’t worry: there are some tips, tricks, strategies, and methods to help develop a hard work ethic. In the end, as with almost all human behavior, it comes down to habits: learn how to control your automatic behavior and you’ll be able to change nearly any aspect of your life. Thus, learning how to change your habits won’t happen in a day or even a week; however, once they are learned, they will stick with you!

  1. Make sure you’ve got your time management and procrastination issues worked out. Obviously these go hand in hand with a solid work ethic, so if you need help in these areas, check the other chapters of this book that deal with them! Some of the concepts in those articles will be repeated here, but there will be techniques and tips that only be found there, so make sure you check out those chapters.
  2. For instance, you’ll want to be on-time or early to work and other places where you want to be productive. If you run around like a mad person, you won’t be able to get situated and focused. Being scatterbrained and multitasking won’t be conducive to a truly good work ethic, even though it may give the illusion of one.
  3. Work on your communication skills. To work hard you will also have to work well with others. This also means that you should be positive and constructive with people, especially when offering criticism. The goal is to increase the capacity of everyone, no matter their position or abilities.
  4. Be professional and put off a good, positive attitude. Not only will this help your interactions with other people, but it will help you to keep in a positive and productive frame of mind. Negativity and doubt is a sure productivity killer, so reframe your mind to look for possibility rather than negativity.
  5. Don’t just worry about yourself – help others out too! Having a good work ethic not only means respecting your own capacity for work, but also helping others when they need it and when it would raise the efficiency of the group. Be a ‘team player,’ not just a ‘me first’ player.
  6. Don’t wait to be told what to do – be proactive, not just reactive. Take initiate on projects and try to anticipate potential problems and setbacks.
  7. Structure your environment to improve your work ethic. Surround yourself with great work ethic quotes. Put up pictures or other things to remind you of your values. Play music, set up your desk, avoid distractions…do whatever it takes!
  8. Put down your tasks on paper. You need to be able to get everything out of your head and onto a visual medium, so get used to writing down your short, medium, and long term projects and goals. Then break them down and tackle each piece one by one.
  9. Believe in yourself! This goes with having a positive attitude, but you need to have an external locus of control. This means that you have to believe that working hard can actually make a difference in your life and in society. Sometimes it doesn’t always work, but it’s certainly better than giving up and not trying at all.
  10. Focus on quantity, yes, but not at the sacrifice of quality. Take pride in your work – don’t just do things quickly to “get them done.” At the same time, don’t get sucked into the perfectionism habit. Nothing will ever be perfect, so it’s an insane attempt to even try it. And in general…
  11. Avoid the illusion of productivity. Don’t try to show off to colleagues or impress the boss with empty actions and words. Truly be productive; this will be more valuable and effective in the long run.
  12. Don’t be flaky – if you have a deadline, meet it. If you have a meeting, don’t be late or skip it unless there’s a true emergency. Dependability is another virtue of a strong work ethic, so cultivate it and guard your reputation.
  13. Keep at it. As stated above, everything we do is habitual. It takes time to break an old habit and form a new one, so monitor your progress and keep going until you succeed.
  14. Rest and recuperate. A good work ethic doesn’t mean “working constantly until you burn out or die.” A good work ethic means that you can sustain it for an indefinite period of time, i.e. your entire life. This means taking time to smell the roses, enjoy your family and friends, enjoy hobbies, and just enjoy life.

The Four Keys of an Awesome Work Ethic

If I had to sum up work ethic in four phrases, they would be:

  1. Do it now
  2. Do it right
  3. Keep doing it
  4. Finish it

Follow these and the keys to the kingdom are yours.

Now let’s learn about more about not only how to work harder, but also to work smarter.

==> Go to Working Harder, Not Just Smarter

Chapter 6: What is Hard Work?

==>Go back to How to Be More Productive and Increase Productivity

One topic that I’m quite interested in is the notion of ‘hard work.’ It’s a phrase, along with its relatives and synonyms (working hard, hardworker, hard day’s work, etc.) that is quite common to hear in everyday parlance. At least in the United States, if not the Western world, hard work is seen by many as a critical ingredient for success. We do hard work simply because we believe that “hard work pays off,” and this is certainly true in the correlative sense, i.e. hard work correlates with success. But does it guarantee it?

In this miniature essay on hard work, I’m going to ruminate a bit on the concept of hard work – where it comes from, why we value it so much, and how valuable it really is. I hope this essay is of value to any hard working person or hard working student out there as a way to open up a conversation about a topic that seemingly goes unchallenged or undiscussed.

Where Does Hard Work Come From

As I’ll discuss more in the next section on “work ethic,” in general we associate the concept of working hard (especially for its own sake) to the Protestant work ethic. Work, through this worldview, became a good, or an end, in itself. The actual outcome of the work didn’t matter so much as the work itself, and what that work said about the person who was doing it. So began our own beliefs in the value of hardwork, values which still affect much of our thinking on the topic today.

But Hard Work Pays Off…Right?

We extol the virtues of the ‘hard working’ employee or business owner, and this label of ‘hard working’ is almost a badge of honor for many people. How many hours you put in a week, or how rarely you take a vacation, is something to be proud of for many people, as it’s a sign of their ‘productivity’ and ‘ambition’ (or so they think).

Much of the time, this love of hard work is harmless or even beneficial, as it’s the foundation of much of the society, culture, and economy we enjoy. Unfortunately, some times this respect for hard work just goes too far. In fact, there are cases of super hard working people actually working themselves to death. This takes the saying of “hard work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” into “hard work and no play makes Jack a dead boy.”

Thus, we need to put some skepticism forward here. Given the religious and cultural origins of the concept of ‘hard work,’ and given the dubious benefits associated with working hard for its own sake, we need to question the concept. Is it really true that ‘hard work’ is what we should all aspire to? What’s the limit? Is working yourself to death something to be proud of? What about happiness in this life?

Of course, hardwork is definitely important, and it’s critical to success in almost any fear of endeavor, but we can’t make hard work an end in itself. This is what we’ve been doing for the past few centuries, all starting with the Protestant work ethic. We have to remember that hard work is a means towards an end, and it’s that end that we must keep in sight at all times.

This whole question is made more complicated by the observation that hard work in itself is not sufficient for success. There are plenty of hardworking men and women out there who are busting their butts but finding little to no reward that’s commensurate for their efforts. Thus, there are other factors surely involved, such as luck, what kind of work is being done, and other factors that may lie out of the person’s control. Thus, sometimes we can’t even evaluate the worth of hard work by its material or life outcomes. If we don’t meet our goals despite all the hard work, does that mean the hard work was pointless?

Now, to the crux of the question: So when is hard work good, and when is hard work ‘less good’? When is hard work constructive, and when is it destructive? I believe the answer is this: hard work has to be meaningful, both on a small scale (what kind of work are you doing and what kind of value does it provide) and in the longer term (towards what long term goal is this hard work aiming for?).

So What is Meaningful Hard Work, Then?

