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Procrastination is the demon. It is the monster that eats up your time and efforts. 

So, what is procrastination?

The following video describes procrastination best.

"Procrastination" Tales Of Mere Existence01:21

"Procrastination" Tales Of Mere Existence

Can you relate to Lev? Well, we all do.

Now, what causes procrastination?

When you are about to start a new task that you aren't really interested about (such as studying a lesson or learning a new concept), it seems that you activate parts of your brain that are associated with pain. Your brain starts looking for a way to stop that pain, and the best way to stop that pain is to switch your attention to something else (such as checking your facebook notifications). However, the pleasure you get out of diversing your attention is temporarily; you are bound to feel worse when you realize time is running out and you haven't finished your tasks.

Unfortunately, procrastination could turn into a habit. That is, you could find yourself procrastinating without even realizing it. How could procrastination turn into a habit? 
Procrastination by demisedangel

Pic source: http://www.deviantart.com/art/procrastination-30437506

Well, to understand how procrastination turns into a habit, let's see how a habit works first. You can think of habits as having four parts:

(1) The cue: the trigger that puts you into a zombie mode (the mode where your brain doesn't have to use all brainpower to do or think about something). The cue that could trigger you to procrastinate might be the 10 page essay assignment that is due soon.

(2) The routine: the habitual response your brain is used do when it recieves the cue. So, you have an assignment due soon, it's painful, so your brain automatically responds by making you feel the urge to check your facebook notifications and procrastinate working on the assignment.

(3) The reward: any habit formed gives us an immediate little feeling of pleasure.

Kittendownload

Awww, look at that cute little kitten picture on Facebook, this is far more pleasing and more interesting than the essay that is due soon, I think I'm going to google cute kitten pictures for the next two hours.

(4) The belief: habits have power because you believe in them. Kittens are far more cuter than getting work done. 

Whoa! procrastination is indeed the demon posing as a cute kitten (or puppy). 

And the million dollar question follows: How can I escape the shackles of procrastination?

First and foremost, learn to focus on the PROCESS NOT the PRODUCT. 

What is that? Instead on focusing on finishing the 10-page essay in a time frame (the product), focus on getting the pen writing on the paper (the process). Starting a big task with the sheer thought of finishing it is going to only get you frustrated and your brain will start looking for ways to divert your attention to something more pleasant, thus procrastination. Instead, you can set a certain time frame where you are going to work on the task focused and then take a break, removing the stress of having to finish all the task in one session. 

Studies show that the habitual part of your brain likes processes because it can march mindlessly along. The moment you withdraw the thought of how big the product you have to finish is, and start focusing on the process instead, you will actually get more work done more efficiently. 

It's alright, it might take a while to get used to focusing on the process instead of the product, especially when you are always under the pressure of deadlines. But here are some techniques to help you overcome your procrastination habits: 

The number one procrastination buster: the Pomodoro technique. Despite its unusual name (which means tomato in Italian), the Pomodoro technique has been proven to significantly help people organize their concentration on tasks and overcoming their procrastination problems. 

Pomoimages

The pomodoro technique involves setting a timer for 25 minutes, through which you dedicate your whole attention to the task at hand, eliminating all sources of distractions. After the 25-minute brain workout, you reward yourself with a short break (go check on your kittens). Repeating this process of focus-rest will not only enhance your learning efficiency, but will also help you understand the material you are studying better as your brain switches from the focus mode to the diffuse mode. 

Here's an online pomodoro timer that you can use: http://tomato-timer.com/#

Check out other techniques and tips to beat procrastination here


References:

Dr. Terrence Sejnowski, Dr. Barbara Oakley (2014). "Learning How to Learn: Powerful mental tools to help you master tough subjects". Coursera

Wright, Robert, (April 21, 2012). "How to Break the Procrastination Habit" The Atlantic. Retrieved from: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/04/how-to-break-the-procrastination-habit/256199/

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