How to Beat Procrastination
procrastination productivity psychology self development self-discipline
Causes of Procrastination
“My mother always told me I wouldn't amount to anything because I procrastinate. I said 'Just wait.'” - Judy Tenuta
One explanation for why people put things off is because their to-do list scares them. Since we have a tendency to avoid things we don't like or which stress us out, we avoid our tasks. Of course, this only creates more stress, which gets associated with the task we are avoiding, leading us to avoid it even more. The solution is simply to do whatever needs doing, so you can relax, but since our natural reaction to stress is avoidance, we get stuck.
A great article on Psychology Today lists some other explanations for procrastination. Some people are afraid of failure, and they believe it is better simply not to try. Some people would rather be thought of as lazy than inept. Some people like the rush they get trying to finish something at the last minute. Many procrastinators are simply bad at managing their time, though on average they aren't much worse than other people.
No matter what the cause is, procrastinators don't get things done. Even things that they want to do get put off in favor of non-committal distractions (like checking your e-mail every five minutes when you'd rather be writing). It is a self-sabotaging habit, and there is really no good reason to put things off for later if you have everything you need to do them right away. It leads to anxiety disorders, stress that can cause health problems, and makes you a pretty useless human being.
It is a pretty insidious habit, and if you are used to getting things done at the last minute, you probably believe that there is no real cost to waiting, except for that nagging feeling that keeps you from enjoying your 'free' time. A common sequence of events goes like this: You have a task to do. You put it off until the last day, then finally get to work, deciding to finish your task so you can play your new video game afterwards. But instead of starting right away, you check your e-mail and Facebook first, then get sucked in. By the time you're done with that, you've already wasted an hour, and then you have to rush to finish your task, and you never get to play your game! So basically you traded playing video games for dawdling on e-mail and Facebook.
So how can you beat procrastination?
7 Strategies for Getting Things Done
- Do Less: This may sound counterintuitive, because when you procrastinate you're already getting less done, but bear with me. One reason people procrastinate is because they have too much to do, and it feels like no matter what they do, they will never finish, so why bother at all? If you only have one thing on your list for the day, it is manageable and less intimidating, and therefore much more doable.
- Choose Meaningful Tasks: Don't even bother doing things that don't make a difference to you. Of course, we can't always do this, but if you try to see your tasks as contributing to your larger life goals, it will provide you with more motivation to do them. Don't waste your time with trivial tasks or those that you can get others to do for you.
- Clear Distractions: Procrastinators are notoriously good at distracting themselves from what they need to do. One way to beat this is to eliminate all the potential distractions from your work. Clear your desk, even if that simply means putting everything in a drawer or a pile in the corner; don't actually try to organize it as that is just another distraction. Turn off your wireless internet or unplug your network cable unless you need internet. In that case, do not open e-mail or social media sites and definitely don't keep them open while you work. You didn't check your e-mail all day until you started your work, so another hour or two won't be the end of the world.
- Reward Yourself: Give yourself a treat for finishing tasks. Make it something big that is worth working for and which requires your total attention, and let yourself enjoy it guilt-free. My favorite self-reward is playing Starcraft II for an hour or two. I just shut off my e-mail, put my phone on silent, and cloister myself away. Because I have just completed my work for the day, I can enjoy the game without feeling pressured or anxious that I'm wasting my time. It takes discipline to restrict your reward to after the task is done. That way, as you get antsy to play your game (or whatever) you'll also get antsy to just get your work done.
- Visualize Success: One thing that used to help me get stuff done was imagining the feeling of freedom I would feel after it was done. In high school, I would come home with lots of homework after a day full of classes. All I wanted to do was sit and have nothing to do and nothing to worry about. I would imagine how good it would feel to be done, focusing on the positive aspects of being finished rather the negative aspects of actually doing the work. Since the only way I could get to the post-work state was to get through the work, that's what I would do.
- Be Forgiving: Make a deal with yourself that you don't have to do your best work, you just have to do some work. You don't even have to finish the task, you just have to do honest work for 10 minutes. Set a timer and start. You know that if you still feel bad about working, you can just stop when the 10 minutes are up, so it is much easier to get started. Usually, what will happen is you'll pick up some momentum and continue past the 10 minutes. If not, take a 5 minute break and come back to it, with the same deal.
- Remove Tasks: Taking a look at what you have to do, is there anything that's been on the list for a long time? If you honestly know you aren't going to do something, just remove it from the list. Often, we get in a rut of needing to complete a task before doing anything else, even if we'd rather do the other things. Since we don't want to do the first task, we never get around to the rest. If you haven't done it yet, you probably never will, and it clearly isn't critical. So give yourself permission to get rid of it. Move on. The benefit of getting the rest done will make up for missing just one item.
Hopefully, some of these tips will help you overcome procrastination. One important thing to keep in mind is not to be too hard on yourself. We all procrastinate sometimes, but just because we do it once doesn't mean we should just give up on being timely in the future. Like anything else, efficiency is a habit developed day after day, and it becomes easier the more you do it.
Do you have any tips to add to the list that have helped you beat procrastination? Please share in the comments.