These 4 Tricks Will Help You Be More Productive

Photographed by Rockie Nolan.
As we all know, saying "I need to get this done" is in no way a guarantee that this will actually ever be done. It will just always be easier to not do The Thing than to do The Thing — even though we know that tomorrow we will very much wish we had just done The Thing. Luckily, with a few shifts in thinking, we can overcome that urge to become a lazy pile of sweatpants subsisting only on episodes of Stranger Things.

"If we rely on willpower, we’re going to run out of steam," says Tim Pychyl, PhD, associate professor of psychology and procrastination expert at Carleton University in Ontario. But to figure out how to give yourself the best chance of pushing through that wall of laziness, you've gotta do a little soul-searching first and examine why you're being such a sloth in the first place.

Essentially, we're tempted to be lazy anytime we need to do something we think is going to bring on a negative emotion (e.g. frustration, resentment, boredom). Avoiding that task is basically just a way to prevent those negative feelings, Dr. Pychyl says. Yep, even though we know it's going to be worse for us in the long run, being lazy helps us feel better in the short-term — and it's just really hard to resist that.

While nearly all of us feel that temptation, some of us are more likely to give in than others — specifically, folks who are low on conscientiousness, one of the "big five" personality traits. "Someone who’s extremely low on conscientiousness isn't very dutiful, organized, or self-disciplined," Dr. Pychyl explains. That means you're more likely to procrastinate and find it more difficult to dig yourself out of that procrastination hole.

The good news is that you've got four other major personality markers (agreeableness, openness to new experiences, neuroticism, and extraversion) that you can leverage to counter your low conscientiousness. For instance, if you're super agreeable, enlist a few friends in your productivity efforts (maybe via a shared Google calendar?) because you're probably more likely to be accountable to them than yourself. Or if you love to try new things, sign yourself up for a different studio fitness class every week to keep things interesting rather than trying to force yourself to do the same at-home workout every time.

Ready to tackle your lazy demons? Read on for a few more tips and tricks — and then get after it.
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Photographed by Martin Mendizabel.
1. Just think one step ahead.

If you're putting off a big project, it might be because, well, there's a lot to do. We don't blame you for feeling intimidated, but you really gotta get that shit done.

"First, you have to recognize [your procrastination] is all about feeling good now," Dr. Pychyl says. "So don’t focus on the feeling — whether that's frustrated or uncertain — but instead ask yourself ‘What’s the next action?’"

You don't have to think about the final product, and you don't have to think about all 200 steps between here and there. Just focusing on the very next thing you have to do makes it seem more manageable and gets you out of that avoidant thought pattern.
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Photographed by Rockie Nolan.
2. Make success as easy as possible.

Your personality matters, but so does your environment, Dr. Pychyl says. "Set it up so you can win."

For example, maybe you want to start riding your bike after work a few times a week. But your favorite thing to do when you first come home is grab a nice cold beer from your fridge. After that happens, it's nearly impossible to pull yourself off the couch.

So Dr. Pychyl suggests taking the beer out of the fridge in the morning so that when you get home you have to wait for it to get cold. While you're waiting, you might as well grab your bike (from where you have conveniently placed it by the door).

Basically, think about every single barrier to your goals — no matter how small — and find ways to arrange your environment to avoid those barriers later on. Make those decisions when you're feeling motivated (e.g. in the morning before you leave for work) so you don't have to when you're more susceptible to laziness.
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Photographed by Aaron Richter.
3. Be nice to Future You.

Part of being lazy is giving into your present desires at the expense of your future self. "We think of our future selves as strangers," Dr. Pychyl says, so it's hard to prioritize what they'd like from us.

One way to get around this is to do what Dr. Pychyl calls "time travel." Essentially, this means putting yourself in Future You's shoes. "When you do a bit of that time travel, you develop empathy for your future self," he says. And, hopefully, that means you'll stick to your productive plans (after all, how happy and grateful will Future You feel?).
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4. And be nice to Present You.

All of that said, you're still gonna mess up. And there's nothing wrong with just totally vegging out every once in a while (self care, y'all). The issue is when your procrastination becomes a pattern — and it's very hard for it to not become a pattern.

That's because, as soon as we shirk one responsibility, we start to feel bad about it. That leads us on a downward spiral of guilt and rumination, Dr. Pychyl says.

But his research has found that the first step to getting off that train is forgiving yourself for messing up that first time. That'll break the negative self-talk cycle and set you up to take on your next challenge.