We’ve all been there before.
There is an important project that needs to get done and the deadline is approaching. You haven’t yet touched the project but are planning to start today.
You tell yourself “stop procrastinating and take action”. As a matter of fact, Right Now. No More Delays.
So you sit down to get going, filled with the best intentions.
But then you stare at your computer screen and realize that you just don’t feel like working. And then a sudden urge creeps up on you to check e-mails, watch YouTube videos, and check Facebook and Twitter.
And so the procrastination begins.
Why can’t I stop?
Well, frankly, we have our minds to blame. We try to avoid the boring, unpleasant tasks in favor of more immediate pleasure.
The mind does not want to be controlled and by trying to force work on a tedious task, the mind interprets this as pain. And pain must be avoided.
So procrastination is a form of rebellion, as the mind seeks freedom to pursue more enjoyable things.
I eventually get things done. So why is procrastination so bad?
Most people don’t see the dangers of procrastination. They feel good in the present moment when they are putting things off.
But in the long-run, this habit can wreak havoc on our lives and interfere with our goals. Here are some examples of the negative consequences of procrastination:
- It can have a serious impact on our careers. We fail to deliver high-quality work and develop a bad reputation. It can ultimately prevent promotions and success.
- With procrastination also comes feelings of panic, stress, anxiety, and guilt, which can become overwhelming.
- The habit can spread from our work-lives to affect personal relationships and health. Thus leading to more problems in all aspects of life.
How can I kick the habit?
Every habit can be unlearned with a lot of practice and effort. This also applies to getting rid of the destructive habit of procrastination.
So how do you get started? Below are 7 smart tips to help you beat the procrastination habit.
1. Just get started
The most difficult thing to do is to START a project or task.
Picking up a pen, opening a file, or typing one word can be tremendous hurdles when beginning a new project.
“It is easier to resist at the beginning than at the end.” ~ Leonardo da Vinci
This quote is true. It’s easier to resist starting a project than it is to keep working once you’ve built up some great momentum.
Jump over the first hurdle
Next time you catch yourself procrastinating, just focus on getting over the first hurdle. Go ahead and take that first step, write the first word or idea – even if it’s just some rough work.
Concentrate only on that first step. Do not think of the project in totality and the huge effort required to complete it. This will make the project seem impossible and you’ll be tempted to give up before you even start.
Believe in Newton’s Law
In physics, Newton’s First Law of Motion states that a moving object will stay in motion, and an object at rest will stay at rest. The same concept also applies to our behavior.
Completing one small thing is a huge motivator to keep going. You’ll keep working and building your momentum. You’ll also change your mindset to be more positive and confident.
And most importantly, you will resist the temptation to give up or delay the work.
2. Manage your projects
Break down projects into smaller parts
If you feel overwhelmed by a large project, then break it down into smaller tasks. List the details required for each task and set expectations.
It will be easier to tackle each task as you go along rather than a huge project all at once. This will boost your confidence and you’ll be ready to conquer even the scariest of projects.
Create a to-do list
Keep track of all your tasks in one list, along with deadlines and steps required to complete each item.
As you complete tasks, check them off as a way to measure your progress. You’ll feel a sense of accomplishment and this will keep you motivated to continue the work.
Review the list and keep it updated each day. Staying on top of your to-do list is an ongoing process and requires your attention every day. But you’ll be super-organized and in great shape to complete everything successfully.
Focus on one task at a time
In our article on the best ways to improve productivity at work, we discussed how multi-tasking is inefficient.
It’s difficult to spread our attention across many items and expect to complete them correctly. It’s the opposite that usually happens and we make more mistakes. Or most of the items remain unfinished.
So stop multi-tasking. Focus on one thing at a time and complete each task before moving on to the next one. You will complete more tasks properly and in less time.
3. Remember your goals
Think of your future self
One of the main reasons we procrastinate is that we prefer to do something more enjoyable in the present. So we avoid unpleasant work as long as possible.
But the problem is that we don’t see how our actions today affect our goals. Procrastination is an obstacle to achieving both short-term and long-term goals.
What’s more important to you: spending hours on social media every day or working towards your dream job? Spend your time wisely on the things that matter most to you.
Start aligning your actions today with the impact it will have on your future self. And you will be able to overcome procrastination today.
Stay on track with your goals
Remind yourself of your goals regularly and keep track of your progress. Ask yourself some simple questions such as:
- What do I hope to accomplish this year? Next 5 years? And longer?
- How do I see myself in my career and in my personal life by the end of this year? Next 5 years? And longer?
- How much progress am I making towards these goals?
- What are the biggest obstacles standing in my way of achieving these goals?
- What do I need to do each day to achieve these goals?
To keep you motivated, try posting images of your goals around your work area. The pictures can be there for you as constant reminders.
No one wants to feel that they are not making progress towards their goals. Sometimes we need a bit of tough self-talk for our behavior to improve. We can learn to act in a consistent manner every day to meet our goals and be successful.
4. Are you working on the right things?
It’s a common problem
You find yourself spending the entire day doing a lot of busy work and completing small tasks. The larger more important projects are put off to a later time. You feel satisfied and content as you check off little tasks on your list.
But are you using your time and resources in an optimal way? Are you working on the right things every day?
You can’t avoid those large projects forever
The truth is that the larger projects never go away. These need a significant amount of work and are critical in determining your success. By always putting these off, it becomes more challenging to complete them in a short amount of time. Hence, the quality of the work and your potential for success suffers.
