Clearing the Clutter: How To Kick That Procrastination Habit For Good

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As human beings, we are simply amazing at putting things off.

Maybe it’s because we want to escape anything that may cause difficulty. It’s an OK approach for avoiding discomfort in the current moment, but will eventually lead to problems and a more cluttered life. Usually, we aren’t even aware we’re avoiding something.

Let me give you some examples:

– We put off things that don’t excite or stimulate us: paying bills, replying to long emails, deleting emails, making phone calls, going to the doctor, grocery shopping and doing housework.

– We put off things that worry us: a difficult conversation, an emotion or something fearful.

Instead of tackling these dull or even unpleasant chores, we get busy with something else in order to take our mind off of the important task at hand, like checking through our phone notifications or tabs on our laptop. We often find ourselves doing something we never usually do, simply to avoid something we don’t want to do! This could be watching a fitness tutorial on YouTube, making brownies, finding our future home on Google Maps, cooking up a challenging Pinterest recipe, cleaning the bathroom, binge-watching our favourite series on Netflix, or making a list of all the books we’ve always wanted to read, only to then decide we don’t actually ever have time to read them.

Let’s face it: we have ancient to-do lists brimming with important but not urgent tasks. According to The Busy Person’s Guide to the Done List, by Janet Choi and Walter Chen, 41% of to-do list items are never completed and 50% of to-do list items are completed within a day, many within the first hour of being written down.

But where does all this take us, and how can we cross off the last 41% of our lists for good?

Mind Clutter

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As you’re reading this, you may be deliberately avoiding something you need to do, or perhaps avoiding acknowledging it. This is what’s known as the “mind-clutter” section of your brain. This is where you’ll find the uncompleted to-do lists, the lengthy emails you can’t face responding to, and the mundane tasks that you simply don’t want to entertain.

The “mind-clutter” is ever-present, yet concealed by the continual distraction of glancing through social media feeds, messages, notifications and news. You may not realise it, but the need to check a feed, whether it be Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, is usually down to avoiding something you don’t want to face.

This all too common habit – procrastination – merely provides us with a temporary feeling of relief.

Don’t get me wrong: if you truly and honestly can say you have nothing to avoid, by all means, watch that Tasty video on Facebook or “like” that National Geographic landscape on Instagram. However, it’s all about balance. The problem is, most of us struggle with letting distractions outweigh our to-do lists.

Facing up to what’s in front of us mentally

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Avoidance leads to procrastination, and both are ineffective strategies. Understanding their impact upon the mind and learning how to be present are imperative in order to clear the mind-clutter and welcome success.

To stop procrastinating and start succeeding, follow these 4 steps:

  1. Be Aware of the Present Moment
    Pause. Bring awareness into the current moment. Ask yourself: what are you doing? Why are you doing it? Remind yourself of the need to live in the present.
  2. Be Aware of the Present Avoidance
    Are you avoiding a task, an emotion, a conversation, something you fear, or your to-do list? Name it. Ask yourself why you’re not living in the present moment and what’s stopping you from doing so.
  3. Confronting It
    Face the task, emotion, fear, discomfort, or whatever it is you’re avoiding. Ask if it’s really that bad (not the story you conjured up in your mind about how bad it is, but the actual physical reality of it). Where is the discomfort located? What quality does it have?
  4. Changing It
    Be active. Decide what is the best action for tackling the issue. If you’re avoiding a 2-minute task, think about whether 2-minutes in your whole day is worth worrying about. If you’re avoiding a difficult emotion, such as frustration, think about whether you can channel your frustration into a calm and appropriate manner? Once you’re in this headspace, it will be easier to brainstorm a solution to your present difficulties. Actively changing whatever you’re avoiding will benefit you permanently, rather than temporarily.

Facing up to what’s in front of us physically

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Once you have changed your mentality on the subject of avoidance, which may take some time to practice, you can begin to consider the physical world and how to change it to create the best outcomes for you. Here’s how:

  1. List your 3 Most Important Tasks
    Make this the first thing you do every morning: write down the three tasks you want to accomplish for the day (never overload the list, since this will only disappoint and overwhelm you). Write down your intentions around the tasks. Are you doing this to improve your life? Someone else’s? In stating your intention, you will feel driven to tick them off.
  2. Prioritize
    Choose one Most Important Task from your list. Even if you only get this one task completed in the day, you have achieved something.
  3. Pause and Breathe
    Notice when you want to run from a task, take a pause, and explore the physical feeling of uneasiness with calmness, openness and interest. This tactic can help you identify the causes for procrastination and address them directly from a fresh perspective.
  4. Take Breaks
    Work can be overwhelming, and that’s why procrastination becomes easy for us. To avoid it, break work down into parts. Every 15 minutes, get up and walk around. Drink water. Stretch. Check in with yourself and see how you’re doing. Then you can return to the task with a fresh mind.
  5. Remove Distractions
    If you are too prone to opening your phone, checking emails, admiring yourself as a dog, alien or Bob Marley on Snapchat, or checking your Facebook feed, disable your notifications. It’s as simple as that. Don’t make it easy for yourself to procrastinate.
  6. Change your Environment
    Create an open, bright area. Clear space, both in your mind and in your room. Make your surroundings positive and simple. To do this, you can tidy your desk by decorating it with your favourite inspirational quotes and images. Put up a photo. Buy a plant. Achieve calm and productivity by breathing some life into your workspace.
  7. Choose Inspiring People
    Most importantly, notice the people in your life who inspire you, who trigger you to want to succeed, who have drive, passion and a “go for it” attitude.

Of course, learning to tackle avoidance and procrastination won’t happen overnight. But acknowledging that there are ways to clear the “mind-clutter” and physical “clutter” means a happier and more successful life for you. If you feel like skimming over this article, or ignoring it, that too is avoidance, and I urge you to confront it. Good luck facing whatever it is you need to face!

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About the author

Holly Stark is a soon-to-be grad student at Sheffield Hallam University, England, with a BA Honours English degree. She loves to write, from poems to travel/lifestyle blogs, play the piano and attempt yoga. When she’s not writing, she spends her time travelling and learning about new cultures. She is also an identical twin! Holly is new to Toronto, so feel free to send tips on your favourite spots to eat, drink and have fun to her Instagram @hollystark!