Ways to make yourself stop procrastinating and become more productive and self-disciplined

Anyone have good tips or advice on making yourself…well, all the things mentioned in the title? Books, mental tricks, plans - anything like that?

For the first time in years I find myself with a lot of free time on my hands. At first I was happy to while away the hours reading, browsing the web, listening to music, and watching TV, but you can only do so much of that. Now I’d like to do something more productive with my time, but I’m finding it difficult. What have you found to be helpful in making yourself more self-disciplined and productive?

I’ve got a fool-proof plan. I’ll tell you later.

All the books in the world will not help unless you follow the advice in them.

I begin with

  1. Sleep early
  2. Exercise
  3. Clean your room
  4. Set goals that are achievable but challenging
  5. Focus
  6. Repeat

I am still at step 1

What do you feel motivated to do? What do you consider productive? Losing weight/keeping fit or keeping the house clean? Learning how to fix your own car or becoming a driver for Meals On Wheels?

Maybe you could focus on a goal and work backwards. If “this” is what you want to accomplish it might entail doing “this other” first. Find the first step.

I have daily lists and weekly lists. Monthly goals and “where I want to be in a year.” A lot of each daily list gets transferred to the next day (and the next day.) If I can cross any things off my lists I think Well, at least I didn’t spend the whole day in bed. On the rare occasions that I do, I consider it a mental health day and I’m just recharging my batteries. But I do get things accomplished that might otherwise never get done.

Can I make some lists for you? Can I? Huh? Huh?

I love lists. Sometimes just writing stuff down makes me feel like I’ve gotten started.

I heard or read something once about willpower being akin to a muscle that you can exercise and train. Like, if you go throughout the day being diligent about your posture–to pick something trivial–you will be better at resisting temptation than you’d otherwise be.

I think there is something to this. I have found that on days when I walk to and from work, I’m more likely to also practice yoga and watch what I eat. When I have a lazy day, I tend to let everything go to pot.

So my recommendation is to adopt a daily habit. Make it small and achievable (like drinking a full glass of water at breakfast). Then build on top of it.

One aspect is that you need to have “buy in” on your goals. That is, you actually have to want to accomplish tasks in front of you. If Task A is horrible, excruciating, teeth-pullingly awful, then put it away and work on Task B until you can no longer avoid task A. Have the honesty to say “fuck that” and do something else. (I can’t tell you how much time I’ve wasted avoiding an unpleasant task when I could have used the time productively instead.)

Another aspect is willpower and discipline. Set your mind to a task, and keep focused. Your mind will constantly try to derail you with thoughts, impulses, and other things you could be doing. Rather than heed these calls, you have to realize that they will lead you down a path of distraction that will waste anywhere between 5 minutes and 5 hours of your time. Do you really need to check your email during the workday? No, you don’t–unless there is something urgent you’re expecting. So just don’t do it.

You have to set achievable short term goals. You have to put them on paper in your own handwriting. You have to look at the paper every morning. You have to hold yourself to them. You have to ramp up the goals once you achieve the first set.

So if you want to lose weight, your achievable short term goal list wouldn’t say “lose weight” or even “lose ten pounds by September”. Your short term goals would list the types of behavior that would lead to this result:

Go for a walk everyday
Eat dessert once a week
Get my bike repaired this week
Don’t drink more than a six pack this week
Be in bed by 10:30, so I can wake up at 6 to jog/yoga/treadmill, etc.

Diane Rehm had a guest talking about procrastination not too long ago, I wish I could remember the guest’s name. He said according to research that all procrastination results from being impulsive. More impulsive=more procrastination.

My interpretation: I impulsively search the net because it brings me immediate gratification instead of working on my resume.

Or, I impulsively react to how tedious and time consuming working on my resume is, so I constantly put it off for tomorrow.

I also heard someone talking about just committing yourself to a very tiny first step, like “I’m just going to put on my running shoes, and nothing else,” but once you have them on, you’re like, “I think I’ll go running now.” If not, then just add one more tiny step the next time.

I like how Dr Phil say will power is a myth. Don’t put yourself in a situation where you need to use it, change the context of your situation so you don’t have to use it.

Make a list of what values are most important to you. Then connect the more productive things you want to do to them.

Well, you have to start by defining a goal. You have a mythical idea about “being more productive” but you don’t have a desired end result. Without the end result, you can’t plan how to get there. You can’t just wish your way to productivity, you need to pick something you believe you can do and start tinking away at it, a little at time.

Do you want to:

[li]write a short story?[/li][li]learn to play a musical instrument?[/li][li]become proficient in computer programming?[/li][li]keep a cleaner house?[/li][li]get in shape?[/li][li]become a kickass line dancer?[/li][li]learn Spanish?[/li][li]…or something else entirely?[/li][/ul]
Once you have a goal, you can outline milestones and a (very flexible!) timeline for achieving each one. For example, dedicate yourself to:

[li]writing one chapter this week[/li][li]learning the C major scale by Friday[/li][li]learning how to define three different types of variables before next Monday[/li][li]deep cleaning one room every other day[/li][li]getting to the gym 4 times this week[/li][li]learning the Cotton Eyed Joe by Saturday[/li][li]getting through 10 new vocabulary words every day this week[/li][li]etc![/li][/ul]
If you fall short of your goal, figure out if your problem was a lack of motivation, or because your goal was unachievable. Accordingly, adjust your goal or motivation for the next week. After one month, you’ve developed a habit. Eventually, 6 months will have gone by and you’ll have achieved a state of semi-mastery with regard to your initial goal. You are now officially a more productive person!