Still, this isn’t to say that hard work that you “don’t want to do” is meaningless. And it’s also not to say that you have to be constantly working either. Sometimes it’s good to be “hardly working” instead of hard working, as we do need to take rests and recuperate in order to achieve maximum efficiency. But the key, again, is to make sure that we don’t make putting in long hours and lots of effort as an end in itself. We put in that time and that energy because we are working towards something, not simply working.

The key part to hard work’s meaning is the conjunction of “hard work and dedication.” In the final analysis, truly valuable hard work is all about dedicating yourself to some end goal that the hard work is in service of. It’s pointing yourself towards some meaningful goal – and that, in the end, is what makes hard work meaningful. We barely notice that we are hard at work when we are in flow, when we are fully engaged in something that we believe in and value. This is the key to happiness in many ways, given that so many people feel and experience only misery in their work lives.

Put it this way – picking up a heavy rock, carrying it up a hill, and then rolling it back down to repeat the process 100 times in a day – that’s surely unbelieveably “hard work” in the sense of energy and effort expenditure. But in what sense is it meaningful? How could we say that this hard work would be the ‘key to success’ in any way? And yet we do something similar in much of our lives. We are ‘working hard’ but in reality performing no work at all, because the work is busy work, or it’s pointless, or its needlessly inefficient, or something of that sort.

The Value of Hard Work

Even though I’ve slammed the concept of ‘hard work’ a bit in this article, I do want to stress that I believe the importance of hard work can hardly be overstated. I truly do believe that hard work beats talent any day of the week. Many other scientists and investigators and researchers not only believe this, but they have showed it. For instance, take the ’10,000’ hour rule, which states that all masters or experts in some field of study have put in at least 10,000 hours in it before they reach this master stage. I truly believe that hardwork beats talent simply because there’s not really something called ‘talent’ that exists. Sure, perhaps we have certain inclinations or slight head start advantages. But in the end, the human brain and body is so adaptable that anyone, with the right practice and procedures, can do anything at a very high level. Granted, perhaps not everyone can become world masters, but certainly anyone can be in the top 1% of any activity if they put their work and time in. The key is – few people will actually go out and do this.

How Can I Work Harder Then?

Now, what you may be thinking is, “This sounds great, but how can I improve my work habits?” Many people believe or think that they have a fear of hard work, but I believe that such a belief is false in the vast majority of cases. As we’ll see, one of the main reasons people don’t work hard is because they don’t see the point to it – it’s not meaningful. So don’t worry, we’ll talk more about this – we’re getting there! First, let’s take a detour and make a small discussion of the topic of ‘work ethic.’ Then we can finally start discussing the ways we can all not just work harder, but also work smarter.

==> Go to How to Get a Strong Work Ethic

How to Be More Productive and Increase Productivity

==> Go back to What is Productivity?

Now that we’ve determined our own individual measures of productivity, it’s time to figure out how to be more productive and, ultimately, happier and more successful. (That’s really what this is all about, isn’t it?) Note that much of what we say here will also mesh well with other discussions we’ve had in this webbook, most notably those discussions on how to eliminate procrastination and how to overcome laziness. Thus, you may want to consult those chapters too if you haven’t already!

Once that’s done, we can then implement these following tips, techniques, tricks, and strategies for our own productivity improvement. Don’t try to implement them all at once. Instead, it’ll be better to hit one at a time – really make sure it sticks and becomes a new habit. Once that’s done, move on to the next tip. If you implement most of these tips on this page, you’ll be come a factory, a machine!

One thing before we dive into these general tips: there will be some aspects of your activity that you will be doing that can be improved to help you increase productivity. However, those improvements will be limited to that particular activity and your particular habits; thus, you’ll have to discover and experiment for yourself on how to find these little tricks, as there’s no way I can give you every single possible way to improve productivity in all possible activities in existence!

How to Be Productive While Staying Sane and Healthy

  1. The first step is preparation. If you don’t have a plan for the day, week, or even year, you will not know where you’re going. This of course builds into the first step of this process – finding out what productivity means for you – but it’s also important for measuring and monitoring your progress to your goals. Make sure you have goals, and make sure you break down these goals into manageable, digestible parts. Then you will be able to figure out where you are, where you are going, and presumably how long (and how much effort) it takes to get you through each step.
  2. As stated above, think creatively about the work you are doing, and try to come up with ways to ‘work smarter’ instead of simply harder. I can’t give you much more specific advice than this, because who knows what you, specifically you, are trying to do, but you can get some of your best productivity improvements if you focus on the activity itself and the places where you can clean up your efficiency.
  3. Learn your rhythms, i.e. the times of the day (or night) where you have the most energy. For some people, this is the morning – they are early birds. Others get huge bursts of energy at night – a.k.a. night owls. Whatever your habits, figure them out and leverage them as much as possible. Funnel your most important work into the times of the day when you can get the most done with the smallest energy expenditure and draining of your willpower.
  4. Use sticky notes or other tools to help remind you of your goals and to keep you focused on improving productivity each and every day. Sometimes even the best intentioned of us can let life get in the way, allowing us to fall into the ‘haze’ and forget the goals that we really care about. Thus, use little reminders to help catch a wandering mind.
  5. Don’t get complacent – always look for ways to improve. The method of constant improvements holds that you continually look for even the smallest improvements in your process and your productivity. Even though each change may be small, their cumulative effect will be large.
  6. Realize that you cannot be a perfectionist, nor can you finish each and every task that you have before you to a level that may ‘satisfy’ you completely. Thus, instead focus on priorities – get the most important things done first, not necessarily the most urgent, and make sure you’re making steady progress towards your end goal.
  7. Don’t get stuck in ruts – make sure you adapt as your internal and external situation changes. For instance, if your work environment or colleagues change, allow your productivity and your habits to change (positively) with those tremors. Don’t do the same things just because you’ve always done them, even if they were once productive, because they may not be productive in new circumstances like they used to be in the old context.
  8. Avoid the nasty productivity sucks – for most workers, the main problem is the computer, and in particular the internet. Blogs, Facebook, Youtube, games, general time-wasting sites – the amount of stuff out there that can distract you is near infinite. This is perhaps the most important tip for office workers and, especially, people who work at home who want to be more productive. Thus, you’ll want to avoid web surfing aimlessly during the periods when you should be working. If you can’t control your own habits, you can use little programs and apps that will ‘lock’ the internet, or just certain sites, during particular periods of time. This will force you to avoid those time wasters and focus on working instead.
  9. E-mail is a particular time waster, as are phone calls and text messages. Cut off the Blackberry if you can, as every distraction will cut heavily into your productivity. Every time you have to get yourself refocused on your task, it will take precious minutes and energy to get recentered on your task. Try to get and stay in ‘flow’ as much as possible.
  10. Kill multitasking too. Unfortunately, we all suck at multitasking, even if we may swear that we’re really good at it. Thus, focus on one thing at a time, do it to completion (or at least to a checkpoint or milestone), and move on to the next activity on your to do list.
  11. You may have personal productivity sinks that affect you in the same way as the Internet, such as TV, magazines, reading, video games, daydreaming, or chatting with friends and colleagues. Identify your weaknesses and ruthlessly eliminate them if possible.
  12. If you want to improve your productivity, you may have to take some constructive criticism to heart. In fact, you should seek it out, because the fact is that it’s very hard for you, from your own, personal perspective, to be a 100% unbiased critic of your own habits and actions. Thus, find someone you can trust who will be able to give you advice on what an outside observer thinks would improve your productivity. Obviously, trust your own instincts and don’t change easily according to the whims of someone else, but seriously take their critiques to heart.
  13. Crush bad habits you have. What negative habits and actions hold you back? They don’t just have to be physical – sometimes mental habits, like negative self talk, can severely damage our ability to be productive. In fact, if you want to know how to be more productive, more often than not the answer will lie within you and your mind.
  14. Make sure you are healthy – eat right, exercise, and get enough sleep. Not having enough energy, physically, can put a sever damper on your ability to produce and consume energy.
  15. Take breaks, get your rest, and recuperate and rejuvenate! Going 100% all day, every day will only lead you to burn out. In fact, even when you are rolling along, you may not be operating at your most efficient. It sounds counterintuitive, but taking regular periods of doing nothing but resting can help you be more productive when you return to work and, therefore, more productive overall. In general, short for work periods of 45 minutes to an hour and a half for an optimal work to rest ratio.
  16. Do your most hated tasks first. Conquering these in the first part of the day (also known as ‘eating your frog’) will get the biggest task off your plate and give you the momentum to absolutely plow through the rest of your tasks.
  17. If you have a commute, or other periods of dead time, try to couple them with more productive activities. Of course, don’t compromise your safety, but try to recover as much time throughout the day that you can.
  18. Get help when you need it. Don’t try to do everything yourself – sometimes getting an outside perspective and assistance can be the difference between low and high productivity.
  19. Delegate tasks that you can let others do, especially if they can do it more efficiently. In fact, sometimes the best thing you can do is totally drop tasks completely – if they are unimportant and not urgent, why are you doing them?
  20. Pace yourself – don’t burn yourself out in a rush of activity. You’ll want to maintain your energy and consistency throughout the day, week, and even year – so make sure to take your rests, but not too much rest that you totally atrophy.
  21. What if you’re trying to improve the productivity of not just you but also others, such as people in your team or your employees? The principles of employee productivity are much the same as listed above. Treat them with kindness and understanding, but at the same time hold them to rigorous and fair standards. Apply these tips in your own life first and then find out how best to communicate them to others so that they will understand their power and utility.

