THE SCIENCE OF LEARNING: "Learning How to Learn" Week #3


Procrastination. Who’s a subject matter expert on this topic? Some days I feel like I could be the poster child for this concept…”101 Ways to Avoid Doing Work While Telecommuting.” It wasn’t until Barbara Oakley introduced procrastination in week #1 as a “fear of pain” that I was reminded of the base emotion that was hampering my 18-yo’s progress on his college applications. 

We procrastinate to avoid the pain – mental or physical manifestations of the fear of that one task. Life is easier when we are creating dopamine through pleasurable acts. For ADHD, that fear can be paralyzing for executive function. If we don’t sit with that pain, that fear, and work through it, we can become quite literally stuck in a mental holding pattern of pain.

In week three of "Learning How to Learn", Barbara Oakley deep dives into procrastination and the art of creating habits that support productivity, leaving the procrastination zombies at bay. I love the zombie allusion – for many, the activities we choose to further our procrastination are often easy and provide some sort of simple satisfaction. For example, cleaning out my bathroom vanity vs paying bills or playing video games vs writing an English paper.

Here’s the catch…we all know procrastination is not a smart habit. It actually shares similar qualities with addiction, and the gradual build-up of avoidance leaves you with little else but a 5-alarm deadline to cram all of the work or information into a shorter period of time. As we learned in earlier weeks of this course, cramming does not help our brain solidify and deepen our understanding of concepts we are trying to learn. Habits like chunking, recall and practice can help us build up stamina to beat procrastination. We can crush those zombies with a 4-part formula for building better habits.

Habits Save Energy. Removing the emotion from whatever we are avoiding, can often free the mind. 

How do we do this? Reframing our focus from the final product(or outcome) and shifting it to the Pomodoro Technique can come into play – enabling work through 25 minute short bursts. The focus shifts away from the end product and move to the completion of a specific moment in time, without judgement and preferably without distractions. Process (simple steps or habits) can often help us create short bursts of work that will lead us closer to the final product. This is where the

If we can master the following 4 concepts, we can begin to build healthy habits to recognize, redirect and beat procrastination.

  1. CUE: The first step is to recognize the triggers that lead to procrastination. The most common are location, time, emotions, and reactions. Once you know what triggers impact your productivity, you have a choice to change your reaction to the cues.

  2. ROUTINE: If you can learn what triggers impact you the most, then you can build an environment that negates or removes them altogether. For example, working at a messy desk could create a feeling of overwhelm or discomfort, causing you to seek asylum anywhere but your desk. You can choose to procrastinate or relocate until your desk is cleaner. Knowing your cues provides you with the information you need to set up an optimal environment for productive learning/work.

  3. REWARD: Rewards done well and immediately are great motivators for procrastination, and they are particularly helpful for those with ADHD - We’re wired for rewards. It is important to note that even with rewards in place, it may still take time for productivity to flow. The repetition of this new habit will eventually create momentum for efficiency and success, leading of a feeling of ease and eventually pleasure from success.

  4. BELIEF: Beliefs are powerful medicine. Recognizing the negative beliefs that hold us back and building new beliefs the support our goals can shift productivity.

When we juggle multiple tasks, procrastination can easily become a bad habit. If you have ADHD, juggling tasks can be particularly paralyzing without a good strategy in play. Here are 5 tips from “Learning How to Learn” Week #3 on how to juggle the tasks and get more done:

  • Make a list: right before bed, make your list for the next morning. Not only will you have your “to dos” for the morning but you will also free your working memory for problem solving during slumber.

  • Mix it up: incorporating movement into your activities can break up the monotony. Mix up you tasks with learning, sitting and moving to keep your brain engaged.

  • Measure your time: Knowing how long a task may take you can be a big help in terms of planning your day or understanding what it will take to be successful. The two go hand in hand. Keeping a planner to measure successes and timelines can help you narrow down your cues and optimal working environments as well.

  • Quit on Time: Just as important as establishing a start time is to determine when you will quit for the day. Setting a deadline for the end of work can provide both a reward and a deadline – both of which work well to help push through procrastination.

  • “Eat that frog” – the things that we prefer to avoid. BrianTracy, author of Eat the Frog recommends that we commit to tackling the harder tasks first thing in the morning, when our mind and energy stores are fresh.

Gaining an understanding of what gets in the way of our own "doing" or "learning" can help us create an environment for better productivity and building new belief systems that support our success. Defining your routines, expectations, and goals before beginning a day or task can set your brain up for an opportunity to beat procrastination, and one you create the momentum of success there is no stopping you! Just don't forget to stick to your quitting time as well, to help you recharge for another great day!

Want to learn more about what I'm taking away from this course? See my other posts on "THE SCIENCE OF LEARNING". You can also find tips like these and more by taking the full course for FREE here: 

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