Then it’s time to pick a new goal. :smiley:

I think the biggest motivation for me to start using my free time for exercise was to put some money into it. I first got the gym membership, and then the shoes. Then once I came up with a schedule of what I wanted to be doing at the gym, I bought some clothes. Then I decided I didn’t want to do laundry every week so I doubled the clothes. Nothing fancy in the least but I needed 8 pairs of pants, 8 shirts and 8 sports bras. After all that, I probably had about $450 in to the who working out thing (my gym is only $200/year).

Having put money in it also helped me be more comfortable while doing it. I had the right shirts that fit (I got special long shirts), I didn’t have to scrounge around for shorts or pants, I didn’t have to re-wear bras. It was like I was Iron Man and could just step in to my ready-and-waiting workout suit when it was time to go.

I also made sure I never went balls-to-the-wall with anything. I started slow on everything and worked my way up extremely slowly. After 2 years I’m still not doing anything hard core yet I’ve made a lot of progress, for me.

I also don’t have any goals. Well just one - do it. I’m not trying to lose weight, lift super heavy, start running, swim an hour, meet guys or anything. All I have to do is show up. Once I’m there and start doing stuff, I do pretty well. Also since I don’t have goals to meet, I am not letting anyone/anything down when I have to miss a day or three. I never have to “start over” just “continue on.”

So I guess my advice would be…

  1. Have the right tools. If the tools cost money and you are normally cheap, that’s a good motivator.
  2. Come up with a schedule and stick to it.
  3. Don’t go super intense with what you decide to do. Don’t make it so it’s not fun and/or too intense.
  4. Don’t set milestones if you don’t have to. Just make your top priority “do it.”

I hate to put it so simply, don’t think about it, just do it.

The more you pressure yourself to do something, the more you beat yourself up for not doing it, the harder it is to do it.

I think we get unmotivated and procrastinate because we are so used to having our lives regulated by outside influences, like we have to show up to work on time, we have to show up to class on time, we have to meet a deadline, etc that we have forgotten how to do it on out own. People I know who have never had a ‘real job’ never have problems just getting up and getting something done. They don’t think, they do.

Keep a list, or several lists of what you need to do today, this week, this month, this year. Include deadline dates if appropriate, taxes must be done by April 15, (in my world) Christmas shopping must be done by Thanksgiving.
If a task is hard or tedious break it down into smaller steps. Teeny tiny steps if need be.
‘Clean out garage’ is overwhelming, clean out/organize toolbox isn’t.
It feels good to cross an item off the list and with the pressure off you may just keep on going and get the whole job done. Or maybe not. Doesn’t matter just cross it off your list and keep going.

The first item on every list should be write list. Crossing off the first item on the list feels good and is positive reinforcement.

Over time some of the tasks on the list will lose their relevance. It’s not cheating to cross them off the list.

People named Vince Marinello should never keep lists.

Maybe it would help to reward yourself after getting things done. Relax, and drive any guilt from your mind. Make a crisp delineation between “still working” and “finished for the day”. Having the delineation close enough that you can project yourself easily forward to imagining it may let you look at the things between here and there as a manageable lot, so you feel eager to get them out of the way.

Or you can do it the way I do – worry constantly about what is going to screw up the worst because of your neglect, and work yourself sick trying to avoid disaster.

I think it’s about developing habits and routines. There are good habits and routines and there are bad ones.

Watching tv, surfing the internet, even sitting around just listening to music or reading can become “bad habits” because they tend to be sedentary and isolating activities. They are also activities one picks up when they happen to be sedentary and isolated.

I suspect the OP is less interested in advice on time management and planning than he is on finding something more worthwhile and enjoyable than just killing time looking at glowing screens.

What is it you want to be “more productive” doing?

One thing that helped me stop procrastinating was a better understanding of motivation. Instead of browsing the internet all day waiting for motivation to find me, I learned that it’s much more efficient to generate my own motivation.

Action needs to come before motivation. Not motivation before action. The sooner you realize you don’t need to be motivated to start something, the better. Motivation helps, but it’s not necessary.

If you want to find the motivation to start running, then get your ass to a park and start running. After five minutes you’ll be more motivated to continue running then you were before you started. Is it better to use twenty minutes of your life getting yourself to a gym, or to spend those twenty minutes on the internet waiting for motivation, as if there was one magic Youtube video that would solve all your problems?

I think the best way to resist temptation is to avoid relying on willpower as much as possible. As much as we love to think we can control our impulses, research indicates that it’s insanely difficult.

A better way to avoid temptation is to build habits because habits don’t rely on willpower. Unfortunately, it takes willpower to create a new habit. Even then, you’d still want to rely as little as possible on willpower to create a new habit. Because if you do, odds are that you’ll fail.

The problem isn’t so much creating the new habit as it is breaking an old one. Kids don’t have old habits, and can learn new habits quite easily.

Fortunately, there is research that suggests that you can get into the habit of breaking bad habits and building new ones. Therefore, you’d only need to rely on pure willpower to break your first bad habit. After that it should be easier. Read The Power of Habit if you want to learn more.

You know how psychologists are always telling people that they, themselves, are all that’s holding them back? Or when people say, ‘He’s his own worst enemy!’. Well, there’s more truth in there than you might imagine.

Tomorrow morning when you’re up and moving, get a paper and pen and write down a sentence similar to; “Today, I give myself permission to stay focused on my goals and to be awesome!”. If you do this for a week, you will begin to see measurable change. (Be forewarned your Monkey Brain is going to do all it can to make you forget. Have a trigger, leave the paper and pen in plain sight!) The best part is, you can change it up as your needs change.

It’s just a little trick to trick you, yourself, into getting the hell out of the way.

Then adopt a ten minute rule. You’re really not feeling like starting, but you give it 10mins only. And this is just a little trick to reinforce that’s it’s always the getting started, that’s the most difficult thing. But once you get past that, you soon realize it’s an easy, easy thing, in fact. It’s just getting started.