Productivity Tools

As a final note, there are many productivity tools out there that can help you get and stay productive. A word of warning, though: sometimes these productivity helpers can actually make things worse, as they themselves can suck up your energy and attention. Make sure that productivity software and other tools stay just that – tools – and that they don’t become the center of the show.

One great tool you can use to increase your productivity is The Action Machine. I’ve recommended this tool in other parts of this book, but that’s just because I believe in it so much. It combines many of the virtues that we discussed above – planning tasks, setting milestones, and focusing on one task for a solid, uninterrupted chunk of time.

There are some other productivity training products out there that can help you learn some other techniques, skills, and methods to hone your personal productivity. The best ones of these products may even be specific to your field or goals – the more specific to what you’re trying to do, the better of course!

==> Go to Chapter 6: What is Hard Work?

Chapter 5: What is Productivity?

==> Go back to Chapter 4: Laziness and How to Stop Being Lazy

It is not easy to give a simple, one line definition of productivity, simply because it means different things in different circumstances. The definition of productivity that you might find in a dictionary is: “the state or quality of producing something.” This is not very helpful, as it reuses the word ‘produce.’ A more interesting definition is “the effectiveness of an effort – related to the rate of output per unit input.”

Of course, this definition is quite abstract, as it can be applied profitably to many different parts of the world. For instance, if you are talking about a factory (industry is often where this word is used), you may talk about the number of units produced per hour by the factory. Or you may talk about how many units each worker puts out. Or you may talk about how many dollars each worker ‘earns’ through his or her labor for the company. As you can see, the measures of productivity can vary widely – and this is just for the example of factory productivity! You can see that this discussion is very complex, as we need to figure out our context, what we’re inputting into the system, and what we’re producing (i.e the output of the system).

Let’s take personal productivity as our next question. Let’s say you want to discuss your own productivity. You may take the input in question as time, energy (calories), units of ‘work,’ dollars, or whatever else you might use as a measure of the amount of effort or work you put into whatever it is you are trying to accomplish. Your output can similarly be described in many different ways. Perhaps it’s in the amount of sales you make, or in the amount of words you write, or in the amount of dollars you earn per day, week, or year. The output you produce depends on the activity you’re doing and your goals for that activity.

As you can see, getting a definition of productivity down on paper that everyone would agree with is next to impossible. The fact of the matter is that we will all have our own definitions of productivity. And it gets even more complicated…

What About the Meaning of Productivity?

Another aspect to this story is the realization that productivity, like procrastination, time management, and laziness, has a definition and a ‘meaning.’ We could give you a dictionary definition, which we did above, but that’s not enough to settle this story. We also need to figure out what productivity means – it’s significance and meaning in our individual lives and in the lives of our communities, countries, and the world.

For instance, we can ask questions like: is productivity good in itself? Is being more productive always a good goal? Or is there a point where one can become ‘too’ productive, in the sense that this productiveness will harm other aspects of our lives and communities?

Measuring Productivity

As we’ve discussed above, attempting to define productivity is hard enough. Add in the fact that it’s often very difficult to even measure productivity in the first place, and you may be ready to get rid of the concept altogether.

Still, there seems to be some value in the concept, because if we don’t have some measure of the ratio between our effort and our production, we will have no way to know if we are becoming more efficient, if we are using our energies optimally, and how we can possibly improve on whatever it is that we’re trying to do. Businesses could never grow in an orderly fashion, countries could never flourish, and people like you and me would never be able to meet their maximum potential.

For the purposes of this webbook, we will simply be discussing productivity in terms of your productivity in life. I know productivity could represent something you’re doing at work, at home, or at play, or somewhere in between, but let’s just agree on this temporary definition: productivity is the ratio between the beneficial outcomes of some activity and the amount of energy, physical, mental, or emotional, that you invest to earn that outcome. You may also want to use time as the input here, but time can be somewhat deceiving, as just because something takes a long time doesn’t mean that you put in a lot of effort, and vice versa. In addition, our reactions to the work we will have to do are based both on how long we perceive the task to be, as well as how much effort we believe we will expend in completing that task.

Thus, we will want that ratio to be as high as possible. This means we want to put in as little effort as possible per unit output. This doesn’t mean we want to slack; on the contrary, we still want to work very hard. But the idea, as we’ll discuss in another chapter of this book, is finding ways to work smarter, not just harder. Ultimately, we’ll get a morale boost and a productivity boost just by knowing that we are doing our work at the peak of our efficiency and optimal performance.

