I originally answered this question on Quora and have re-purposed it since I think the answers in it are relevant to anyone.

Why do we have problems focusing?

Simple answer, procrastination is a way of reacting to the unpleasant feeling you have -which is being daunted by what you have to do. Or lacking purpose. Or any number of reasons.

The excellent “Learning how to Learn” course details precisely this, and there is a short video from Barbara Oakley here all about it.

Procrastination is a habit like any other

Which means we need to find way of recognising it, and stopping it in its tracks. Habits start with a cue, and then a routine. What’s your cue? Overwhelm? Confusion on the work’s relevance? Whatever is it is, when you ‘feel the feeling’ you tend to fall onto your procrastination routine, whether that’s making a coffee, going on social media etc etc

The Pomodoro Technique can help

A pomodoro[3] is the biggest ‘bang for back’ – since it’s a tactical solution – 25 mins of focus on the task, regardless of your motive for avoiding, is the quickest way to get started. Almost always just taking myself off to a quiet area in the office and focusing for a short period is enough to get me started, and then I can get moving.

Process, not product

I’ve included a small mind-map I once made when I studied procrastination for the course I mentioned. Know thyself, I suppose! There’s a few tips in here around understanding yourself, most importantly around needing to focus on the process not the product. In other words just getting through a 25 minute commitment is what you should aim for (and then chaining those together) rather than stressing yourself out with ‘I must finish this chapter, or get this much code written’

Understanding ‘why’ is the strategic solution

As the mind map suggests, we all have our cues to the procrastination habit, and they can vary by situation. Cultivating a bit of self awareness around that is hard but a valuable technique since we can force ourselves into new better habits.

In the meantime though, here’s a useful mindmap on overcoming procrastination based on several cues. I reviewed a few sources before and added this in.

By James