There’s just not enough time to finish up that task the way you wanted it done and it was such an important one to get done, too. You’re running out of time, feeling overwhelmed and stressed out. You’re beating yourself up because you waited until the last minute to get things done, AGAIN. You promise yourself this would be the last time you’re putting yourself through all this stress. Next time, you’ll start on time… Maybe.
Sounds familiar? If so, this means that you’re a procrastinator. But, the good news is: that can change, just as is the case with any other habit. It may not be easy, but it is absolutely doable. In this article, I talk about how to stop procrastinating. I’ll try to answer questions such as “What is procrastination?”, “Why do I procrastinate so much?”, “How do I get rid of procrastination?” and some more.
So, get comfy and keep on reading.
What Is Procrastination?
Simply put, procrastination is an act of postponing decisions or actions. When we procrastinate, we deliberately choose not to act.
Why do People Procrastinate?
Though procrastination is often connected to laziness, being lazy is not the same as procrastinating. Laziness is almost always involuntary, whereas we choose to postpone acting upon a task or delay making a decision. So, why do we procrastinate if it’s usually not good for us and not doing it is a matter of choice?
Procrastination is often rooted in fear of failure, not being enough, losing control or disappointing other people. In a way, it is a mechanism of self-protection.
We avoid doing work to avoid our abilities being judged.Dominic J. Voge
Therefore, in order to stop procrastinating, you first need to understand why you’re doing it. According to research, perfectionists tend to procrastinate more than others because they need everything to be perfect. Therefore, they’d rather not start a task if they believe they don’t have the skills necessary to do it the way they want to.
In addition, poor decision makers tend to procrastinate as well. That can stem from their fear of letting people down or making the wrong choice; thus, they’d rather not do it than make a mistake. Finally, you may procrastinate because you feel overwhelmed by a task at hand or a task seems to be boring, too challenging or you may feel that you don’t have the skills to tackle it.
Whatever your reasons are, they are all very legit and should not be taken lightly. However, in order to learn how to get rid of procrastination, you really have to understand why you procrastinate in the first place.
How can you do it?
It’s very simple. The first step is awareness. Listen to yourself and start paying attention to your behavior. Try to catch yourself procrastinating and ask yourself what happened. Observe the situations you’re in and detect which ones cause you to procrastinate. Keep a journal or take notes and then analyze them to find the patterns. This should be a good exercise that will help you find your cause of procrastination (plus you’ll learn more about yourself in the process).
Then, it’s all about using the right techniques to stop procrastinating completely.
As with many aspects of life and business, there are lots of tips and tricks to stop procrastination. There have been many techniques developed to help overcome procrastination in a productive way. Below, you will find a list of tips and/or techniques that can help in learning how to stop procrastinating, but please note that this is not an exhaustive list.
16 Ways to Help You Learn How to Stop Procrastinating
To make it easier to follow, I have grouped the techniques and tips into several categories. Feel free to browse through and try out the one(s) that you feel most comfortable with.
MINDSET RELATED TIPS AND TECHNIQUES
Recognize That You’re Procrastinating
As I’ve mentioned above, the first step is being aware of what you’re doing. If you catch yourself doing a bunch of small and not so important tasks instead of a more important one, you’re procrastinating. If you keep dragging one task through your to-do list for weeks, you’re procrastinating. If you just keep staring at your to-do list without any action, you guessed it, you’re procrastinating.
Recognizing that you’re procrastinating helps you understand what’s going on at the surface level. You may feel frustrated or paralyzed to take action, but don’t really get what’s going on. Knowing that procrastination may be the reason you feel that way will somewhat get the burden off your shoulders. It won’t solve the problem, but at least you’ll know what’s happening. Then, you’ll be able to take action.
Understand Why You Procrastinate
This one can be a tricky one because reasons for procrastination are often of complex mental background and sometimes it may take a long time to really figure it out. However, if you’re really feeling stuck or not sure how to approach it, feel free to reach out to someone for help.
Given that the focus of this article is more business oriented, here are some causes of procrastination that you may be able to detect on your own.
