Procrastination can sabotage our goals, destroy our confidence and cause stress. Luckily, there are techniques that can help us stop procrastinating and get things done.
The proverb ‘procrastination is the thief of time‘ is unfortunately only too true for many of us. We know that procrastination can cause us stress and ultimately sabotage our dreams and goals, but we can’t seem to stop ourselves.
What is procrastination?
Procrastination is the practice of putting off important tasks by doing less difficult or more pleasurable activities instead. The trouble with procrastination is that we end up putting off important things until the last possible minute. This means we don’t have a chance to give these tasks the best of our time and attention.
Often we think we are procrastinating because we are lazy. However, the truth is probably a little different. We often procrastinate out of fear of failure and a lack of self-belief. Research also suggests procrastination is linked to difficulty managing distress. When we believe a task will be too difficult, boring or painful in some way, we are likely to put it off.
Unfortunately, when we try to avoid distress in this way, it usually creates more distress in the long run. Procrastination can lead to increased stress and poorer performance. Procrastination can also damage our self-esteem and cause feelings of guilt and shame.
The good news is that the researchers who have studied procrastination have also come up with some techniques that can help us stop this counterproductive habit.
How to stop procrastinating:
1. Focus on your “why”
Often we focus on the short-term pain associated with a difficult or painful task. Instead, try to focus on why you are doing it. Consider the benefits of getting the task done. Imagine how you will feel when it is completed.
2. Get out your calendar
Having a clearly allocated time to do a task will help you to focus and avoid procrastination. Often we think we will do something when we have more time or energy. In reality, this rarely happens. It’s better to schedule a task and stick to your plan.
3. Be realistic
When you are planning your schedule, set yourself up for success by being realistic. Setting too high a target is a recipe for overwhelm which may lead to further procrastination. Instead, set realistic and achievable goals. This will lead to a feeling of success and achievement and create energy and momentum to move forward and achieve more.
4. Break tasks down into manageable chunks
Big tasks can often seem overwhelming. If you have a large task to complete, try breaking it down into smaller, more manageable chunks. Then schedule a time to complete each smaller task. This is one of the essential techniques you can use to stop procrastinating.
You will get a lift from ticking off these smaller tasks and this will help boost your confidence and allow you to move forward until the task is completed.
5. Do the task for just a few minutes
If a task feels really overwhelming or difficult, try doing it for just a few minutes at a time. Starting is often the hardest part of a difficult task. Planning to do something for just a few minutes helps you to overcome your initial fear.
6. Set yourself a short deadline
Researcher Piers Steel states that ‘it has long been observed that the further away an event is, the less impact it has on people’s decisions.’ It’s easy to put off something that seems far in the distance. However, by breaking down the task and setting shorter deadlines, we can avoid putting things off until the last minute.
7. Do the hard and important tasks first
We are often at our most alert and energetic in the morning. This means it makes sense to get difficult tasks done at this time before our energy and willpower begin to slump. Getting a task done early in the day also gives us a boost to our self-esteem and sets the tone for the day making it easier to get more done later, too.
8. Increase confidence and self-belief
Because procrastination is often caused by a lack of self-belief, anything you can do to improve your confidence can help. You might like to make a list of past achievements to boost your self-esteem. Another option is to look at how others have achieved a similar task and see if you can learn from their methods and success.
9. Manage your environment
Our environment can often be very distracting. It makes sense to get rid of temptations before we begin a task. Studies have shown that even having your cell phone in sight can be a distraction. So before you begin work, put all distractions and temptations out of sight. You might also like to turn off your notifications and perhaps even your internet connection before you begin work.
10. Get an accountability partner
If you regularly struggle to overcome procrastination, then consider enlisting an accountability partner. This could be a friend, colleague, teacher or coach. Tell them you are trying to stop procrastinating. Then set your goals and targets and let your partner know what your goals are. Agree to speak to them on a weekly basis to discuss how you have been getting on.
11. Reward good behavior.
Plan a reward for when you have completed a set amount of work. This can be a coffee, snack or something like ten minutes browsing social media. Do not let yourself have the reward until you have completed the task you have scheduled.
12. Drop the perfectionism.
Often procrastination can be a result of perfectionism. We can sometimes believe it is not the perfect time to start, or we do not yet have all the skills or information we need to begin.
Finishing a project is also a problem for perfectionists who never feel their work is quite good enough. Bear in mind that getting something done is better than waiting until the perfect moment to get started.
Your work can always be tweaked or edited later, but you can’t improve until you have created something. Once you have finished, it’s time to let go. There is no point spending hours and hours tweaking your work to make tiny improvements. Instead, send it out into the world and move on.
If you regularly procrastinate, you will know how much stress it has caused in the past. Pick some of the techniques above to try to break the cycle of procrastination. And don’t be too hard on yourself.
Procrastination doesn’t mean you are lazy or stupid. It is a natural response to difficult tasks. But when you fall into the trap of procrastinating, you can use the above techniques to stop it and achieve more, boost your confidence and be less stressed as a result.
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