According to one estimate, 20 percent of people label themselves as chronic procrastinators. Even if you’re not the sort who waits until April 16 to file your taxes, you may still find that, from time to time, you put off important tasks. The result may be that you miss deadlines, put yourself under unnecessary pressure, or force others to wait on you.
The first step you need to take when you want to learn how to stop procrastinating is to identify why you procrastinate. Some common reasons people procrastinate include:
They are overly optimistic. You might reason that it will only take you one week to get that project done when in reality it will require three or four weeks.
They fear failure. A perfectionist attitude may make you afraid of starting on a difficult task if you’re afraid that the end result won’t be what you hoped for. You might think that it’s better to not even try.
They have lies to fall back on. You might be honest with everybody else, but are you honest with yourself? You might say “I work better under pressure” or “I’ll get to it tomorrow.” Frankly examine yourself self-talk and determine if maybe you’ve been fibbing to yourself.
They lack motivation. Let’s face it—some tasks are downright boring, tedious, or otherwise unpleasant. Whether you’re filing taxes, working on a quarterly progress report, or doing something else that you don’t enjoy, it’s all too easy to put the task on the back burner and leave it there.
They’re overwhelmed by what they have to do. When you have a big project in front of you, it might seem so complex and time-consuming that the mere thought of working on it makes you shudder.
Advice to overcome procrastination
Conquering the beast of procrastination is no easy feat, but you can do it if you use the following tips:
A hallmark of procrastinators is that they tend to do everything but what they should be doing. You might check your email, call Aunt Kathy to catch up, or go for a jog—anything to dodge the task that you ought to be doing.
Cure this by shutting yourself off from distractions. If social media lures you away, turn off social media notifications on your phone, and don’t visit those websites while you’re working. If you normally work at home but find that you often step away from work to wash the dishes, water the plants, or play with the dog, consider renting an office outside of your house.
Of course, every environment offers potential distractions, but whether you let those distractions take you away from important tasks is up to you.
Break big tasks into smaller ones
Let’s say you’re writing an e-book for your company. The idea of performing extensive research, then compiling that research and putting it into a format that your audience can easily digest might leave your head spinning. Therefore, it’s possible that you might decide not to write the e-book or to put it off until the idea behind it is no longer relevant.
Don’t let big tasks drag you down. Instead of viewing them as big tasks, view them as a series of smaller tasks that all drive you toward the same goal.
Create a timeline for projects, and set up little goals along the way. Writing two hundred pages of material is difficult, but writing a few pages every day for several weeks isn’t as overwhelming.
If you still find it difficult to get started on big tasks even though you’ve written out a timeline, you might have to give yourself more reasons to get to work. For example, you could set up a reward when you meet certain sub-goals of your main goal. The reward could be a nice dinner out with your spouse, a new gadget for your home, or something else that you consider to be a treat.
Be accountable to yourself and others
You may find that, despite having the best of intentions, you never get things done when you tell yourself you’re going to get them done. In order to eliminate this problem, find ways to make yourself accountable.
Think about the consequences if you put off a task until the last minute. An unexpected obstacle could get in your way, causing you to be late and increasing your level of stress. You could lose out on sleep and disappoint others who were counting on you.
In addition to holding yourself accountable, enlist other people to hold you accountable. This could be as simple as stating out loud that you intend to get something accomplished by a specified time. You could also ask others to check up on your progress; they may do this verbally or via email. If you know others expect you to get to a task at a specific time, you’ll be more likely to live up to what you’ve committed to because you don’t want to develop a reputation for being unreliable.
Create a schedule and set reminders
Write down, or record in an app, when you intend to do things. Set aside specific blocks of time for certain tasks. You could set aside two hours to work on a big project, a half-hour to answer emails, and an hour for marketing. How you arrange your days will depend on your priorities and what you have going on at the moment, but it’s important that you make time every day for important tasks.
Of course, creating a schedule is all well and good, but it will have little effect if you don’t stick to it. Set reminders on your phone to move you from one item on your to-do list to the next. Alternatively, you could use a timer. When the timer runs out, you can move on to something else.
The timer will be particularly useful when you’re doing something you don’t want to do. You’ll have a finite block of time set aside for an unpleasant task; you’ll have light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak. However, as long as the timer is going, be sure to stay focused on the task at hand. Don’t squander time simply counting down the minutes until you can go do something else.
Wake up early
Research has discovered that early risers are more productive. This is the case for a few reasons:
- There are fewer distractions in the morning before everyone else wakes up.
- Early risers tend to have a well-established sleep routine, which enhances the quality of their sleep. Without tiredness to bog them down, they’re able to get more done and stop dragging their feet.
- Early risers tend to be better at making decisions, setting goals, and planning.
Don’t try to become an early bird all at once. If you’re used to waking up at 8 a.m. and suddenly start waking up at 5 a.m., you’ll be tired and grumpy. Gradually adjust your habits. Wake up 15 minutes earlier than usual for a few days. When you get used to that, cut back another 15 minutes. Eventually, you’ll get to your goal time.
Once you get into the swing of waking up early, you could find that your mental health improves and you get more done—even the things that you would otherwise procrastinate about.
Find your motivation
A lack of motivation is a big reason why many people procrastinate. If a task is boring or difficult, you might have to work extra hard to convince yourself to dive in. You could do this by visualizing the end result of a project. Humans are hardwired to look for instant gratification instead of long-term results. By mentally putting yourself at the finish line, you’ll be more willing to tackle unpleasant tasks.
You could also find your motivation in music. If a task doesn’t require in-depth concentration, complete it while listening to a playlist of your favorite songs. Music with a fast tempo and catchy lyrics can help you make the most out of tasks that are otherwise irksome.
Procrastination is one of the enemies of professionalism. It isn’t impossible to overcome, though. By uncovering the reasons behind your procrastination and following the above tips, you can nix this nasty habit and become a more productive worker.
Feeling overwhelmed? Get more out of your to-do list by working smarter, rather than harder.