To Conclude This Section…

Thus, before we go into discussing ways to improve your productivity, you need to figure out how you will measure your own levels of productivity. You may have a relatively ‘objective’ measure of productivity like ‘widgets per hour,’ or you may have something else a bit more fluffy, like ‘ideas per week’ or some such productivity measurement. All that matters is this: first, that the measurement actually corresponds to something meaningful to you; and second, that you can measure it accurately enough that you will be able to tell when you productivity has increased and when it has decreased. Once you can do that, you can venture to the next section of this book on how to increase your personal productivity with just a few simple tips and tricks!

==> Go to How to Be More Productive and Increase Productivity

Chapter 4: Laziness and How to Stop Being Lazy

==> Go back to Chapter 3: The Best Procrastination Help Resources

Some people say that we are in a lazy generation, that “kids today” don’t want to work, and that the adults out there aren’t much better. On the other hand, other numbers show that people today are working harder than ever – more hours and fewer vacations. So are we really lazier than we’ve ever been?

I know a slacker or too, as we all probably do, so it may seem like they are more prevalent than they really are. However, we can’t look at one or two cases and make a quick judgment based on those little data points. When it comes down to it, we’re probably not that much lazier than other generations. I’m automatically skeptical of these kind of “golden age” claims, simply because it seems that every generation looks forward to the next one and makes these same complaints. We shouldn’t confuse the way work has changed and the way society’s expectations and patterns have changed with laziness. Sometimes the world changes, and the old standards and ideas about work just don’t keep up.

Nonetheless, sometimes I do feel that there is a bit of merit to the charge leveled against this generation. Today, more than ever before, the lazy person has access to so many distractions – TV, the Internet, video games, and other activities that seem much more alluring than doing work. In addition, many people of this generation do have an ‘entitlement’ or ‘superiority’ complex – they believe they are better than they are, and this surely affects their work habits. Finally, this generation is one of the most affluent in all of history, and nothing breeds laziness more than having enough to eat and plenty of free time.

Whether this generation is lazier than others is beyond the point. People being lazy has been a problem for generations and will always be a problem. The solution that we have to think about is how we can help people to stop being lazy instead of looking around for people to blame. Before we can do that, we need to figure out the definition and meaning of this term.

Definition of Lazy: What is Laziness?

The general definition of laziness is someone who doesn’t want to work, doesn’t want to use energy, doesn’t want to put in effort, and doesn’t want to try to do anything worthwhile or productive. There are a lot of synonyms for laziness, such as indolence and sloth – sloth, of course, being immortalized as one of the seven deadly sins. We have a lot of images that we associate with laziness, such as a lazy person lying on a couch, watching TV, eating potato chips or some other junk food, and just generally being a drain on society.

If this sounds like you, or if you have ever been accused of laziness, you may take pride in the label, but most people do not see it as a badge of honor. In fact, laziness is one of the biggest problems in the world, linked to procrastination, social and cultural problems, sickness and unhealthiness, lack of education and jobs, poverty, and more.

Of course, defining laziness does not get at its meaning, just as defining procrastination doesn’t get to the underlying factors that may cause and classify the ‘condition.’ For instance, is someone just lazy by birth, by their genes, by their natures? Or are they lazy due to circumstance, or perhaps not being trained or taught properly? In other words, is it nature or nurture?

It seems to me that, as with everything it seems, the answer lies somewhere in the middle. On the one hand, it does seem that some people are born more energetic and hard working than other people. Some people just seem to want to take the easy way out on everything, and this habit may seem to run in families. However, it is hard to extricate this from the learned habits of being in situations that reward or encourage laziness, or in situations that don’t reward or encourage hard work and effort. Note as well that laziness may also be a sign of some other problem, medical or mental. For instance, the link between ‘laziness’ and depression is well founded, because people who are depressed generally have low motivation and low willpower to do anything, in the most extreme cases even to live. So we can’t just attack people without due cause.

Thus, we shouldn’t demonize people that are lazy, as this can just cause them to withdraw more. It simply doesn’t help the issue. Think about it – people, when attacked, will usually withdraw more. They get stubborn and don’t want to respond to the criticism; in the case of laziness, the lazy guy or girl may just withdraw further, as they are even more discouraged by the outside world. The definition, causes, and ultimate meaning of sloth is irrelevant when faced with the mission to stop it. Of course, knowing the causes can be important in our efforts to treat the disease and not simply cover up the symptoms, but the information should never be used as a label or cudgel.

Interestingly enough, unlike procrastination, few scientists and psychologists have done studies on this concept. Of course, ‘laziness’ can be broken down into many different components and features, and many of these (like procrastination) have received scholarly attention. Still, given how much ‘laziness’ carries a cache in our society and discourse, we can only hope that the scientific community takes the problem seriously and eventually explores the prevalence, impact, and causes of this widespread phenomenon.

Thus, armed with this understanding of laziness and its causes, we need to figure out a better way to motivate people to take action, a way that is beyond blame and beyond nagging.

Laziness and Procrastination

Before we go on to discuss some tips and tricks on how to stop being lazy, let’s briefly cover the link between procrastination and laziness. Sometimes, lazy people will use procrastination as a tool to avoid work. However, regardless of this fact, these two things don’t meant the same thing. Someone can procrastinate and not be lazy – perhaps they avoid particular kinds of work while working hard in other areas of their life. Some people will do really hard and unpleasant tasks in their avoidance of other tasks that they don’t want to do! Laziness is marked by simply not doing anything productive or trying to do anything with effort. Thus, while a procrastinator may be lazy, not all procrastinators are lazy. One might say, though, that lazy people are generally (if not always) procrastinators themselves, as they simply put off everything good and productive in their life for wasteful pursuits and burned time.

How to Overcome Laziness

If you want to overcome laziness, try some or all of these strategies to help you break out of your rut:

(1) First, consult the discussion of how to overcome procrastination. It may not be that you are lazy, per se, but that you have problem with prioritizing your tasks and putting less important things over important things.

(2) You can also work on your time management skills as well, as you may find that your issue is not with effort in itself but in your use and planning of time. You may also find that once your time is planned and made more efficient, you may also feel increased motivation and desire to actually do the tasks that you have to do given the improved framework.

(3) Work on your physical self. You may not be eating well, exercising, or getting sleep, and these bad habits can act as breaks on your motivation, energy, and productivity. You may also have a physical or mental illness that could be zapping you of your productive power, so you may want to go to a doctor if the issue is especially severe or has been with you for a while.

(4) Model people that aren’t lazy. We all know these individuals – they never need to find out how to stop being lazy simply because they are busy as a bee. They are always moving, always working, always producing – and they aren’t burning themselves out at the same time either. Thus, find these people and figure out what makes them tick. What habits do they have that allow them to be so productive and energetic? How do they structure their day? And most importantly, how do they keep themselves motivated through the inevitable ups and downs of life?

