The 3 Best Ways to Stop Procrastinating

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Predictably Irrational" by Dan Ariely. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What are the best ways to stop procrastinating? How can you make your aroused state self align with your cool state self?

Procrastination happens when your aroused state acts in conflict with your cool state self and you act irrationally. Although you can’t control your aroused self, you can put measures in place to guide yourself in the right direction.

Continue below for the three best ways to stop procrastinating.

How to Stop Procrastinating

Because you can’t predict how you’ll act in an aroused state, your best bet in working against procrastination is putting tools in place that will act as natural guidelines toward rational decisions—even when your line of thinking is irrational. There are three helpful ways to stop procrastinating: 

Tool #1: Pre-Commitments 

Pre-commitments are promises or decisions your cool-state self makes that are aligned with the way you want to act. These commitments are made in such a way that when it comes time to act, you’re either held accountable to another person, or the decision is made for you.

For example, you might find an exercise buddy and promise to work out together every week. Skipping the gym to binge a new show becomes much harder when you know that you’re letting someone else down. Or, if you have trouble saving money, you might sign up for your employer’s automatic savings program. You’re not tempted by the immediate gratification of spending your money, because the money surpasses you completely. 

Tool #2: Breaking the Cycle of Random Rewards

It’s possible that your procrastination manifests in spending too much time on things that should be put off until later, such as checking your phone or email. These activities are tempting because they randomly deliver rewards such as a text from a friend, or an important email. When rewards aren’t predictable, they take on a surprising and exciting sheen. This is why gambling is so addictive—you never know when you’ll win, and the next pull of the lever might be a jackpot. 

Reducing your random rewards reduces your temptation to take part in the activities that normally deliver them. For example, if you pick up your phone every time you get a notification, switch on the Do Not Disturb feature while you’re working. If you have a habit of mindlessly scrolling social media while you should be doing homework, add an extension to your web browser that blocks select sites for a predetermined amount of time. 

Tool #3: Creating Positive Associations 

If there’s a task you find particularly unpleasant and subsequently put off, such as doing laundry or studying for exams, you can create positive associations so you get a type of “reward” for completing the unpleasant task. This helps fulfill your need for immediate gratification and prevents you from seeking it elsewhere.

For example, every time you need to fold laundry, boot up Netflix and watch an episode of your favorite show while you fold—try not to watch the show outside of laundry time, so you associate the pleasant feeling of watching the show directly with doing laundry. Or, if you have trouble sitting down in the uncomfortable library to study, find a coffee shop near campus where you can enjoy comfortable couches and indulge in a latté. Soon you’ll associate the act of studying with the cozy atmosphere of a coffee shop.

You can’t simply vow to stop procrastinating. However, by putting systems and tools in place ahead of time, your cool-state self does the heavy lifting of decision-making for your aroused-state self. 

The 3 Best Ways to Stop Procrastinating

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  • How logic is failing you on a daily basis
  • How to identify your irrational behaviors
  • Why getting something for free can cause you to make bad decisions

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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