How making a plan helps you stop procrastinating

how to stop procrastinating

For the third time today you click your inbox, scrolling through the messages. Then you switch to your favorite online news site, looking for new updates on the corona virus pandemic. You know you should work on your project but somehow you just can’t seem to put yourself to do it. There’s too much going on in your head right now. You just can’t stop procrastinating.

If this description sounds familiar, you’re probably suffering from anxiety due to the corona outbreak. And if it makes you feel better: millions all across the globe are experiencing the same thing. Your whole life has been reorganized in a not so nice way: suddenly we are all prone to the risk of succumbing to this horrible disease. Or maybe worse: we might lose our loved ones, without even the chance of saying goodbye.

Scarcity worsens procrastination

Worries like that are hard to shake off. And unfortunately they also impair our ability to focus at the task at hand. It’s not just feeling stressed that is causing this. It’s probably worsened by this feeling of scarcity we have, now more than ever. And as Princeton psychologist Eldar Shafir discovered in his work over the years, experiencing scarcity takes up so much mental energy it leads to making bad decisions. And scarcity is exactly what we are experiencing now, with people losing their jobs, social distancing leading to loss of personal interactions and fun, uplifting moments!

So if you’re trying to decide what to do on the go, your brain is just freezing, unable to do a decent job. There just isn’t enough cognitive bandwidth available, as Shafir points out. So you keep going around in circles, ending up even more stressed and possible deprived of future earnings. And that makes it even harder to stop procrastinating.

How to stop procrastinating:

The way to stop this might be quite simple: make the decision easier of even better, remove it from the equation. How? By making the decisions in advance. Or, in other words, by making a plan.

So, here’s how you do this:

  1. Make a list of things to do.
  2. Be sure the tasks are:
    • small enough and
    • easy to accomplish.
  3. Limit the list to a manageable amount, on other words: the list itself should be short.
  4. Decide beforehand which task is done first, then the second etc.
  5. Start each day with this list.

Decreasing choice to stop procrastination

Making a plan this way means you’re making the decisions upfront, eliminating choice paralysis along the way. It’s something most people don’t realize: we are all suffering from choice paralysis the moment we don’t have a plan. And that, certainly in times like these, is just too much for our mental capacities.

It’s important that you start your day with your list, either making it first thing in the morning or making it at the end of the previous day. Just get started on the first item on your list (which might be: ‘start day with making plan’) and then move on to the next.

Bonus: activate reward system

There’s a second benefit here: with every task you accomplish, you will activate the reward system in your brain. It’s an effective countermeasure against that feeling of scarcity and will restore your mental bandwidth, helping you to restrain yourself on those moments of weakness.

So make sure those tasks on your list are really small and easy to do!