This is the simple mental habit that helped me overcome procrastination (and feel good about work)

Emotions management goes a long way in improving your productivity.

This is the simple mental habit that helped me overcome procrastination (and feel good about work)
[Photo: Carlos G. Lopez/Getty Images]

When I first made the jump from lawyer to freelance writer, my productivity suddenly dropped. I couldn’t understand why. How come I, who had graduated with three law degrees, couldn’t buckle down and get simple tasks done? Only a looming deadline would get me to work on my business.


Been there? In that case, you know that downloading the latest productivity app or sporadically using the Pomodoro Technique won’t work. Fortunately, there’s a simple mental habit that will help you get things done.

You see, research shows that procrastination is an emotion-management problem, not a time management issue. Studies show that negative emotions, like boredom, frustration, and resentment, make us procrastinate.

For me, as a new entrepreneur, I had to tackle feelings of self-doubt and anxiety. Those negative emotions took their toll on my productivity. But while procrastination stems from negative feelings, happiness helps you get to the end of your to-do list. According to research, it can improve productivity by as much as 12%.

What if you could use happiness to combat procrastination? That’s what I did, and it worked wonders.

The mental habit that changed it all

Everything changed for me when I started using a simple mental habit to rewire the way I thought about my tasks. Whenever I thought, “I don’t want to work today,” I would consciously put a positive spin on my thoughts and tell myself, “There are so many possibilities out there. By working on this task, I get closer to making them happen for me.”

By adopting this mental habit of changing my negative feelings into positive ones, I stopped resisting work. Instead, I started automatically ticking off tasks on my to-do list, and even those tasks I had pushed off for months felt enjoyable.


Want to implement this in your work and finally let go of procrastination? Here are three steps to making it happen:

1. List your successes

You know that proud, excited, and relieved feeling when you’ve achieved something? To change your self-talk, keep your successes (and the feeling that came with them) top of mind. Make a quick mental check-in with yourself every morning by thinking about one of your successes, whether it’s recent or not.

With the help of this exercise, you start your day with the right emotion, and your tasks will feel much easier to accomplish. For example, I will regularly remind myself of small and big successes—a demanding task I’ve accomplished recently or winning a new client contract.

2. Make gratitude a habit

Changing the way you feel about your work comes with a bit of practice. That’s why a gratitude journal can be a good addition to your new mental habit. After all, research shows that gratitude is linked with greater happiness.

Use a few minutes every day to either write or think about three specific things you’re grateful for in your life. And whenever you feel resentful or bored, remind yourself of how much you can be grateful for.

I regularly do gratitude check-ins when I work. I will tell myself how grateful I am that I’ve built my own business that lets me work from anywhere and that I get to work with companies doing amazing things. This habit makes work feel so much more fulfilling, which again helps keep procrastination at bay.


3. Change the way you speak to yourself

Finally, to change the way you think about your tasks, you need to change the way you speak to yourself. Think about it: Would you expect others to perform a task if you were constantly reminding them of how little confidence you have in them? Probably not.
Speak to yourself as you would to people around you. That’s the only way you can truly change your thoughts, your confidence, and the way you feel about your work.

If you notice yourself beating yourself up for procrastinating yet again, tell yourself: “I am great at what I do, but I made a mistake. I’m going to get my next task done because I enjoy my work, and this task will help me reach my goal.”

Using this mental habit can seem simple, but it does require practice. By rewiring your thoughts and focusing on the positive sides of your work, you can overcome procrastination, get more done, and achieve your goals. Plus, you’ll enjoy the experience so much more.

Camilla Hallstrom is a freelance writer and content marketer who helps writers start full-time and part-time writing businesses.