Time is running out on this Friday afternoon. While you frantically try to finish something before the 5 o’clock deadline, you silently berate yourself for not getting started on it sooner.
We don’t understand what went wrong. Why did this happen? Why were you suddenly distracted?
What with all that time spent rereading emails and scrolling through social media, your excessive “preparation,” your frequent trips to the coffee shop, and all those other chores you could have put off until next week.
Recognizable phrase? If that’s the case, you’re not alone.
So many of us fall prey to the trap of procrastination. In fact, researcher and speaker Piers Steel claims that 95% of us engage in procrastination at least occasionally. Knowing you are not alone can be reassuring, but it can also be humbling to realize how much that knowledge can limit you.
This article and accompanying video investigates the causes of this phenomenon and offers advice on how to better organize and prioritize your work load.
Ways to stop procrastination
Reduce the Number of Decisions You Need to Make Throughout the Day
The energy impact of every choice we make is real and immediate. In the morning, you may find yourself wondering, “What do I need to do today?” You’re about to put off the most important thing today. If you wake up every morning without a plan for how you want your day to go, you will spend a lot of time agonizing over what to do and what to avoid.
- When is a better time for me to go to the gym, today or tomorrow?
- To have lunch with Barry Boombatz from Accounting, or to eat alone quickly so I can get back to work and finish this presentation?
- Which of these two items of clothing should I wear? Try this or that for something to eat? How soon can you respond, if at all?
We spend all day wondering the same thing.
Unfortunately, questions force us to give answers, which forces us to make choices… Since this depletes your energy and wears you out, you’ll likely put off doing the things that are most important to you.
One way to avoid procrastination is to make fewer decisions throughout the day by planning ahead and/or establishing routines in certain areas of your life. This will increase your productivity and spare you the mental energy required to weigh the pros and cons of taking action. Some illustrations:
- Establish in advance the days of the week on which you will engage in physical activity rather than settling on a specific day;
- Do your morning wardrobe selection the night before;
- Pick today’s most pressing task and set aside time to complete it tomorrow;
These are only a few examples, but oftentimes it’s the little things that make the biggest difference. What are some ways that you can simplify your own life and make fewer choices? By doing this, you’ll have the mental and physical resources you need to avoid getting distracted by trivia and instead concentrate on what really matters.
Work Out WHY You’re Procrastinating
The first step in overcoming procrastination is realizing why it is happening.
Are you, for example, putting off doing something because you hate it or find it boring? If so, you should take measures to get it over with as soon as possible so you can return your attention to the parts of your work that you enjoy more.
Lack of preparation can delay action. Well-organized people are able to overcome this challenge by making use of prioritized To-Do Lists and efficient timetables. These aids allow you to arrange your work in accordance with due dates and other criteria.
It is possible to feel overwhelmed by a task even if you have taken the time to plan it out. You may be putting off attempting something new because you are unsure of your skills and afraid of making a fool of yourself.
Success can be just as terrifying to some people as failure. They anticipate that once they begin to see results, the requests for them to take on more work will flood in.
Procrastination is common among perfectionists, which may come as a surprise. Many people would rather not do something at all than do an imperfect job at it, and this is especially true when they doubt their own abilities to do it.
Poor decision making is another major contributor to putting things off. If you are at a loss for what to do, you may delay taking any kind of action for fear of making a mistake.
Adopt Anti-Procrastination Strategies
It’s true that putting things off until later is a habit, a routine that’s hard to break. This indicates that you will likely need more than one day to crack it. The only way to break a habit is to no longer engage in it, so using as many of the methods outlined below as you can will give you the best chance of success.
- Ignore your past delays and give yourself a break. Forgiving oneself has been shown to improve one’s mood and decrease future procrastination.
- Focus on the job at hand. Pay attention to actions, not inactions. Make a list of everything you have to do and when you plan to get it done. Doing so will encourage you to take the initiative in your work.
- Give yourself a promise of a reward. Give yourself a treat, like a slice of cake or a coffee from your favorite coffee shop, if you manage to finish a challenging task on time. And don’t forget to enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done.
- Seek a check-in from a trusted friend or family member. Pressure from peers is effective. Self-help groups operate on this premise. Self-monitoring can be difficult if you don’t have anyone to check in with, but websites like Procraster can help.
- Respond on the fly. Take care of things as they come up instead of letting them pile up for another day.
- Change the way you’re talking to yourself. Words like “need to” and “have to” imply that you are obligated to take a certain action. This can make you feel helpless, which can lead to self-sabotaging behavior. Saying “I choose to” instead of “I have to” can help you feel more in charge of your workload because it suggests that the task is yours.
- As little as possible, please. Don’t be distracted by email, social media, or the TV while you’re trying to get work done.
- Each morning, make it your goal to “eat an elephant beetle.” Begin your day by finishing the tasks you dislike the least. That way, you can spend the rest of the day doing something you enjoy.
