13 ways to overcome procrastination as a programmer

We all fight procrastination. Some of us do it every day. Some of us get defeated every day. Others almost always succeed. But even those people have days when they can't do anything. What can we do about it?

A dog on a chair
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

How to tell whether a programmer procrastinates? There are many symptoms of procrastination, including perfectionism and fear of failure.

These feelings may lead you to put off tasks, especially when those tasks are too difficult or overwhelming. You may also think the time is not right or be unclear about what needs to be done.

Are you a person who constantly asks for clarification? Is this because you need more information or want to put the work off?

Do you constantly take breaks? I assure you some days my tea consumption exceeds the amount of water needed by a healthy person living in a moderate climate.

We all fight procrastination. Some of us do it every day. Some of us get defeated every day. Others almost always succeed. But even those people have days when they can't do anything.

What can we do about it?

Use a timer

For many people, timer-based productivity techniques are a helpful way to fight procrastination.

The most popular of these techniques is the Pomodoro Technique. It involves setting a timer for 25 minutes and working on a task until the timer sounds. After a five-minute break, the process is repeated.

The method works because it's easier to focus for short periods than to maintain focus for hours. The Pomodoro Technique can help even the most reluctant workers get started on a task and keep going until it is complete by breaking work down into manageable chunks.

It takes some practice to get used to working in this way. However, for many people, the timer-based approach is an effective way to overcome procrastination.

During every Pomodoro, you have to work for only 25 minutes. No longer. Don't focus on the next 25-minute session. The one running right now is the only thing that matters.

Set a goal

When you're facing an enormous, looming task, it can be helpful to set a goal for yourself before you start working. This goal should be specific, measurable, and achievable.

Setting a goal gives you something to work towards and can help motivate you to start working on your task.

For example, if you're procrastinating on writing a paper, your goal might be to write 500 words in the next 45 minutes.

My goal is to write a 2500 words long blog post in no more than one hour. It seems like an impossible task, but I have been blogging for over five years. After some time, it gets easier. Of course, I'm producing only the first draft right now. Those 60 minutes don't include two or three editing sessions.

Still, I'm making progress towards my goal. So can you. Also, I will most likely fail. 2500 words in one hour is a lot. Yet, I prefer to fail by needing one and a half hours to write it than fail by not starting. It looks like a better-quality failure to me. What do you think?

Take breaks

Surprise, surprise! I bet I don't have to tell you to take breaks if you struggle with procrastination. Aren't you on a six-hour-long break now? ;)

Isn't taking breaks a terrible idea? After all, you were supposed to work.

When you find yourself procrastinating on a task, it can be tempting to push through and get it done as quickly as possible.

However, research has shown that taking a break can be more effective in helping you focus and stay on task. Students who took breaks while studying had better recall the material than those who did not. (https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/study-shows-how-taking-short-breaks-may-help-our-brains-learn-new-skills) By taking breaks, you can help yourself stay focused and avoid burnout.

The trick is to finish the break and return to work after 5 minutes.

One more thing. Don't spend the break sitting in the same place, in front of the same screen, looking at the same thing. No. No! Don't open YouTube. I meant that you should stand up and walk around for a few minutes. Refill your glass of water. Look outside the window.

Change your environment for 5 minutes.

You stopped working but is your brain on a break? It needs a change of context. Think of something different for a while.

Set goals for the day and week ahead of time

One of the best ways to ensure productivity and success is to pre-commit to your goals.

That is, decide in advance what you are going to do and when you will do it. This may seem small, but it can make a big difference. When you pre-commit to a goal, you are more likely to follow through and achieve it.

There are a few reasons for this.

First, pre-committing gives you a specific plan to follow. This makes it easier to stay on track and avoid getting sidetracked by other tasks.

Second, pre-committing puts you in a mindset of taking action and getting things done. This can help to increase your motivation and eliminate procrastination.

Third, procrastinators are often more ambitious when planning their goals than when they have to work on achieving them.

That's why you should plan your next day every evening. Of course, plans can change, but you should avoid rescheduling things because you don't feel like doing them.

Write down what you did today so that tomorrow is easier to plan out in advance

Pre-committing to your goal requires knowing what you need to do to achieve them. You won't know what still needs to get done if you don't see what you have already finished.

It sounds silly, but if every goal is a journey from point A to point B, you need to know where you are right now.

How would you answer the question "Are we there yet?" if you don't track the completed tasks?

Also, when you review the passing day in the evening, you may have an idea of what else you should add to the to-do list. Sometimes you realize you should remove a task because it no longer makes sense.

Even spending five minutes reflecting on your goals and daily achievements helps you correct the course if you spend too much time on activities that don't bring you closer to your destination.

Make your environment comfortable and distraction-free where possible

One of the most important things you can do when trying to focus on work is to create a comfortable and distraction-free environment.

I won't tell you that you should have a separate room without any distractions where you sit only when you work and don't use it for any other purpose. Let's be realistic. Most of us can't afford it.

We need something simpler. Either we can setup our computer to block distracting websites, or maybe we can even disconnect from WiFi. If you don't need WiFi, I recommend unplugging the charger too. You will work much faster if you have to finish everything before the laptop battery runs out of power.

I don't know what would work best for you. The distraction-free setup is quite personal. Some people need silence. Others listen to loud music to block all other sounds.

