The Neuroscience of Productivity: Top Tips for Tackling Procrastination

Believe it or not I am writing this because I am procrastinating. I have so many different things to do that I don’t know where to start or what to focus on so I thought I would write a blog about procrastination and productivity in the hope it would help me too. Writing this post is on my list but definitely not at the top in terms of priority. When it comes to tasks and productivity you should pick just one thing from your list and focus on that, only when that is completed do you move onto the next thing. Simply say to yourself ‘what is the one thing I need to get done today’ and go from there. Unfortunately, none of my jobs are particularly pressing and would all benefit me in different ways. In this instance tackling the task you least want to complete is probably the best strategy.

I recently attended The Weekend University for ‘A Day on High Performace’ and the following information came from a lecture on ‘The Neuroscience of Productivity’ by Dr. Gabija Toleikyte.

Our neocortex (the ‘thinking’ part of our brain) uses a great deal of energy and we can only support a maximum of 4-6 hours per day of focused attention. Trying to do any more than this simply isn’t possible. We also need to take regular breaks, at least every 90 minutes in order to maintain focus and productivity, if we try to keep working without allow our brains some recuperation periods, we are wasting our time and energy.  This is where the Pomodoro technique works well, I have talked about it in a previous blog so I won’t go into it again but you basically work for blocks of 20-30 minutes and then stop regardless of whether you are in the middle of something and take a short break of approximately 5 minutes. This helps to maintain focus and allows your brain some recovery, when you come back to said task you will probably find your brain has been working on it subconsciously and you manage produce a better quality of work.


A really interesting topic that Gabija touched upon was the reasons behind procrastination. As with most things, our behaviour (even if appears detrimental on the surface) is serving a purpose to protect us. Procrastination is no different, each form serves to satisfy one of our 6 basic needs.

6 basic human needs:

  • Safety/security
  • Variety
  • Significance
  • Love/connection
  • Growth
  • Contribution

Types of Procrastination

Interestingly there are also 6 procrastinator types:

  • Perfectionist
  • Worrier
  • Dreamer
  • Rebel
  • Drama King/Queen
  • Over-doer

The perfectionist gets overwhelmed by expectations, they want things to be perfect and can always improve on their work, it feels impossible to complete tasks to their exacting standards. This procrastinator is trying to avoid being embarrassed by mistakes or judged for substandard work. Perfectionists need clear deadlines so they can’t spend too much time on a task, they also need to be reminded that done is better than perfect and perfection does not exist. A tool they can use is to celebrate completion and reward themselves for getting tasks done.

The worrier seeks safety by procrastinating and is driven by fear. This can be fear of failure, of judgement or even of success.  Ways to overcome this form of procrastination is to get real on fears, explore them fully and question ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’. Using stress reducing activities such as breath work, meditation, yoga or walking can help with this group. Having a supportive team to turn to in times of anxiety can also be useful.

The dreamer underestimates how long things will take and often get bored by tasks (relating to variety on the list of needs). Techniques to overcome procrastination for this group are to set small, daily, achievable goals. Be realistic about the task and how long it will take to complete. Make a clear plan of how to tackle the task and stick to it. Be accountable, telling people what you are doing and having check ins can be really useful if this is appropriate. Rewarding themselves once they have completed small tasks will keep motivation to continue.

The rebel doesn’t like to be told what to do, even by themselves. They do not like to feel controlled. Many tasks seem unfair or an unnecessary use of their time. They prefer to maintain control over situations and retain a sense of individuality. Rebels should strive to act rather than react. They should reflect on ways they could potentially respond to a task before reacting and be aware of when they are choosing defiance. They could ask themselves whether long-term regrets are worth short-term pleasure. They should choose one task every week to complete in their own way in order to satisfy their need for individuality.

The drama king or queen feels they work better under pressure so leave things to the last minute and then panic and rush tasks. They enjoy the rush of working to a deadline when a task would otherwise seem boring. Drama Kings and Queens should identify motivators for the task instead of using stress as the motivation. They could also create deadlines for themselves as a way of using their natural adrenaline rush to complete tasks earlier.

The over-doer finds it difficult to prioritise and say no to things which results too many demands being made on their time. They take on too much and then procrastinate because simply have too much to do. Over-doers should acknowledge their limitations and try not to take on too many tasks, learning to say ‘no’ to tasks when necessary. Tasks should be prioritisied with only one task being tackled at one time. They should make daily to-do lists based on true priorities.

I hope you have enjoyed this post and it has given you some insight to your own procrastination style. For more information about Dr. Toleikyte her website is: The Weekend University holds lectures on varying psychological topics once a month, visit www.theweekenduniversity.comfor more details.



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