I said it yesterday, I’ll say it again today…I can do it tomorrow. I am the crowned queen of putting things off. Just look in my garage and you’ll see boxes to unpack (yes, I moved in three years ago). I have posts that I should have written weeks ago and don’t get me started on my closet (I lost weight and need to toss lots of clothes out). I am so good at procrastinating that I could have an honorary doctorate in it.
I know it’s not just me. We’re all guilty of doing it, more often than we’d like to admit. Procrastination may not be just about writing that blog post at the last minute. It may also be putting off important life decisions like whether or not you should ask your husband to help with that garden you’ve been meaning to start, or whether you should go to the gym, clean out the garage, go on a diet – it’s endless.
And if you don’t start learning how to stop putting things off, you’ll have to deal with procrastination your whole life which may have a negative effect on your relationships, career, and personal health (just look at me – 64 and I’m STILL at it, but I’m learning).
The thought process behind procrastination is that we believe there’s always tomorrow, so why not just steer clear of the stress and anxiety and just put it off until later. So, this is the first thing you need to tackle. It won’t be easy but try to figure out what the stress factor is behind your procrastination. It could be fear of failure, fear of confrontation, fear of not being perfect.
You are your own worst critic.
You judge your flaws and imperfections way too harshly. Yet studies show that when you forgive yourself for putting things off or not getting things done as perfectly as you would’ve liked, can actually help fend off procrastination. And most importantly, have realistic goals before you give yourself a hard time.
Sometimes we tend to bite off more than we can choose, then we go off the deep end because the end result wasn’t anywhere what we had envisioned.
Follow these tips to help you avoid procrastination once and for all (yes, I wrote this post for myself as well as you)
1. Turn those tasks you HATE into habits.
We all have enough willpower to get about 3 or 4 tasks done each day. Habits use other parts of our brain rather than the prefrontal cortex which is associated with rational thinking. So, when you train yourself to do something out of habit, rather than look at it as a mundane task, you think about it less which means you’re using less willpower and you won’t fall into the procrastination rut.
Things like brushing your teeth or making your bed have all become daily habits which you automatically perform without even considering putting them off. Why not turn healthy eating, daily exercise, or turning in reports ahead of time into daily habits as well?
After that it becomes easier, but you still have to keep yourself motivated and inspired. Procrastination is all about taking that dreaded first step. So why not ease into it with the knowledge that after a certain amount of time, or once I’ve finished X, I can watch videos on YouTube or go get a cup of coffee. Make it pleasant for yourself because the reward is the part that the brain assimilates to gauge your enjoyment level. If you’re happy, then your brain slowly turns this task into a habit which you look forward to, instead of something you dread on a daily basis.
2. Break up those tasks into chunks.
Instead of cleaning out the entire garage, do the right side first, take a break, then do the left side, take a break, then finish off the rest. At work, big tasks may seem daunting when you look at them as a whole. The answer? Break it down into smaller tasks. Make an outline of the entire project, and then divide it up into smaller tasks.
Working in 30-minute increments also helps break down tasks into smaller chunks which are manageable and not so intimidating. After the 30 minutes, take a break and assess your work. Seeing how much you’ve accomplished will give you that boost of confidence you need to keep at it.
3. Remove distractions.
Checking your email every 5 minutes isn’t doing you any good. So, once you’ve committed to doing the job, limit distractions by putting your away. You can find apps that help you stay on track, but some will say that’s completely missing the point.
The important thing is that you set up a certain time for checking emails or your social media, and once you’ve started your task, you avoid the urge to take a sneak peak.
Another serious distraction is multi-tasking. Even though it may seem that you’re being productive, the truth is it’s a complete waste of time and energy. Think about it, it takes your brain about 20 minutes to completely focus on one task and give it 100%, and then you bring in another task which means you decrease your focus level by half, bring in a third task and the focus drops even lower. So even though you’re working more, your end results will be below average.
4. Work when you’re at your best.
We all have certain times during the day when we’re most alert. Some of us are morning people, some are night owls, and some have more energy during the afternoon hours. Find out what your peak hours are and tackle your most difficult tasks then. You’ll be more of a powerhouse then with your brain working at its maximum capacity.
Procrastination is different than being lazy because when you procrastinate, you delay doing something for a more pleasurable task. So why not turn that mundane task you’re dreading into something more fun and enjoyable, and kill off the urge to procrastinate?