(5) Figure out what you’re doing in life. Sometimes laziness is just a function of your confusion or plain old hatred of your life path and the things you do in your daily routine. If you’re lost, do some soul-searching to figure out what you want to do with your life. If you can find the thing that gives you passion and lights your fires, you will not have to worry about laziness as much because you will be drawn directly to do the activity out of some internal force of nature.

(6) Some people find affirmations and visualization useful. I’ve generally found little success with these methods, but you should at least try them to see what you can get out of them.

(7) Get tools and software to help you overcome your laziness. For instance, this software, The Action Machine, can help both motivate you and keep track of your time (time management) in order to make you more productive, and, most important, get your momentum going in a positive direction.

(8) Take a break. Ironically, sometimes lazy people are just too stressed out and overworked. They have forgotten how to truly relax, so the time spent ‘being lazy,’ i.e. watching TV or just doing nothing, are actually unproductive periods of leisure. Instead, find activities and experiences that are truly relaxing and restorative. You may find after switching to these activities that you’ll have more motivation and vigor to pursue your work goals.

(9) Set up a system of rewards. Create a system that will reward you positively for reaching small, attainable goals. This is better than simply having arbitrary rewards or no rewards at all. Come up with a system and rewards that work best for you, but I really like the variable reward ratio, as it is the most fun and most ‘addicting’ in the long run.

(10) Determine the causes or triggers of your laziness and attack them. For instance, if you are lazy due to lack of motivation, find something that gets you going. If you are lazy because you are overwhelmed, get more organized. Treat the underlying cause and the ‘symptom,’ i.e. laziness, will go away too.

(11) Build up your self esteem. Believe that you can do whatever it is you need to do, and that you can do it well. Sometimes people are discouraged early in life from doing certain things; as a result, they simply shut themselves down to avoid that fear of failure or fear of ridicule. Instead, reprogram yourself to think more positively – this will help you take more risks and will motivate you to start overcoming laziness.

(12) Just get started. As we discussed in the chapter on overcoming procrastination, getting started is often the hardest part of actually doing the activity. Once you get going, you will find that you’ll be rolling forward to success.

==> Go to Chapter 5: What is Productivity

Chapter 3: The Best Procrastination Help Resources

==> Go back to Chapter 2: Overcoming Procrastination and How to Stop Procrastinating

Now that you know more about what procrastination is and how to overcome it, you may be thinking about making some changes in your life. Don’t worry though: as this webbook proves, you’re not alone in your struggles. Millions if not hundreds of millions (billions?) of people struggle with procrastination, and there are a ton of resources out there (just like this site) that can help you delve deeper into your problem. There are also tools out there, such as software and other programs, that can help you work to conquer your procrastination habit by helping you structure and organize your time and your efforts. This article is a listing of some of the best procrastination cures and solutions out there by category:

Anti Procrastination Software

There is actually great software out there that can help you manage your time and crush your procrastination habit for good.

My favorite is The Action Machine (check it out here). This program lets you schedule blocks of time during your day where you do particular activities that you can save to your list and set to a certain time limit. Check out this image for a better description:

As you can see in the image, you can block out particular time amounts and then set the ‘timer’ when you are actually doing those activities. When the timer hits 0 for a particular activity, you stop doing it and move on to the next one. This is a great way to help you focus on your task at hand, as multitasking is one of the biggest problems that procrastinators face. Using the Action Machine will help you take control of your day and give you a central ‘home base’ to allow you to become more productive. (Or, perhaps in some cases, productive PERIOD!)

There might be other anti-procrastination software out there, some similar to the Action Machine, while others more oriented towards to-do lists and “get it done” programs (which I discuss in a chapter of this webbook). However, I believe that the above program is really all you need to actually get stuff done. The problem with a lot of these programs and to-do list software thingamajigs is that managing the program itself can become a full time job. The programs that you use to raise productivity should not themselves require a ton of work and effort to use and maintain, otherwise they themselves become like full-time jobs. The programs you use should be relatively unobtrusive, and The Action Machine fits this bill.

The Best Anti Procrastination E-books and E-Courses

If you are looking for some digital information in the form of e-books and e-courses on how to overcome procrastination, check out some of the following:

  • Lee Milteer’s Habit Busting Secrets – This is one of the more popular courses out there for breaking the habit of procrastination. As a special bonus, the information contained in this CD-program can be used to break any other negative habit that may be weighing you down.
  • Procrastination Pro – This is another 21- day system, similar to the one above, though this one focuses primarily on procrastination. It’s at a lower price point than Lee Milteer’s system, but it can still get the job done for you.

I haven’t found any good procrastination videos yet, though I may plan on creating a procrastination video course if there’s enough demand for one! Leave a comment or contact me if you’re interested in this possibility.

The Best Overcoming Procrastination Books

The time honored resource for tips on how to stop procrastinating has to be the anti-procrastination and self-help/improvement books. There are tons of these books out there, but perhaps my favorite has to be The Procrastination Equation. Piers Steel does an admirable job breaking down the habit of procrastination into an ‘equation.’ Once you know and understand how this equation works, you can make changes in your own life to help you reduce or eliminate this bad habit.

Of course, there are many other overcoming procrastination books out there, almost too many for me to review and name. Here are some more of my favorites, though I don’t have the time (yet) to give full reviews of the books:

  • The Now Habit, by Neil Fiore, is a great practical advice book. It teaches you the “Unschedule” – the basic idea behind it is that you schedule in your ‘fun time’ first before you schedule in your work. This radical solution may sound strange, but Fiore makes it make tons of sense when you put it into practice.
  • The Procrastination Workbook – If you’re looking for something that you can carefully work through, step by step, than this anti-procrastination workbook by William Knaus and Albert Ellis can be what you’re looking for.
  • Self-Discipline in 10 Days, by Theodore Bryant, is a great book if you’re worried about your discipline in general. Procrastination problems are, in some sense, problems with self-discipline, so this book can give you a 10-day program to analyze, attack, and overcome your issues in this area.

A great idea to help you work through this information is to buy a journal and record your thoughts daily. Some of these books will recommend that you create such a procrastination journal, but even if they don’t, I think this is a great idea. You can use it to write down the ‘triggers’ for procrastination habits, the activities you do, your feelings during the time, and the things you did to help break the cycle.

Note that there are truly A TON of books out there dedicated to overcoming procrastination, so if these three books and the other resources here don’t satisfy you, I’ve taken the liberty of searching Amazon.com for ‘procrastination’ – click here.

Procrastinators Anonymous: Support Groups and Coaches

Sometimes what we need to break our habits and stop procrastination is not more information but support from others who may be going through the same things. That’s why support groups and other organizations can really help people to change – they get both information (guidance) from experts and others who have gone through these trials, advice that is tailored to the individual’s own situation.

Of course, perhaps the best is Procrastinators Anonymous. You can join the site and find out about local meetings, read articles, and join the forum to discuss these issues with other members.

