For as long as humans have walked this earth, we have been struggling with delaying the shit we know we need to do.
Whether it’s the huge presentation that we need to work on, or the big changes we need to make in our lives, it’s easy to put things off and choose instant gratification over our long-term goals.
And while it always feels good in the short-term — regret, depression, and emptiness are typically the result of procrastination in the long-term.
It’s like there’s this giant wall of resistance that hinders us from making progress on the tasks and actions that will actually move the needle in our lives.
In today’s article, we’re going to talk about why this happens despite our best intentions.
Additionally, I’m going to show you how to avoid procrastination and laziness by tapping into a simple productivity trick called The Two Minute Rule.
Let’s dive in.
Why Do We Procrastinate?
Before we talk about how to avoid procrastination and laziness, it’s important to understand why we procrastinate in the first place.
Through research, psychologists have discovered a phenomenon called time inconsistency. Time inconsistency refers to the tendency for our brain to value immediate rewards as opposed to delayed rewards.
An easier way to understand this concept is by imagining you have two different people living inside of you — your Present Self and your Future Self.
When you make a to-do list or set goals, you are making plans for your future self. You’re projecting yourself into the future and imagining outcomes that would make you happy and fulfilled. (Ex: By Sunday night I will have completed that essay)
However, while the Future Self can make plans, the only person that can actually act on those plans is the Present Self.
When the time comes to make a decision, you’re no longer thinking about the future. You are in the heat of the moment, which means your Present Self is the one running the show.
The Present Self is mostly driven by our ego and basic instincts. In other words, it really likes instant gratification. Your present self wants you to feel good right now, so it steers you towards activities that satisfy that goal.
This means that each time you are presented with a dilemma between choosing what is easy and what is right — your present self and your future self are engaging in internal warfare.
Your future self knows you should go to the gym, but your present self wants you to watch TV and feel comfortable.
Your future self knows you should stay in and work on the paper you have due Monday, but your present self sees going out to a bar with your friends as a far more attractive option.
our future self knows you should go talk to that attractive girl, but your present self wants you to avoid the threat of rejection.
From an evolutionary perspective, we’re hard-wired to make decisions that satisfy our immediate needs.
Your brain has many responsibilities, but it’s primary objective is to keep you alive while expending as little energy as possible.
So while it’s intentions are good, the consequences of choosing instant gratification are devastating.
Your brain thinks that not approaching that girl or not working on that presentation is saving you from a threatening situation, but it’s actually sabotaging your long-term goals.
Are Procrastination and Laziness the Same?
While these two terms tend to get lumped together, they are actually quite different.
Procrastination is an active choice. When you procrastinate, you are choosing to do something else instead of whatever it is you know you should be doing.
You’re avoiding an unpleasant task and opting to do something that requires less mental energy.
Laziness is more of a general attitude towards life. It suggests indifference and an unwillingness to act.
That’s a key distinction that needs to be made because typically procrastinators are actually incredibly ambitious. They want to engage in meaningful work and achieve their goals, but they’ve built a destructive habit of choosing to dedicate their time to smaller, less significant tasks.
Procrastinators fantasize about accomplishing more than they usually do. And when they don’t, they feel guilt and shame because they know they’re not living up to their full potential.
Lazy people actually tend to be fairly satisfied with their life choices.
They’re typically not workaholics, as they simply prefer exerting less energy on a day to day basis. They don’t need to be in motion all the time in order to feel content.
Lazy people don’t care about how to overcome procrastination and laziness. Procrastinators obsess over it.
- A lazy person watches TV because they don’t want to do anything else at that moment, a procrastinator watches TV because it takes their mind off of the huge presentation they have to do.
- A lazy person skips the gym because they’re indifferent to their physical condition. A procrastinator skips the gym because they don’t want to face the discomfort that comes with getting in shape.
How Can You Avoid Procrastination?
If you find yourself in the lazy category, then the rest of this article won’t be very valuable for you.
However, if you clicked on this article I’m guessing that you truly do want more from your life, and just need a proven framework for how to avoid procrastination and laziness.
We’re going to talk about the Two Minute Rule here in a second. But before we do, here are three additional tips to keep in mind if you want to maximize your productivity.
Tip #1: Make a to-do list the right way
Making a to-do list is something that needs to be an integral part of your morning/evening routine if you’re looking to beat procrastination.
One of the reasons people tend to procrastinate is due to a lack of clarity about what they want to accomplish.
The main benefit of having a plan of action for your day is that it removes doubt or indecision. It’s easy to get stuck in analysis paralysis when you don’t know what to focus on.
Once you narrow your focus, you give your brain a roadmap to having a productive day.
More importantly though, you need to make a to do-list that organizes your tasks by their level of importance.
