By Katie Azevedo, M.Ed.
This post is part of an anti-procrastination series, where I dive into each of the 6 reasons why we procrastinate. You will find links to the other posts in the series as I create them.
Tim Pychyl, a Carelton University professor, identified 6 qualities of a task that make us more likely to avoid it. According to his studies, we procrastinate when a task is one of the following:
- Ambiguous (unclear)
- Lacks personal meaning / intrinsic reward
This blog post offers strategies for overcoming the first procrastination trigger on the list: when a task is boring.
Obviously, when a task is boring, we are less likely to want to do it. But in most cases, not doing it is not an option.
What do we do? Make the task less boring so we are more motivated to do it. If the task you’ve been avoiding is getting through a book you don’t like, you need these 8 tips.
6 ways to make a task less boring:
1. Game-ify it with a timer.
Having a beat-the-clock mentality, where you literally try to beat a clock, can jack up your motivation just enough to get the thing done. (There’s science behind this, related to adrenaline.)
Two time-based productivity strategies I suggest are the Pomodoro Technique and the Power Hour.
2. Change location.
Though not always possible, a change of scenery can make a task feel novel. Psychologically, novelty is motivating.
If you have a computer-based task, take your laptop somewhere different – even just to another room. If you have to fold laundry, fold it somewhere you usually don’t fold laundry. Have a boring assignment? Do it outside or in one of these 4 study locations. True, it might take you longer to pack up and change location, but at least you’ll get the thing done.
3. Do it with a partner.
If you’ve been avoiding something because it’s boring, find someone to do it with. Even if you can’t do the task with a partner, you can both be in the same room, doing your own thing.
Just telling a partner that you’re going to do something engages the accountability phenomenon, where we do what we’re supposed to simply because we told someone we would.
4. Listen to music or a podcast.
If the task you’ve been procrastinating on is not cognitively demanding (doesn’t require thinking hard), entertain yourself with music or a podcast while you do it. (If the task requires deep thinking or writing, skip this strategy because it’s too taxing on the brain’s language centers.)
This strategy works best when you build anticipation, so plan ahead and find a new album or new podcast episode to save just for your boring task.
5. Get new materials.
You can’t get new materials every time a task is boring, but if there’s a particular thing that you’ve been procrastinating on, getting new materials for the task might provide enough umph for you to get it done.
What could this look like? Maybe new paper and pens for a written task, or a new pillow or throw blanket for a computer-based task (so your seat is more comfortable). Depending on what the task is, you could get a new water bottle, coffee mug, cleaning supplies, app, desk lamp, etc. Don’t underestimate the motivating power of novelty (newness).
6. Set a hard deadline.
It’s harder to complete projects when there’s no real deadline, so create some urgency by setting a date and/or time by which you will complete the task. Urgency and boredom are nearly incompatible.
Tell someone about this deadline for an added layer of accountability. Write it on a sticky note and slap it to your fridge. Write it in your calendar. Set a reminder on your phone. Do everything to make the deadline seem urgent and real.
If there is truly a task that you’ve been avoiding because it’s boring, don’t just read through this list of 6 anti-procrastination strategies and call it a day. Try one. Try two. Try something. If you change nothing about your current approach, then you will literally change nothing about the outcome.
Here are some more tips for beating procrastination if you want to keep going.
Or if you think you might be procrastinating because a task is frustrating (common procrastination trigger #2), then you need these tips here.