You may also consider forming your own procrastinators’ support groups, either online (such as on a website, blog, or forum of your own) or offline in your local area. I can almost guarantee that if you advertise such a group in your local town, that you’ll receive a great response from others in your position. You can hold workshops, meet-ups, and other activities to help people learn about the procrastination habit and come up with strategies to change. This is simply because probably everyone needs help with procrastinating, and with 20% of people who label themselves as “chronic procrastinators,” you’ll have plenty of participants!

I have no recommendations yet about good procrastination coaches. I may be considering setting up my own “anti-procrastinator” coaching business, so if you’re potentially interested in that, contact me or leave some comments below! The problem with coaching, though, is that it’s often way too expensive for what you really ‘get’ out of it. I understand that some people may learn better from a person than a book, but it might pay to exhaust all other options before you resort to a coach. The best value you can get from a coach, probably, is the accountability – the coach will pressure you and ‘force’ you to change, simply by peer pressure and the constant ‘check -ins’ you’ll get from him or her.

One Final Note

For some people, procrastination is less a behavioral issue and more a medical problem. If your procrastination habit is debilitating you to a severe degree in multiple areas of your life, you may have a more serious issue that can’t be addressed through books and courses. In this case, you may want to seek chronic procrastination treatment from a medical professional, such as a medical doctor, psychiatrist, or psychologist.

==> Go to Chapter 4: Laziness and How to Stop Being Lazy

The Causes of Procrastination: Fears, Habits, and Reasons

==> Go back to The Types of Procrastination

There are many different reasons and causes for procrastination. It is a complex behavior and cannot be easily boiled down into one or two causes. Despite that caveat, I do believe we can reduce procrastination to its core element. Ultimately, I think the cause for procrastination is quite simple, and it’s something that’s rooted deep within our biology: humans are much more motivated to avoid pain than to seek pleasure. This explains why we avoid negative and unpleasant tasks and activities so readily – we are well motivated after years of evolution to do so. This reasoning also explains why people will avoid a task that they know will yield some kind of pleasure or reward, especially if the reward is long-term: This avoidance occurs because people want to avoid the ‘pain’ and ‘discomfort’ associated with doing that activity much more than they want to acquire the benefits associated with doing it, though the balance between pain and reward may be irrational, if the perceived pain is not illusory altogether.

Perfectionism and Procrastination

Of course, biology is not the only reason – we can also point to certain facts and trends in psychology. For instance, many people procrastinate because they are perfectionists. They want to make sure every piece of the project is perfectly correct and perfectly done. Of course, they know, probably unconsciously, that this is simply impossible. Thus, they have trouble getting started because they know that they’ll never be able to meet their crazy standards. They are afraid of the energy that will be required to nitpick everything and get things done according to the exact standards.

Fear of Failure

In fact, this perfectionism folds into the next big reason for procrastination: fear of failure. Further, all of this can be folded into the basic fear: fear of pain and our great motivation to avoid it. We are afraid to fail because we believe that it’s some referendum on our character or our person. We fear being evaluated by an outside observer, as we believe that this one evaluation may be some sort of judgment on our character, skills, and even worth as a person. We fear the pain, real or imagined, that this failure will cause in our lives.

This fear hits home for many already successful or ambitious people – they care so much about success and about their (self-)image as successful people that they may not want to harm it, either in their eyes or in the eyes of their associates. Thus, they simply never get started, because not starting at least means that they’ll never have to try and fail. They can just not try and not do anything at all, which, when you think about it, is a loserific proposition.

These fears of failure also dovetail into feelings of low self-confidence or self-esteem. Some people may think they are not good enough to do something right; when coupled with insanely high standards, the recipe for entrenched procrastination is complete.

One of the biggest ways we can try to overcome our procrastination is to find out what exactly makes us tick – which of these causes or reasons resonates the most with us? For me, I’d say the fear of failure runs very deep. A part of me is afraid to fail, and it thinks that not trying or starting on a task will help me avoid that possibility. Of course, this is insane and illogical, because by not trying, starting, or putting my full effort into the task, I’ve already failed in the most miserable way possible.

Fear of failure and fear of pain are not the only two fears at play here – unbelievably, the fear of success may be a factor for some procrastinators. Some may be so afraid of success, and the expectations and changes that may come with it, that they may totally avoid doing an activity because of their fear of the negative consequences of actually succeeding!

Other Causes Underlying Procrastination

Fear is the big motivating factor here, but there may be other reasons that contribute to this complex puzzle. For some, the lack of skill or experience with the task may be partly to blame. Others may struggle with poor time management skills, so they are unable to properly budget their time and unwittingly procrastinate because they think they have more time than they really do to complete a task. Some may not be able to prioritize properly, thus leading them to do the wrong things at the wrong times. There may be organization issues at play as well – they don’t know how to break up large tasks into smaller, more manageable activities. Still others may not exactly know what they are supposed to do, as the task may be ill designed or difficult to understand. Finally, some people may exhibit ‘all-or-none’ thinking: they believe that if they don’t get it all done perfectly at once, it’s not worth it at all. (This is especially salient for those who procrastinate with writing and essays!)

Another potential reason for procrastination is a low threshold and tolerance for discomfort or frustration. All tasks will have their struggles and problems, and someone who procrastinates may not cope well with the inevitable setbacks. They may thus put off completing the task until they ‘figure out’ or ‘deal with’ these setbacks.

A final reason may be due to stubbornness or anger. The person says, “I’m doing it my way, not according to your schedule.” Or the individual is angry or upset at the person ordering the task; thus, as ‘revenge’ they put it off until the last possible minute.

Sometimes It’s Not Our Fault!

We should also be fair to ourselves – sometimes the reasons for procrastination lie more in the task than in faults of character. For instance, sometimes a task truly is pointless and annoying, something that will provide few benefits for us in the short or long term. Perhaps it’s something seemingly arbitrary that we ‘have’ to do. In that case, we are often well motivated to avoid this activity as much as possible, because it is something that we truly will get no benefit out of, aside from perhaps avoiding punishment or admonishment from an outside authority. Still, though, if we must truly do this task, putting it off will provide no real benefit, and in fact may cause a net negative by having all those damaging emotions hanging over us and clouding our other activities. Thus we’d want to get it done as quickly as possible anyway.

Breaking the Procrastination HABIT

Given all of these causes, how can procrastination be said to be a habit? Procrastination is a habit, a habit that’s learned like all other habits. Procrastination thus forms like any habit: it is reinforced. Avoiding the task does provide some ‘pleasure’ in that you avoid the negative activity and perhaps do something fun or enjoyable in its place. In addition, once you complete the task and don’t experience much negative feedback on the outcome (such as if you receive an adequate grade on a school assignment), you are thus encouraged to repeat the cycle in the future. This reinforces avoiding something rather than seeking something; you fail to build skills and instead waste time on physical, mental, or spiritual junk food; and you continue to entrench your fears and doubts in your head where they can effect your life in other ways. A great thing comes out of this realization, however: If it is learned, it can be unlearned.

The Truth Behind Procrastination

Now that we understand the beast, we can learn how to slay it. The next chapter will deal directly with how to overcome procrastination, offering you many practical tips and techniques, all designed with the above information in mind.

