Ways to Overcome Procrastination
Procrastination is not a time management problem; rather, it’s likely due to difficulty managing negative feelings like boredom or anxiety.
But avoiding negative emotions—and important tasks—tends to lead to much worse outcomes in the long run, including more stress and regret.
Changing your mindset, rewarding yourself for progress, and letting go of perfectionism can all help you overcome procrastinating tendencies.
In order to be on top of our game both personally and organizationally, we need to develop a growth mindset.
Everyone has put off a task at some point in their life. While some view it (in themselves or other people) as laziness, there might be something else at play.
In psychology, it has long been believed that people who procrastinate have a faulty sense of time—that they think they will have more time to get something done than they actually do. While that may be true for some, more recent research suggests procrastination is linked to difficulty managing distress.
Specifically, it seems that task aversion is to blame—that is, when people view a task in an unpleasant manner (“It will be tough, boring, painful…”), they are more likely to put it off.
While procrastinators may be trying to avoid distress, this approach can ironically cause more distress in the long run. Procrastination can lead to increased stress, health problems, and poorer performance. Procrastinators tend to have more sleep issues and experience greater stressful regret than non-procrastinators. What’s more, procrastination can also hinder your self-esteem with the guilt, shame, or self-critical thoughts that can result from putting off tasks.
Solutions are here
If you struggle with putting things off, try any of these tips to get you on track:
1. Get out your calendar
Projects that will get done “when I have time” (as in “I will do it when I have time”) tend not to get done very often, if ever. You need to schedule when you are going to work on a project and block out that time, just as you would an important meeting. And when it is time to do your work, set a timer so you can be focused for the entire allotted time.
2. Be realistic
As you establish your schedule, set yourself up for success. Projects often take much longer than expected, so bake in some extra time. And look for ways to make it easier on yourself: If, for example, you are not a morning person, don’t expect yourself to get up an hour early to start the exercise program you have put off for months. It might be better to schedule that activity during lunch or before dinner.
3. Chunk it
When a task seems overbearing, procrastination often follows. So how can you break that task into smaller, more manageable parts? For example, if you want to write a book, you may choose to make an outline, identify each chapter, figure out the sections in the chapters, and then commit to writing one segment at a time. Chunking it down like this will help you feel less overwhelmed and more empowered.
4. Excuses be gone
Do any of these sound familiar? “I need to be in the mood.” “I will wait until I have time.” “I work better under pressure.” “I need X to happen before I can start.”
Be honest with yourself: These are excuses. Sure, it might be nice to “be in the mood,” but waiting for that to happen can mean you never start your project.
5. Get a partner
Establish specific deadlines for completing a task. Then find someone who will help you be accountable. It could be a promise to your boss or client that you will complete the job by a certain date. Or it may be a coach who helps you stay on track. Or simply find an accountability partner.
In this relationship, you connect with someone (on the phone, for example) at certain time intervals (such as once per week) and commit to what you will do before your next meeting. Not wanting to go back on your word, this can be a great way to squash procrastination. (Note: In an effort to save your relationship with your significant other, I recommend this person not be your partner. You don’t want a lack of follow-through to cause tension between you.
6. Optimize your environment
Your environment can help or hinder your productivity. Beware especially of technology, such as your email or messenger that keeps pinging to let you know someone has reached out. Social media, internet “research” that leads you far off track, and phone calls can lead to procrastination. So, just don’t let yourself get on the web until you have completed the task, or hold off any necessary internet searches until the end.
7. Reward good behavior
Establish a reward if—and only if—you do what you set out to do. Do not let yourself binge that new Netflix show, check your social media, or get lunch until you complete what you’ve scheduled. So instead of using these tasks and distractions to procrastinate, make them contingent on you actually finishing what you schedule yourself to do.