I should have a ban on YouTube. As a watcher. Seriously. As soon as I open YouTube, the next 2 hours are wasted. I know I will do it at some point, but I have to postpone it as much as I can.

I could block that website with a browser plugin. I consider such plugins huge security and privacy threat, so I don't do it. Of course, I may be justifying my decision because I still want to have access to videos.

Find a work buddy

Having a work buddy can be a great way to increase accountability and stay on track with your goals.

It's easier to resist the temptation to slack off when you know someone will check whether you finished the tasks.

Additionally, a working buddy or a group of buddies can create social pressure to get stuff done. Seriously. If a group of friends can persuade you to get drunk or do something risky, they can also pressure you into working on your tasks.

Naturally, you need to select your work buddies carefully. It won't help you if you ask lazy people to check on you. They won't care whether you work. What's even worse, you will feel accepted by your peers only when you also procrastinate. So choose wisely.

I advise carefulness for two reasons. If you pick a hustler as your working buddy, you will never finish working.

Remember what your goal is! You want to achieve something, not be overworked and busy all the time.

Make a list of your distractions

When you have a food intolerance, the doctor tells you to track everything you eat and observe your body. We can use the same method to fight distractions.

Sometimes, we don't even know what distracts us. Is this social media? Is this your phone? I don't think so, even if you looked at Facebook or text messages.

There was a cue. Something else triggered the distraction. You got distracted, shifted your focus towards something new, and sometime later, reached for the phone or switched to a new tab in the browser.

What was the cue?

You can't fight it if you don't know it.

Get enough sleep

It's not a secret that getting enough rest is vital for our overall health and well-being. When we don't get enough sleep, we're more likely to get sick, feel anxious or depressed, and have trouble concentrating.

It's obvious to everyone.

So why are we willing to sacrifice sleep when we didn't get something done on time because of procrastination? Wouldn't it be better to finish the job as quickly as possible?

It would. But we don't use logic when we make decisions. However, that's a topic for another blog post.

I don't know how long you must sleep to be productive. It seems that I need 6 or 7 hours of sleep. For you, it may be the same. It may be 8 hours or even 9 or 10. That's ok. There's no such thing as too much sleep if you feel well-rested.

Of course, we are talking about sleep-sleep. If you wake up in the morning and spend hours browsing social media on your phone before you wake up, stop.

First of all, that's not sleep, so get up! Second, does it make your day better?

Exercise

The human body is weird. You need to spend energy to get more energy. Not literally, of course. Yet, somehow, exercising makes us feel better and less tired.

When you feel sluggish, it may be hard to start working out. But if you can muster up enough motivation to do it, you will see that it was worth it.

You don't need to exercise for hours every day to see the benefits. Even 20-30 minutes a day can be helpful.

Of course, your local situation and personal preferences matter a lot. You may prefer swimming, but you need to drive for two hours to get to the nearest pool. In this situation, you will probably have to decide what's your second-best sport and do that instead.

You may live in an area with high air pollution. In this case, running outside would endanger your health. In this case, you are probably stuck at a gym or working out at home.

It doesn't matter what you do as long as you do something. It may not be the ideal sport for you, but don't use that fact as an excuse to do nothing.

Take care of yourself mentally and emotionally

Do you know my "favorite" part of many doctor appointments? The moment when the doctor tells me to be less stressed. Well, thank you. How do I even do it? Any ideas?

Ok, my bad. You may have tons of ideas, so let me rephrase my question. Any healthy ideas?

While your mental state is essential, I can't give any advice until I learn how to deal with it myself. I hope someone knows how to do it and can give me a hint. Any healthy ideas? Let me know.

Don't try to be perfect

Perfectionism is the worst procrastination. It is! You are procrastinating on showing your work to the world.

It doesn't feel like procrastination, though. You keep working. You work more and more. You polish the details. You prize yourself for such attention to said details. You think about how everyone will admire it. One day. When you finally finish. But not today. Not tomorrow. There's still so much to do.

Stop postponing. You can always continue working on the second version. Show your work to the people. If you are a perfectionist procrastinator, most likely, people will be satisfied with the current state of things.

Done is better than perfect.

Take a day off

Can you believe your eyes? I'm writing a text about fighting procrastination, and I am telling you to take a day off.

I'm dead serious.

If you stop working for a day, don't do anything related to your work, not even read anything work-related, you may get a new perspective on your situation. Perhaps, you will realize you don't need to do everything. Perhaps, there is something else you should do instead.

Don't spend the day thinking of it!

You are supposed to procrastinate and get distracted. Let your mind process it in the background.

Maybe you need a new point of reference. After all, if you compare yourself to the richest person on the planet, you will always feel poor.

I'm not telling you to lower your standard or compare yourself to people less fortunate than you. First of all, you shouldn't compare yourself with anyone except your past self. Second, lowering the standards is a terrible idea in the long run. Always. In every aspect of life.

I want you to realize what you have already achieved and spend a day appreciating it.

What's your method of fighting procrastination?

What do you do? Do you commit to your goal publicly? Do you start working three hours before the deadline?

What's your secret?

Is there a secret?

I think the secret is that everyone fights procrastination. We feel guilty because we happen to be lazy while everyone else works hard. We may think that some people are inherently productive.

That's not true. Everyone fights the same battle.

Do you wonder whether I achieved my writing goal? No. I failed. The first draft had 2633 words, but it took me 86 minutes to write it. Still, I think it was a decent result.