- The task seems too big to tackle
- The task is boring
- The task is just a huge challenge
- There is too much to do
- You believe you don’t have the necessary skills to do the task
- You don’t want to let your team down
- You don’t want to disappoint your superiors
These are just a few reasons why you may procrastinate rather than get things done and I’ll address most of them further in the text. So, feel free to skip to the time management section if you find yourself struggling with any of the above listed reasons.
Drop the “Big Deal Talk”
Often, we tend to procrastinate because we see the task at hand as something insurmountable. The task is too complex, too boring, too big, too under my level, etc. As long as we see it that way, we will avoid tackling it because it just feels overwhelming.
In reality, challenges, boredom, and hard work will not kill you—or even make you sick. Procrastination, on the other hand, is associated with stress—think of the stress you feel when you avoid making a phone call you know you need to make.Elizabeth Lombardo
The right approach here is to see the reality of the task. It may be boring, but you still can do it. It might be too complex, but you can always break it down into smaller steps (I’ll talk about this as well). It might be a challenge, but this is how we grow. Just make sure you get back to reality and get out of your head. The moment you DO something, the “big deal self-talk” will lose its power.
Motivation plays a large part in what we do on a daily basis, both in life and business and rewards are a great way to stay motivated. Every time you do something you’ve been pushing aside or postponing, reward yourself appropriately. If you’ve been working on clearing out that email list for 30 minutes, give yourself a break. You can switch to another task or just relax for 5 minutes. The important thing is not to push yourself over the limit. If you’ve answered 10 emails and you’re getting tired of it, then stop. Don’t push yourself to do 3 more because it might damage your productivity.
Get Rid of Must-haves and Adopt Want-to’s
Remember when you were a kid and your parents would tell you that you must do something? You really, really wanted not to do it, right?
This is all in our head, but if we feel like we have to do something, it loses its appeal and we tend to want to do it less, not more. On the other hand, it is much easier to do something we want to do or choose to do.
So, instead of telling yourself that you have to perform a task, you can tell yourself that you want to get something done or choose to do a certain task. It’s all about self-talk and ALL in our head. It may seem strange initially, but it can do wonders for your motivation and productivity.
Allow yourself to make mistakes. They’re just a part of learning and growth. I can almost confidently say that there is no success without making mistakes.
Try to be as tolerant of your own mistakes as you are of those made by others. If you have so much patience with others, you should leave some for yourself, too.
In addition, learn to forgive yourself for past procrastination. There’s no point in looking back and beating yourself up for what you have done. Focus on the present and future and just move forward.
Adopt “Good Enough” Attitude
Getting everything done perfectly is amazing but also super demanding and stressful. Of course, you should always strive to complete tasks as best as you can. However, that may drag you down the rabbit hole and other tasks (and people) might suffer.
More often than not, “good enough” but done is way better than “perfect” but incomplete. Remember, you can always go back and upgrade things. There will always be room for improvement. The question you need to ask yourself is “If I keep working on this, am I really being productive or trying to make it perfect?”. Try to answer it honestly and you’ll know whether it’s time to move onto another task.
TIME MANAGEMENT RELATED TIPS AND TECHNIQUES
Break Tasks Down into Smaller Chunks
One of the biggest reasons we procrastinate at work is because we feel overwhelmed with the size of the task at hand. If you’re looking at your annual goals, they might just paralize you instead of serving as motivation.
The best way to approach this issue is to break the task down into smaller chunks. Ask yourself the following questions: What is the smallest thing I can do to get this task started? What can I accomplish in a day/week?
Once you define the smaller chunks of a bigger task, they will be easier to complete and before you know it, you’ll be getting closer to reaching your goal or completing the task that seemed unsurpassable.
Reduce Your To-Do List
This one is similar to the previous technique. If you have too many items on your list, you will lose the motivation to do any of them. Lots of items on a list make you feel overwhelmed and you just don’t know where to start.
In order to get started, prioritize your daily to-do list. This can refer to time, meaning assign less time per task and just get done whatever you can within that time frame. On the other hand, it can, and most often does, refer to the number of items on the list.
This is where prioritization comes into play. Which items are an absolute must? What is it that you just need to get done today so that you’re not creating bottlenecks in your project or for your coworkers? Those are the items that need to be on your to-do list. Everything else can be left for another list in the future.
