Summary: Procrastination consists of postponing key tasks to the last minute while doing pleasing task instead. By using the pleasing tasks to your advantage you can effectively fight procrastination.


We have a report to write, problems to solve, handy work to do. Instead of doing those key tasks, we do all sort of other things. We attend unnecessary meetings, browse the internet, talk with colleagues, accept other engagements and end up with last minute panic.

This situation is widespread. It greatly impacts our performance and the quality of our deliverable. The enemies that make us procrastinate are those small pleasures that seduce us into postponing important tasks. The trick to fighting procrastination is to transform this enemy into our ally. Here are the main ideas coming from the literature and practice in human factors.

Why we procrastinate

Our brain has two main attention modes: 1) Focus attention and 2) diffuse attention.

Focus attention is when we are concentrating on a task such as solving a problem, writing a report or studying a concept. Diffuse attention is when our thinking is wandering freely, jumping from one topic to another. This diffused attention mode is not a waste of time. Diffused attention helps our brain to bond new knowledge structures and arrive at new ideas.

Focus attention requires a high level of energy. The diffuse mode is more relaxed and demands less attention.

Like during physical exercise, we need to alternate between high and low intensity work. When doing weight lifting, a trainer will recommend that we take short breaks between weight lifting sets. It would be crazy to think that we’ll become a good weight lifter by training ourself for the whole day without interruption.

Cognitive activities are is similar. We must alternate between work and rest, between focus and diffuse attention.

Fighting procrastination

The trick is to use those pleasing tasks as rewards to enable us to use the diffuse attention mode to your advantage.

Managing focus attention and reward

1) First begin with a focus attention task for 25 minutes and then reward yourself with a rest for 10 minutes. During this rest, allow yourself to relax into pleasing task such reading the newspaper or browsing the internet. Restful activities, like listening to music and talking with friends will trigger dopamine in the pleasure center of the brain. In fact, rest time or pleasure time is healthy for your brain and that is where the trick lies for fight proscratianton. You should not feel guilty. Those pleasing tasks are productive and they are your reward. During pleasure times, your brain continue to work by enabling the diffuse attention mode. A very good trick is to set a timer to 25 minutes to motivate you to do key tasks first. Then reward yourself with pleasing activities for few minutes.

2) In the morning, even before breakfast if you work for home, start with key tasks and focus you attention for 20-30 minutes. Then reward yourself with a pleasing task such as reading the newspaper. Do not do this in inverse. The reward must follow the work. Then work another 20-30 minutes and give yourself another reward. This time, for example, you may wish to check your email or make a phone call.

3) For a whole day of work, you could do three cycles of attentive work and reward. Then you could go for some exercise or a walk for longer period of time. You will be renewed for another cycle of high attention work and diffuse attention. When you are at work you may use meetings or discussion with college as rest tasks.

Physical Exercise

Exercise is the best reward for enabling the diffuse mode because it increases blood circulation in your brain, which increases the level of synapse creation bounding of knowledge.

Exercise in the middle of the day is preferable to working out in the morning or at night because you have already done focus attention work that can feed you diffuse mode.

Increase your creativity

People say that the shower is good place to have idea. The reason is that you are alone with no music, no phone calls, no interruptions. This is the essential state for enabling full diffuse attention mode.

A quiet place where you are alone is good place to effectively enable diffuse attention. Lite, meditative music or soft classical music can be a good background.

If you have a creative project on the go, begin your day with one of your key creative tasks. For example, if you are a writer, write something. Write anything, and keep at it for 25 minutes, even if you are not inspired. Then reward yourself and try to maximise your diffuse attention mode by either taking a shower, exercising or going into an isolated room to meditate. Do not do the inverse. Be sure to start with the focus task. If you drive, do so without listening to talk radio such a public affairs or the news. Just listen to soft music. The whole approach is to feed your brain with your creative challenge first and then enable the diffuse attention mode.

Verbal, visual and spatial attention

Visual and verbal tasks use opposite and complementary type of attention resources. For example, when you talk over the phone, you may find yourself drawing on a napkin at the same time. You can drive and talk to your passengers. But, as soon as you look for an address, you will stop talking because talking and looking for an address use the same verbal attention resources in your brain.

You can use these attention modes to your advantage. When writing, draw sketches of your ideas or vice versa. This allows the verbal and spatial attention resources to work together, which makes better use of the diffuse attention mode.

Alternate between verbal and visual. This enables you to extend your attention time because one mode of attention rests upon the complementary attention resources.

Use sleep to your advantage

Sleep enables creativity and learning. For example, if you have difficult problems to solve, begin working on them during the day before going to bed or taking a nap. Put a notebook beside your bed to note you ideas. You may have new ideas to write down when you wake up. Relaxation, half sleep or meditation are also very effective. Enjoy relaxation and meditation and let you brain fall fully into the diffuse mode.

Implementing new habits 

New knowledge is interesting, but not useful unless you put in the time and effort to implement it. I have described simple but powerful ways to fight procrastination. I have also offered concrete examples. Now it’s time to act. You can make these changes immediately, but they will only have a permanent impact in your life once they have become habit. The first few weeks is the most important in forming any new habit, so I urge you to consciously adhere the type of schedule I have proposed for the next three weeks. After that, it should start to take less conscious effort. Before long, this new way of managing your time will feel completely natural.