13 ways to trick yourself out of being lazy
Here are some easy and effective ways to be more productive
Laziness begets laziness.
Why go to the gym tonight? After all, you haven’t gone in a week. Why take out the garbage when your whole apartment is a mess?
Fair points. But it’s time to break the cycle.
We browsed Reddit and Quora threads on overcoming laziness and pulled out the easiest ways to set yourself on a path toward greater productivity.
These aren’t major life overhauls — instead, they’re small tweaks to your mindset and daily routine that can help you start getting stuff done.
Read on and get inspired.
1. Set a 10-minute alarm
Multiple Redditors shared some variation on the idea that you should tell yourself you’ll only work on the dreaded task for a designated time period — and then you can stop.
Here’s an example, from backformore: “I set an alarm for 10 minutes and then see how much I can get done in that time. Usually, it gets me motivated to keep going after the timer goes off, but if it doesn’t at least I did something.”
Meanwhile, psychologist and procrastination expert Timothy A. Pychl gave Psychology Today much the same advice. Essentially, you “make a deal with yourself” that even though you don’t like doing the task, you do it anyway for 10 minutes. Once you’re already involved, it’s less tempting to quit.
2. Leave yourself an easy task for the following morning
Rosco7 points out that he’s more likely to procrastinate at work when he’s got a hard problem ahead of him.
If, on the other hand, he knows that the problem won’t take much time or effort to solve, he dives right into it, and then into the rest of his work as well:
“Here’s my big trick: I always try to leave myself something easy to do first thing the next morning. If I find a programming bug and see that it will be an easy fix, I leave it for the next morning. If I need to package up an installer for a new release, leave it for next morning. That way I have something easy to start out with, and I’m less tempted to do something else first.”
Several Redditors highlighted the importance of exercise for beating laziness, particularly when you do it first thing in the morning.
As hackday puts it, “Once you get your blood pumping, you will realise that you feel wakeful and energetic instead of sleepy and lethargic.”
Indeed, research has found that young adults who reported being fatigued all the time felt more energetic and less tired when they exercised at a low or moderate intensity.
4. Switch up your work environment
“I find that I procrastinate constantly when I’m at home, so when I want to be productive, I go to a library or another public space,” writes scissa. “If I have a choice, I prefer public spaces where people are working, because they encourage me to do the same.”
Scissa is onto something: Recent research suggests that being around other people who are working hard can motivate us to buckle down, too. That could potentially explain why we’re less inclined to log onto Twitter while sitting in a coffee shop full of people who seem super-focused.
5. Get a partner
HeartlySerious suggests finding a partner to hold you accountable for your non-lazy behaviour.
For example: “If you schedule time at the gym with a friend, you’ll have more motivation to actually get up.”
If you’re thinking about getting an accountability buddy or group, take a few tips from productivity expert Laura Vanderkam. Writing in Fast Company, Vanderkam recommends picking people with a track record of achieving difficult things and communicating with them frequently.
6. Dress up
Here’s a tip that’s particularly useful for those who work remotely. If you can’t find the energy to stop futzing around on Facebook and start writing your project proposal, consider changing out of those stained sweatpants.
“If you dress different, you will act different,” says sidianmsjones. “Get together some outfits that you feel make you look really classy, businessy, whatever. Make it a special point in the morning to get FULLY dressed. Shoes and all, as if you were going out, even if you don’t.”
As fashion psychologist Karen Pine told Forbes, “When we put on an item of clothing it is common for the wearer to adopt the characteristics associated with that garment. A lot of clothing has symbolic meaning for us, whether it’s ‘professional work attire’ or ‘relaxing weekend wear’, so when we put it on we prime the brain to behave in ways consistent with that meaning.”
7. Write down the problems you’re putting off facing
“Procrastinating starts with avoiding to think about the problems awaiting you,” says visarga. “Before you get your work energy up stop and think about the problems, the details, put them on paper, make a list, a graph, whatever you like to describe it.”
Maybe you’ll realise the problems aren’t as big as you imagined, or that you can break them down into smaller chunks, and it will be easier to get started tackling them.
Oscar-winning Pixar director Pete Docter uses this trick to turn overwhelming tasks into something more manageable. “Usually, soon into making the list, I find I can group most of the issues into two or three larger all-encompassing problems. So it’s really not all that bad. Having a finite list of problems is much better than having an illogical feeling that everything is wrong,” he told Pixar president Ed Catmull in “Creativity, Inc.”
8. Do the thing you’re thinking about
“The best advice I have seen is when you catch yourself thinking about something you should be doing, but aren’t, just get up and do it,” writes burglarysheepspeak.
9. Follow the "two-minute rule"
GEEKitty has a “two-minute rule”: “If it takes less than two minutes, just do it.”
That might include washing your dirty breakfast dishes or picking your laundry up off the floor.
It’s similar to a strategy used by David Allen, the author of “Getting Things Done.” As soon as Allen sees an email in his inbox, he decides whether he can deal with it in two minutes or less. If so, he deals with it right then (e.g. by responding or deleting).
10. Don’t "break the chain"
iluvucorgi points out the “calendar trick” that actor and comedian Jerry Seinfeld uses to motivate himself to write.
As Seinfeld told software developer Brad Isaac, for every day he gets his writing done, he puts a big ‘X’ over that day on the calendar. After a few days, he has a nice chain and his only job is not to break it.
11. Keep a list of productive things you want to do
Quora user Benjamin Congdon says that whenever he has an idea for a cool project he doesn’t have time to work on that day, he’ll put it on a special list. Then, on days when he’s feeling particularly unmotivated but has a lot of time, he’ll turn to said list.
“[W]hen you have what would be a ‘lazy’ day, you can pick a project that you actually would enjoy working on instead of ‘wasting’ the day doing nothing,” he writes.
12. Find a workaround
Rebecca Martinez talks about “directing your laziness” into innovation. She writes:
“Laziness — or rather, inventors tapping into our tendency to be lazy as a species — has lead to a lot of innovations. Don’t want to wash all of your clothes by hand? Invent the washing machine. Fields too tough to plough? How about a tiller?
“Being lazy can lead to useful shortcuts and inventions, so find the thing you really want to be lazy about and then come up with a working way to make it easier. Suddenly your laziness is actually productive.”
13. Swap "have to" for "want to"
Say you’re dreading studying — even though you need to. Remind yourself that, technically, this is something you want to do.
Nina Bauer says: “Try to eliminate the term ‘have to’ for ‘want’ and think about your benefits of doing it. Keep in mind that you have decided to study in order to get a new job or get better in your field etc.”
In his book “The Achievement Habit,” Stanford engineering professor Bernard Roth makes a similar suggestion. The next time you say to yourself that you have to do something, tell yourself that you want to as well.
Roth writes: “This exercise is very effective in getting people to realise that what they do in their lives — even the things they find unpleasant — are in fact what they have chosen.”