==> Go to Chapter 2: Overcoming Procrastination and How to Stop Procrastinating

The Types of Procrastination

==> Go back to What is Procrastination?

There are two main types of procrastinators. The first is the relaxed type. This person seems very relaxed on the surface – they highly prefer pleasurable activities while avoiding negative, unpleasant tasks as much as possible. Thus, they are still doing “things,” but in the process they underestimate how much work they have to do. The relaxed type is in effect ‘denying’ or ‘covering up’ the truth about the work they have to do. Thus, they often don’t think they have a problem, because they’ve got it “under control.” They think that the task can be completed within a short period of time, and thus they can wait to finish it until they need to. Of course, in theory they should just do the task now to make sure it gets done within the time frame and to allow for any extra time as needed.

The other type of procrastinator is the ‘tense-afraid’ type. This person has many negative feelings associated with the task that are simply overwhelming. They don’t think that they can have the ability to do the work, so they give themselves constant breaks, claiming to be relaxing in order to ‘try it again in the morning’ when they are fresh. Of course, the actual quality of rest they are getting is dubious, and usually the cycle begins anew the next morning.

The Deadline – Do You Really “Work Well Under Pressure?”

For both of these individuals, once the deadline comes, the kid gloves come off and the procrastinator finally gets to work. During this frantic period, they may be very productive and efficient, though the final product may not be as good as it could have been. In addition, this gives rise to the myth, or the self-defeating narrative, that the procrastinator ‘works well under pressure.’ This is a lie. You have to work well because you have no other option – it’s do or die time. If you actually got started early, you’d find that you’d work better and do a better job than when you leave it to the last minute.

Ultimately, in both cases procrastination is just about lying to ourselves. We lie to ourselves about our capacities and abilities, our deadlines, and our emotions and feelings. We lie to ourselves about how long it will take to do a task, how much it will ‘hurt,’ and how much time we truly have. Thus, procrastination is not just a thief (of time), but also a liar.

==> Go to The Causes of Procrastination

Chapter 2: Overcoming Procrastination and How to Stop Procrastinating

==>Go back to The Causes of Procrastination

Anti Procrastination Tips That Will Get You Moving

Now that we know the underlying factors that make procrastination occur, we can use this information to start dealing with procrastination as it affects us in our day to day lives. Unfortunately, there is no one magic solution to procrastination that will fix all your problems, no pill or book or program that can help you banish the problem once and for all. However, there are absolutely tools and information that can help you during this process. You’ll have to make your solution truly your own, one unique and particular to your own issues and circumstances.

For this advice, I’ve organized these procrastination solutions according to particular problems you may be having. Procrastination can strike different people at different times and in different ways, so having multiple approaches to the problem will be best for you. Not all of these methods and ideas will resonate with you. Hopefully, however, at least one or more will “click” with you in a way that will get you moving.

Avoiding Procrastination May Better than Breaking It

  1. Probably the best way to stop procrastinating is to never start it in the first place. This requires you to understand your particular patterns and habits that put you in procrastinator mode. For instance, on what tasks do you usually procrastinate? In what ways do you procrastinate? (What things do you do to pass the time instead of working?) Where do you procrastinate? Once you figure out these triggers, do your best to avoid them – do that and you’ll avoid procrastination. For instance, if you find yourself burning time away in front of your computer, avoid the computer at all costs to prevent you from triggering your habit. If you find yourself procrastinating a lot on cleaning the house or the garage, structure your day so that you avoid wasting time instead of doing that activity. Avoiding this problem is a problem of self knowledge, ultimately, so you’ll really need to know yourself in order to best implement this. A good suggestion here is to get a notebook and create a procrastination log that will help you keep track of all the above aspects of your behavior.
  2. Giving yourself deadlines will probably not help that much for some people – it just gives them more opportunities to procrastinate before these deadlines, if they don’t ignore these self-imposed deadlines altogether. Still, some people may find it useful to set up these deadlines, especially if they have some external authority enforce them. This is called ‘pre-commitment.’ For instance, give your friend some money and instructions on when that money should be returned to you. For instance, if you don’t have a certain task completed before a certain date, your friend gets to keep the money. This will get you motivated to move more than you can ever believe!

I Can’t Get Started!

  1. Don’t let your rational mind take control and make you think you need the ‘perfect plan’ before you start. No plan, no matter how much time you spend on it, will be perfect, i.e. will not need to be changed or modified at some level. Instead, the best way to figure out what you’ll need to do to complete your goal or task is to start and see where it takes you. Only when you’re in the trenches can you figure out exactly what you’ll need to do in order to complete the task. Experience truly is the best teacher, so just get going and be ready to adapt as you go.
  2. At the same time, procrastination sometimes is caused by the fact that we’re unclear on what exactly we want to do. Thus, it may be fruitful to spend some time thinking hard, or even writing down, what exactly we need to do to accomplish the goal. Breaking down your project into multiple, clear, small steps may help you break your procrastination, as you have the ‘road map’ you need to get going. Sometimes, as stated above and below, all you need to do is just start on that first action step that you need to get done…
  3. Instead of focusing on everything you need to do to finish your task, just focus on determining the first action step. What is the first thing you need to do in order to begin the path towards your goal? It doesn’t matter if it’s a minor, quick 5-minute action or something that may take a little longer. Then, your first and only task is to just do that one single action step. Take as long as you need, but just make sure that step gets done. Don’t worry about anything else or finishing the entire project. Once you’ve finished that action step, assess how you feel. You will probably be feeling positive about your work, and you’ll probably want to move on to get more stuff done on your task list. However, if you’re still feeling the pulls of procrastination, don’t worry! Just repeat this step: what is the very next action step that you need to take? Complete that step and only that step. Reassess, rinse, repeat. Before you’ll know it, positive momentum will suck you in, or you’ll just finish by taking it step by step.
  4. Use peer pressure. If you have a friend who has the same goal or project as you, set up a little competition and cooperation partnership. You can then help each other when you start procrastination while also providing a little jolt of competition to really get your juices flowing. I don’t recommend large groups, mostly because it can be easy to ‘slip between the cracks’ and lose the accountability that such partnerships can offer.

