Beat Procrastination With “The Urge List”

Riddle me this: How many anti-procrastination techniques have you tried in your life? Okay, you don’t have to answer that. I know there are probably quite a few. The various things you could try include creating a to-do list, timeboxing, recruiting others to help you in your efforts, etc.

What if you tried one technique that finally made you conscious of both the fact that you were procrastinating and why? Well, then you’d love me of course!

Materials required:

  • Writing utensil*
  • Paper
  • All necessary materials to complete your project (the reason for your procrastination)

*You may also use any other object that allows you to record your ideas as they come to you.

The Set-up

After gathering your materials, begin the work that you’ve been dreading. But don’t fear because you’ll only need to work for one minute. Easy enough, right?

If after the first minute you’re still feeling good about completing your task then continue it. Maybe you don’t need me after all. However, if you’re distracted by a random urge to do something else, record that urge. We’ll call this the “Urge List.” An example of mine while writing this article can be found below.

This is my Urge List. As you can see, I get quite a bit of mind noise while focusing on something for long periods of time.

What Does the List Accomplish?

It serves two purposes.

  1. It makes you aware of why you’re procrastinating.
  2. It can take things off your mind while you focus on the more important task at hand.

The list strengthens my ability to actively choose a path of action. For example, take a look at Number 9 on my list. It reads “Stare at a leaf.” After I had that wildly beckoning thought I immediately disregarded it and then went back to writing this article. By keeping myself loyal to my list, I was able to think about why I wasn’t consistently focusing and I was also able to eliminate silly urges (although it seemed completely reasonable at the time).

What Happens When You Must Give in to An Urge?

Only choose to carry out the urges that are truly important and that won’t allow you to get carried away. Be conservative. If you need to drink some water, go ahead and do it. Besides, water is good for you. Just don’t go over the top and take a shower, water the plants, and drive out to your nearest water park all in effort to avoid your task. Over time you’ll nurture your inner voice and be able to consciously and accurately ignore/accept urges so that you don’t deviate unexpectedly.

Analyze the List.

As you record, you’ll notice recurring urges. You can combat the seeming urgency of these desires by telling yourself that it can be your reward for after you finish your current project. It can also help you see the folly of your mind in its current state. Perhaps this “reward” really isn’t that great at all (think back to the leaf example). Then you can easily forget about it as a distraction. Your mind can let it go.

Otherwise, the urge that you’ve been trying to fight really is worth all the work you’ve been doing. In that case, you’ve successfully pinpointed something you want to work towards as the carrot at the end of the stick. Most people make the mistake of choosing a reward before they finish their work. This reward may not be aligned with their true desires, and they don’t work as hard to finish their task because the supposed “reward” doesn’t motivate them.

Additional Steps to Boosting Productivity

There are certain precautions you can take that are recommended by others that will increase the effectiveness of this method. When combined with advice such as turning off your internet connection, and keeping out distracting sounds, the Urge List can keep you focused and alert during your working hours.

If you’ve used the Urge List method and it has or hasn’t worked for you, then let me know in the comments below.


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