Benjamin Franklin once said that there were two certainties in life: death and taxes. But I’d venture to add a third to that list—procrastination.
Whether it’s that blank document that hasn’t been turned into a committee report yet or the cluttered inbox you keep telling yourself you’re going to go through, we all have things that we’re constantly putting off until we absolutely can’t anymore (usually because someone else makes us do them).
There’s good news, though: Science has a lot of answers to how you can nip your procrastination in the bud.
Professor Tim Pychyl at Carleton University in Canada has been studying procrastination for 19 years and has learned a lot of tips and tricks along the way.
He shared some of his insights in an interview with Vox, and we pulled out some of our favorite tidbits for finally getting to work.
1. Understand That Procrastination Isn’t About Laziness
The first rule of getting better at not procrastinating? Forgive yourself for procrastination you’ve done in the past. One incredibly interesting point that Pychyl has found through his research is that people who procrastinate don’t necessarily lack willpower, but instead are using procrastination as a coping mechanism for many other subconscious emotions.
So instead of thinking of yourself as just lazy, consider the deeper reasons behind why you’re putting something off in the first place. For example, maybe you’re working on a presentation for your department head. Laziness probably isn’t stopping you from getting started; fear of totally failing most likely is.
The sooner you figure out why you’re actually procrastinating, the sooner you can recognize those feelings, work through them, and move on.
Using the presentation example, instead of completing avoiding PowerPoint the week leading up to your speech, talk to your boss about your anxieties and ask for advice on how to build the best presentation ever. You’ll be feeling better (and more productive) in no time.
2. Think About Future You
Pychyl explains that a procrastinator’s mind has a discrepancy between the “present” self and the “future” self, where a person might not be able to connect how present actions affect him of her down the line. In fact, research from Hal Hershfield has shown that we are so disconnected from our future selves that we almost see them as strangers. This makes it much easier to push things off, because who cares about future you?
So, if you’re having trouble typing out that boring committee report, try envisioning the benefits for yourself down the line. Maybe your future self wants a promotion, and getting this report in sooner will help gear you up for that. Maybe doing it now will just allow your future self to leave work early to go to dinner with friends. Whatever it is, spend a moment thinking about the repercussions down the road—not just what you want to do now.
3. Just Get Started
Pychyl has one key piece of advice: “One of my pet expressions is ‘Just get started.’ And it’s important you don’t say ‘Just do it’—that’s overwhelming. But just get started.”
You may not be quite motivated enough to completely finish a project, but getting yourself going (even if it’s just for five minutes) might give you the inspiration you need to continue. It’s totally okay to take things one step at a time.
Procrastination, like a lot of other things, just comes down to science and mind tricks. The sooner you figure out why it’s bogging you down, the easier it is to work through it.