Keep in mind that there are only 24 hours in a day. And we have limited brain power and mental energy to use before fatigue kicks in.
So doesn’t it make sense to work on the most difficult things first when your energy is at its highest level?
Each day, complete your tasks based on the level of importance and urgency. Always work on the most significant and urgent projects first.
This will ensure that these projects get the attention they deserve. Especially since the large projects usually count the most for your career progression and promotions.
You will also get a major confidence boost by tackling the large projects first and getting them out of the way.
5. Become a time management expert
Time management skills are essential in beating procrastination.
Planning how much time you spend on each task will force you to take action. Use time to put pressure on yourself and get motivated.
Below are some simple strategies that you can use to manage your time more effectively. For a more extensive look, check out our article on how to master your time management skills.
Identify your peak working times
What part of the day is your mind at peak performance? For most people this is usually mornings when they are well-rested and refreshed. But this could be different for you and may be in the afternoon, or evenings if you’re a night owl.
It’s important to identify your most productive times of the day. So you can schedule your most complex and difficult tasks during these times. This will be the most efficient use of your mental energy.
Also, find out the increments of work time and breaks pattern that is best for you. For example, do you work straight for 30 minutes and then take a 10 minute break? or can you work straight for an hour before needing a break?
Go ahead and take advantage of your best work patterns and you’ll see a spike in your productivity!
Schedule your time
Spend a few minutes at the beginning of each day to schedule your tasks.
Take your to-do list and create a plan of attack. Make sure to include an allotted time for each item.
Remember to factor in some extra time for unplanned events during the day such as phone calls and discussions.
Once you’ve assigned specific times for your tasks, race against yourself to meet your goal. Psychologists also recommend using a timer as a visual reminder to help you work productively.
Always set deadlines
Without deadlines, work would just not get done. Or if deadlines are too far away, then you may not get started until right before the due date.
For example, which item are you most likely to work on this week:
- You have a big client presentation due in 6 weeks.
- You have 6 sections of a client presentation due over the next 6 weeks. One section must be completed each week and sent to the client.
With the first option, the deadline is 6 weeks away. So the temptation is to leave the entire project until the last week before the deadline. It’s much easier to work on the second option and complete a smaller section each week.
Even if a project is due in the distant future, create your own sub-projects and deadlines. And stick to your plan.
This will help keep you on track and prevent the last minute panic and stress. You will also have the best chances of preparing a great presentation. And most importantly, setting yourself up to succeed.
6. Remove your distractions
We’re faced with many distractions during the work day. And there are two ways we can categorize them: those that are within our control and those that are not.
Those we can’t control
It’s impossible to block out all distractions, such as co-workers stopping by to chat, phone calls and urgent e-mails.
The best way to deal with these is to fit them into the day in an organized manner and for a limited time only. The key thing is to not let them disrupt the full work day.
For example, try asking co-workers to set up a different time to chat or meet over lunch instead. And responding only to the urgent calls and e-mails and then leaving the rest to a later time.
Those we can control
It may be surprising that the most problematic distractions are the ones within our control. These perpetuate the procrastination habit and make everything worse.
The most common include browsing social media sites, checking personal e-mails, and watching YouTube videos.
These are all time-killers and it’s important to remove them from your work environment.
“Out of sight, out of mind”. This really can help you to avoid procrastinating and be your most productive.
Apps to the rescue
If you have a difficult time staying disciplined, there are a few apps that can help you:
- RescueTime is a program that tracks the activities you perform on your computer each day. For example, the time spent writing a report, visiting specific websites, etc. It produces quick reports with a breakdown of your time. If you’re interested in finding out where all your time goes, then RescueTime can be a real eye-opener.
- StayFocusd (Chrome/PCs) and SelfControl (Mac) are two great apps that allow you to block specific internet sites completely.
7. Give up the pursuit of perfection
You may be waiting for the right mood, the right environment, the right resources, and the right amount of time to focus on a project.
But given all these conditions, aren’t you just setting yourself up for failure? Waiting for everything to fall into place means that the task will just be put off and not started.
Perfectionists are the best procrastinators
The perfectionist waits for the best conditions and also wants to prepare perfect projects. These are both irrational and impossible expectations.
Given the huge effort required, the perfectionist becomes intimidated and puts off the work to a later time. Many projects eventually pile up that are never started. If these can’t be completed perfectly, then why start at all?
It’s better not to be perfect
There will never be a perfect time or circumstances to start your work.
So make sure to avoid the pursuit of perfection. Just start your work right away, regardless of the conditions.
Getting a small amount done is better than nothing. And it helps you move toward your goal of completing the tasks.
Try to aim for great quality in your work without spending tons of time to get everything perfect. This is pointless and perfection will never be reached. Your time can be better used by completing all your tasks instead of being stuck on just one.
Procrastination is a bad habit. But it’s never too late to break it.
Have you ever had to give up something you enjoyed because it was bad for you? Such as your favorite food?
At first, you experience withdrawal and constantly crave the item. But with time, the cravings go away and your mind doesn’t think about it anymore.
The same concept applies to procrastination. Any habit or behavior can be unlearned with practice and dedication.
So just get started, take action and avoid the temptation to procrastinate. Your will develop a new habit – one of being productive and successful.
What do you think?
Which tips have you tried and work best for you? How do you overcome procrastination? Please feel free to share in the comments section below.