Now, if you still have a ton on your list even after answering the above questions, then you’re not being realistic with your expectations. That means, you need to look at your list again and answer the same questions AGAIN but this time keeping in mind that you have a limited time at work.
Do One Thing at a Time
There’s been a lot of talk about multitasking. Nowadays, multitasking seems to be THE skill for any given job. Yet, what people don’t realize is that not only is multitasking not a thing, but it also reduces productivity instead of increasing it. Simply put, we cannot perform more than one thing at any given time so why bother pushing ourselves into it?
We may seem to be doing more than one thing at a time, but in reality we are not getting any of those done or if nothing else, we’re not doing it right. We may be busy, but we’re not necessarily being productive. Focusing on one thing at a time allows you to complete tasks faster and the result will be of better quality than if you were doing it alongside 3 other assignments.
Block out Your Time
This step is all about allowing yourself to truly focus without distraction. It’s important to choose a part of your day to hunker down and truly get to work. Maybe you work best in the mornings. Maybe the afternoon is when you feel most productive. The point is to hone in on that time and to block it out. Keep it as a work-only time.Productivityist
If you don’t have the luxury to choose when you’d like to work, then choose when you want to get important work done. As mentioned above, some people are more productive in the morning while others may be in the afternoon. Whenever you know your focus is at its peak, this is when you block out time to tackle important tasks. You can do everything else before or after that.
Pomodoro is a time management technique that seems to be working really well for many people. In a nutshell, you work in chunks of time and take breaks in between. The most typical one is 25/5: you work for 25 minutes and then take a 5-minute break and then do it again and again until you repeat the cycle 4 times when you take a longer, 15-20, minute break. According to Cal Newport, the most trained people can get into flow and stay focused for 4 hours tops and Pomodoro is trying to aim for the same thing.
Find an Accountability Partner
If you find it easier to be motivated and stop procrastinating with someone else by your side, feel free to find an accountability coach or a partner. This person will hold you accountable and help you achieve your goals or complete tasks on time. There has been much research done on accountability and it has shown that people perform better when they know there’s someone else involved in the process.
Nevertheless, please, note that being accountable to someone should not be stressful. If it’s more pressure on you than help, refrain from doing it.
Create a More Productive Environment
That is to say, eliminate distractions. For example, if you’re working remotely and doing your work from home, set up a part of your home that will be dedicated to work. This can be a separate room if possible. If not, it can be just a corner that will be your “work only” space. That way, you can mentally get into your focus more easily. In addition, you can find a co-working space or visit a local coffee shop from time to time where you can do your work and feel more productive with the change of environment.
On the other hand, if you work from an office, create routines that will help you get into the flow. That can be some sort of music or just asking coworkers not to message you for a given period of time to eliminate distractions.
Another thing you can do if your work involves being online is blocking the sites that get you distracted, such as social media, YouTube, etc.
Sometimes, even the smallest changes help bring you more focus. You just have to experiment until you find the right one for you.
Set Realistic Goals
I can probably write a whole new article on this one. As a matter of fact, there have been tons of books written on this subject. In a nutshell, set goals that you can measure and achieve in a given period of time. Your goals should be about 70-80 percent achievable (i.e. you’re 70-80% sure you can achieve them). This will motivate you to reach your goals because you’ll see them as doable but a challenge nonetheless.
Focus on a Productive Why
Many people perform tasks in order to get paid or please someone else. These reasons are OK, but not what you need to motivate yourself to do them. When thinking about a task you need to do, think about what satisfaction you’re getting out of it. That can be learning something new or being able to move onto something else. The important thing is that it needs to be about you and how it makes you feel, not how others will feel. That’s where true motivation comes from.
We’ve reached the end point here. In summary, procrastination is not the same as being lazy as one is voluntary whereas the other is not so much. Even though it may be hard, you can learn how to stop procrastinating because it is a habit you have developed over time and as with any habit, it can be changed.
That being said, wishing to stop procrastinating will not help you get rid of it. You still have to do something. It’s a process with all its ups and downs, but in the long run, it means a lot less stress and anxiety. So, take a deep breath and start as soon as possible.
Right now is actually as good a time as any.
Oh and remember to enjoy the process and embrace all its quirks.