6 Steps to Rewire Your Brain for Productivity
Do you struggle with procrastination? You’re definitely not alone. Procrastination affects all of us from time to time and is often linked to poor mental health, fatigue, and stress. Luckily, there’s science behind why procrastination happens—and how to fix it.
You may think overcoming procrastination is all about willpower, but you’d be wrong. In fact, beating procrastination requires using a set of tools and techniques to retrain your brain. If you follow these six science-backed steps, you’ll be well on your way toward a more productive and focused lifestyle.
We’re all suffering from a case of information overload. The internet is full of articles, videos, and memes that can entertain us for hours. It’s no wonder we can’t get anything done! Our brains are wired to prefer the stimulation of information overload over our sometimes repetitive work tasks, so it’s no surprise that many of us procrastinate in this way. But what can we do about it?
Simply vowing, “I’m not going to check my phone for an hour,” is far less effective than using a concrete method to help you focus. We recommend fighting technology with technology: use apps and internet tools to remove distractions. For example, focus and productivity apps like “Forest” use games and other features to deter you from browsing social media on your phone. When on your laptop, install one of the many free browser extensions available to block distracting websites while you work.
2. Break Down Your Tasks
We’re often discouraged from beginning a task because it seems too big. For any task that you’re having trouble starting, break it down into smaller pieces. Need to write an article? Divide it into subtasks: research topic and take notes, draft outline, create rough draft, edit, and complete final draft. Add self-imposed deadlines for each subtask for added accountability. If you approach a task in this way, you might find yourself chipping away at those big projects in no time.
This method can work for almost any task – even the small ones. If you keep delaying writing an important email, for instance, one of your subtasks could merely be writing the email’s greeting. It sounds strange, but this method can truly help convince your brain to get started.
3. Make it Visual
Display your task and subtasks somewhere where you can see them. For example, invest in post-it notes or a whiteboard where you can write down your list. Having a visual reminder of what you need to accomplish will keep your tasks top of mind, making it much harder to get distracted.
4. Get Started
This may be the most basic step, but it’s also the most difficult. If you completed the first three steps, though, you’ve made it a lot easier on yourself to get started. Begin with your first subtask (if this seems too overwhelming for you, break it down into smaller subtasks). Once you’ve finished that, you’re more likely to continue onto the next subtask because your brain is now in work mode.
Your brain dislikes unfinished tasks—it’s how we’re wired—so taking a small step to start the tasks on your list is the biggest driver of momentum for you to complete them all.
5. Time Block Your Work vs. Your Breaks
Science shows that time blocking works. Decide on blocks of time where you’ll only focus on working and blocks of time when you’ll take breaks. Set a timer to ensure you stick to these set intervals. The Pomodoro Technique is one of the most popular time blocking methods; it involves working in 25-minute segments and then taking a five-minute break between each interval.
During your short breaks, it’s recommended you avoid the internet if possible, which has the potential to be highly distracting for a lot of people. Instead, listen to music, have a snack, read, get up and move around, or participate in another relaxing activity.
6. Celebrate and Reward Yourself
It’s true: you have the power to influence your brain’s responses. Take advantage of this by celebrating each time you complete a subtask and rewarding yourself whenever you complete a full task. It sounds silly, but mini-celebrations (something as simple as patting yourself on the back or playing your favorite song) have been proven to rewire our brains to connect celebrated tasks with positive feelings.
You should save larger rewards only for when you finish a task. A reward could be a cup of coffee or your favorite treat, or something grander if the task was more time-consuming or challenging.
Following these six tips will give you several tools to train your brain to overcome procrastination. Remember to be kind to yourself throughout this process: forgiving your past behaviors will help you reduce stress and drive more positive results going forward.