Try to think of the “long game” if you find yourself putting off doing something because you don’t enjoy it. Procrastination is more common among impulsive people, according to studies, because they prioritize immediate gratification over long-term success. Confront this by remembering why it’s important to get the job done in the first place. Could this have an impact on things like your performance review or bonus at the end of the year?
Recognizing the negative outcomes of procrastination is another strategy for increasing the pleasure of a task. For instance, if you don’t finish the task, what will happen? What impact could this have on your individual, group, or company objectives?
However, reevaluating the task’s significance and significance can be helpful. For you, this means that it will be more valuable after you’ve done this. Also, we tend to exaggerate how unpleasant things really are. Try it out, would ya? It’s possible that things aren’t as bad as they seem at first glance.
The Nothing Alternative
Raymond Chandler, a famous crime writer, coined the phrase “The Nothing Alternative” as advice for avoiding procrastination. He did it to keep himself from putting off his daily writing. Even though some successful writers can sit down at the keyboard every day and crank out a certain number of words, Chandler found it difficult to do so. So he came up with a plan to overcome procrastination and get the work done: he would force himself to sit down and write for four hours every morning, or else.
And Chandler recommends the same for writers, and probably others as well, who struggle with procrastination: If the writer doesn’t feel like writing, then he shouldn’t force himself to write, according to Chandler. He’s free to do whatever he wants, like stare out the window or stand on his head, but he can’t do anything productive like read, write letters, peruse a magazine, or write checks. Do or die with your writing. In Chandler’s case, that was his guiding principle. The guidelines are simple:
- A) You are under no obligation to compose or complete any necessary tasks.
- However, option B) is completely out of the question.
These two choices mean that you’ll have to start working eventually, if only to stave off boredom. Even if your work isn’t as straightforwardly defined as Chandler’s, you can still benefit from the clarity that comes from carving out time each day to either: do nothing or focus on your ONE most important thing.
If you want to give this a try, pick your top priority for the day and schedule 90 minutes of uninterrupted time to work on it first thing in the morning.
There will be no email. There isn’t a cell phone in sight. There will be no Facebook. Absolutely no nonsense. If you’re not using Wi-Fi, turn it off. You need to put in maximum effort and laser-focus right now.
Adjust Your Environment
An alcoholic doesn’t keep alcohol in the house and avoids social situations with people who might judge their decision to abstain from drinking.
Similarly, if you want to stop procrastinating all over yourself, my last piece of advice is to get rid of the triggers that cause your procrastination in the first place.
Get away from the hustle and bustle of public spaces if you need to get some work done.
I’ve found that getting rid of all digital and physical distractions helps me stay on task and avoid procrastination.
I used to put my iPhone on “Do Not Disturb” and leave it on my desk while I worked, but I still found myself distracted by the urge to check it every so often. Now I put my iPhone on “Do Not Disturb,” put it in a drawer, and make myself get up and check it.
The challenge of this helps me maintain my concentration.
I’ve turned off all alerts and notifications on every device I own. My only remaining use for the Apple Watch is during workouts, and even then I’ve stopped wearing it.
Simply put, I need to disconnect in order to concentrate.
Do you find it difficult to focus on your studies when your phone constantly buzzes with social media alerts or when people come up to you to chat? If you don’t make an effort to be responsible for your actions, this is almost guaranteed to be the result. Once you’ve settled on a productive spot, you’ll want to ensure that you have no interruptions by doing things like turning off your phone. Also, some students find that playing white noise or listening to classical music helps them tune out external noise and concentrate.
Work with a study group
If you lack the self-motivation to consistently study on your own, joining a study group where you’ll be expected to contribute can be a great way to dive in and tackle procrastination head-on. Peer pressure from your study group and your own sense of duty to the group should keep you on track to finish your work in a timely manner. If your study group schedules regular meetings, you’re less likely to miss one. The group can act as a form of peer pressure to ensure that you stay on track with your studies, and you might even pick up some useful strategies for doing so.
Hold yourself accountable
Avoiding procrastination is facilitated by developing the skill of self-accountability, which entails committing to and following through on goals such as finishing work on time, studying for tests, and earning good grades. It’s easy to make excuses for not studying or to take breaks that are too long, so be aware of this and prevent it. Keep in mind that your success or failure on assignments, tests, and overall grades is entirely up to you. Tell a trusted friend or family member about your plans and ask them to keep tabs on whether or not you’ve met your deadlines and completed any tasks.
It’s human nature to put things off now and then, but chronic postponement may have unfavorable consequences for your physical and mental well-being. Even if you’ve been a chronic procrastinator since you were a teenager, you should stop now before it starts affecting your life. Put away the phone and end your Internet browsing; you still have work and other commitments to fulfill. Now (and not later) is the time to put these procrastination-busting strategies into practice.