It’s easy to just list out what you need to do on any given day, but if this is all you do then your brain will simply defer to the easiest tasks on that list.
Personally, I set up my list using the Ivy Lee Method. It’s practical and simple, and it will only take you a few minutes to set up each morning.
In these few minutes, you’ll give your brain clarity about the tasks that actually matter, which means you’ll be less likely to choose easier, less difficult tasks that don’t represent significant progress towards your goals.
Tip #2: Forgive Yourself For Procrastinating
There’s really two factors that contribute to procrastination.
The first part is about choosing instant gratification over long-term progress. We’ve already covered that quite extensively in the previous sections of this post.
But the second reason why people procrastinate is due to the feelings that come after putting off important things.
You put off tasks that you know you need to do, you feel guilt and shame because you’re consciously aware of the fact that you are sabotaging yourself. This feeling diminishes your sense of self-worth and reinforces negative beliefs about your ability to take action on your goals.
The direct result of this is a negative feedback loop that contributes to the cycle of procrastination — you feel bad about procrastinating so you procrastinate even more.
An easy way to take control of this feedback loop is simply to forgive yourself for procrastinating.
An extensive study conducted by Timothy Pychyl, author of Solving The Procrastination Puzzle, came to two insightful conclusions about procrastination:
- Forgiving yourself for procrastination on a given tasks leads to less procrastination on a similar task in the future
- Self-forgiveness reduces procrastination by reducing the negative emotions associated with avoidance
The bottom line is this – the quicker you can move on from the failure associated with procrastination, the more likely you will be to take action the next time you’re faced with the same dilemma.
Tip #3: Break Down Big Tasks Into Smaller Chunks
Imagine a scenario where you’re looking at your to-do list and you see, “Complete essay for English class” or “Create budget for the year.”
Pretty daunting stuff right? Big tasks and big goals have the same effect – they tend to overwhelm us.
If you have a goal to lose weight, it’d be ludicrous to say to yourself, “I’m going to lift weights for an hour 5 times per week.”
This would require an exorbitant amount of motivation and willpower to maintain.
The same concept applies to productivity. Setting realistic targets and hitting them day after day is far better for long-term growth than setting a huge target that you’ll inevitably fail to meet every day.
So if you have a big task that you know will take awhile to complete, simply break it up before putting on your to-do list. Think about the smaller subtasks that you will need to complete and write those down instead.
“Write the introductory paragraph” sounds a lot better than “Finish 5 page essay”
“Create first slide” sounds far more appealing than “Finish presentation”
Give yourself an actionable next step that’s reasonably difficult, but not too difficult. Your brain will perceive a task much differently when you substantially decrease the time commitment necessary to get it off your to-do list.
Armed with these three tips, let’s now talk about how to avoid procrastination and laziness using the two minute rule.
How to Overcome Procrastination and Laziness: The 2 Minute Rule
The Two Minute Rule is the easiest way to combat your brain’s constant need for instant gratification and spring yourself into action.
The rule is pretty self-explanatory:
Whenever you feel resistance towards completing a certain task, all you’re going to do is commit to working on it for two minutes.
Doing this accomplishes two things.
First off, you’re giving yourself an out. Most procrastination is built on avoidance of a potentially stress-inducing experience.
It’s not that we don’t want to get things done, we just don’t want to make ourselves miserable by working for hours on end.
By only committing to the task for two minutes, you’re giving yourself the option of giving up if the act of starting is as horrible as you thought.
Second, you are actively exposing yourself to the activity, which is always less painful than you thought it was going to be.
You’ve probably experienced this more than a few times as well. Once you start working on the thing that you’ve been dreading, it’s not so bad!
That’s because your brain is now using its energy in a different way. Your focus is now on completing the task as opposed to the potential stress associated with it.
The graph below from James Clear provides a clearer picture of how this phenomenon works.
As you can see, the level of pain you feel while you are procrastinating is significantly less than the pain you feel when you are in the middle of the task.
The problem is not doing the work, the problem is starting the work. Once you overcome the initial resistance, you’ve essentially slayed the biggest dragon.
That’s the beauty of the two minute rule — once you get rolling, it’s very hard to stop.
There’s been countless times where I’ve felt myself procrastinating, applied this rule, and found myself still working two hours later.
You’ll be quite surprised at how easy productivity is when you can master how to be consistent
I hope that this article provided you with actionable advice regarding how to overcome procrastination and laziness.
There’s beauty in simplicity — and the two minute rule is about as straightforward as it gets when it comes to productivity advice.
Because our present self and future self are always at odds with one another, starting is often the most difficult part of completing any task.
When you can apply the two minute rule and remove the initial friction associated with working towards your goals, you’ll be amazed at how easy it becomes to take action.