Conquer Your Fears to End Procrastination

  1. As stated in chapter 1, sometimes fear is at the root of procrastination. We fear failure, we fear success, and we fear ‘pain’ and discomfort that we may eventually fear while doing the task. If this sounds like you, then maybe some work needs to be done to unpack and untangle these fears so that they no longer have a significant impact on your behavior. If you fear failure, for instance, realize that by not doing anything at all, by procrastinating, you’re simply staring a massive, dreadful failure in the face. Not trying or not doing something isn’t “not failing because you didn’t try,” it’s just failing in the most spectacularly pathetic way possible. So don’t buy into that set of fears! We only truly learn and grow when we make mistakes and get new experience anyway.
  2. Listen to the truth that you hold inside. You probably know that you have to get started, you know that you have to learn mistakes, and you know that you have to get experience, but somewhere down the line your rational and emotional brains conspire to keep you back. Instead, listen to your productive, positive instincts, and trust them. Don’t let your fears and negative side (we all have them) take you over and rule your life.
  3. Another thing to keep in mind: the tasks that you think will be unpleasant may turn out to be not so bad after all – in fact, sometimes you can actually get pleasure while doing them! This takes a bit of a reframe of your attitudes and beliefs, but it can be super powerful when implemented. The reason behind this is that we are more uncomfortable when we think about upcoming discomfort than uncomfortable when we are actually doing the activity. Again, this is all just because we are well motivated to avoid perceived pain than to seek reward. Understand this natural human response and subvert it.
  4. If you suffer from low self confidence or low self-esteem, realize that you’ll only improve these qualities in you if you actually get stuff done! It’s a vicious cycle – your low self-confidence will prevent you from actually starting, but the only way to improve this self-esteem is to actually get started and finish something productive! Thus, realize that this is a vicious cycle and work hard to just start. As you complete a project and become more productive, you will find that your self-confidence will increase, not only because you’re doing something positive but also because you will have less time to brood and ruminate about all your problems.
  5. If perfectionism is an issue, realize that you’ll never get something perfect, no matter how hard you’ll work. Also realize that you make something better after a lot of revision and reworking, so perfection, if it ever were approximated, is a long term project. Thus, get comfortable with just starting on something and beginning to sketch out the boundaries of the project that you are completing.

How to Stop Procrastination With Your Environment

  1. Environment truly matters in many ways. Where you are and who is surrounding you can have a significant impact on your procrastination habits. For instance, think about your peers. If you want to get stuff done, surround yourself with people who don’t procrastinate. Where you are will also have significant effects. If you work at home and are having trouble focusing, it may be because there are too many things in your environment that make it hard to fight procrastination. Instead of fighting these urges, just remove yourself from that environment – for instance, many students find great success when they work in a library rather than trying to work at home. Find your own personal ‘work zone’ and get it done!
  2. If you can’t leave your particular environment (such as a home office or real office), consider small but significant ways to increase your productivity and overcome procrastination. For instance, make sure your desk is clear and free of distractions. Put up inspirational quotes and pictures on your wall, or play some relaxing (or energetic) music to get you in the zone. Minimize distractions from other people by closing your door and putting up a sign during your focusing hours; cut off your internet access during your work time if that’s a particular problem for you.

Building Momentum

  1. We are creatures of momentum. This means that we continue to do what we’ve been doing, while resisting change to that path (in physics terms, we have inertia, in this case psychological). Thus, the main force required in our lives is that force required to overcome inertia or friction. Thus, if you are stuck doing something unproductive, and if you want to start beating procrastination, realize that it’s just another state of momentum. Focus all your energy on shifting your momentum – don’t think about having to use your energy to sustain your productive activity, because you won’t have to! Once your momentum is pointed in a particular direction, your natural inclination to remain in that activity (i.e. momentum!) will propel you to your goal.
  2. The bad thing about procrastination is that it gets worse and worse as time goes on the longer you put off the task. There is some sort of positive feedback loop that operates here – as you procrastinate, the task at hand seems more onerous and potentially painful, which means you put it off further, which makes it look worse, which increases your procrastination…and thus begins the vicious cycle that is truly hard to break out of. You need to break out of this momentum cycle as soon as possible, because if you think it’s hard now, it will just be harder tomorrow and the day after that!
  3. One great way to get yourself moving through the day is to focus on getting the hardest thing done first. This may seem counterintuitive, but think of it this way – all your energy and momentum and willpower should be directed towards finishing this one major task for the day. Brian Tracy calls this ‘eating the frog’ – once you do this, every other task will seem easy in comparison. You’ll have the momentum and energy to plow through the rest of your tasks. You’ll be shocked at how much you can accomplish during your day when you start with just that one super difficult task. Best of all, if you get nothing else done during the day for some reason, you’ll sleep easy knowing you accomplished something truly productive!

How to Keep Going: Persistence

  1. Of course, just starting is one thing – many procrastination help guides don’t acknowledge that getting started is not the only piece of the puzzle – sometimes ‘keeping going’ is just as critical! This is especially true for tasks that will take many days, weeks, months, or even years to complete! Sustaining action over this long period is a different problem altogether, as the energy you get from ‘getting started’ will not sustain you forever. There is no magic formula here – just break down the ‘war’ into a series of daily ‘battles’ over your internal momentum. Each day, the fight will begin anew for you to channel your natural propensity towards staying in motion – i.e. your inertia and momentum. Just as you don’t try to finish your project in a single burst of activity, don’t try to ‘get started’ all at once. Instead, take it all day by day.
  2. An interesting metaphor to think about here is a staircase. Imagine that you want to get to the top of the stairs, but only the step in front of you is illuminated. Thus, the only place you can go is to step up on that next step, though it may not be getting you to your destination in one final leap. However, as soon as you move to that next step, the step after that one will be illuminated, lighting your path moving forward. Beat procrastination one step at a time!
  3. Motivate yourself with rewards. As discussed above, you could set up ‘punishments’ (i.e. losing money) by not getting stuff done. You can also take a more positive approach – give yourself ‘rewards’ when you do get stuff done. Then you’ll be working for these small rewards, not for some long term, nebulous reward. You could have a friend or family member administer these rewards to you.
  4. Avoid multitasking. You may think that you are being more productive when you try to tackle more than one thing at the same time, but in reality you are being terribly inefficient. In addition, ‘multitasking’ may just give you more excuse to continue to procrastinate. For instance, some people like to surf the internet or watch TV while they are doing their work, thinking that they can do both at the same time. Instead, it’s just a convenient way to mix procrastination with actually getting something done. Instead, focus on one thing at a time – when you finish that task, you can move on to the next one or do something for fun – but not at the same time!
  5. Finally, make sure you finish what you start. We may be able to get started and keep our momentum going, but many people have half and near complete projects sitting around. Get into the habit of finishing what you start – the closure and accomplishment you feel will propel you into your next task with renewed vigor, making it easier to start, keep going, and finish.

Combating Procrastination by Observing and Knowing Yourself

  1. If you are currently procrastinating, take a look at what you’re doing instead. You’ll probably find that it’s something either itself pretty boring and onerous, or something utterly pointless (like aimless web surfing). Do you really want to be spending your life doing this, or would you rather be doing something more positive and productive? Make sure you constantly observe the things you are doing (sometimes mindlessly) during your day – did you choose to do those things? If not, what can you choose to do instead that may be more fulfilling in the long run?
  2. Scientists have found that much of our behavior is automatic – it’s just stuff that we’ve done and will always do simply because that’s what we’ve always done. Couple the ‘stickiness’ of these habits with the mindlessness that we usually use to travel through our day and you have a recipe for massive procrastination. Thus, you’ll want to keep on the lookout for these automatic habits that help you procrastinate. For instance, perhaps you are addicted to checking a social networking site once per hour. Whatever it is, identify the behavior and work to eliminate it.