How to Conquer Procrastination
A year from now you may wish you had started today. — Karen Lamb
You’re Not Lazy
First things first. People tend to beat themselves up for not getting to the things on their to-do list. They tell themselves they’re lazy or not up to the task. If this is you, stop now. Instead of criticizing yourself, consider instead why you procrastinate and what you can do to outsmart procrastination.
In her article for the Harvard Business Review, How to Beat Procrastination, Caroline Webb writes:
The problem is our brains are programmed to procrastinate. In general, we all tend to struggle with tasks that promise future upside in return for efforts we take now. That’s because it’s easier for our brains to process concrete rather than abstract things, and the immediate hassle is very tangible compared with those unknowable, uncertain future benefits. So, the short-term effort easily dominates the long-term upside in our minds—an example of something that behavioral scientists call present bias.
How can you become less myopic about your elusive tasks? It’s all about rebalancing the cost-benefit analysis: make the benefits of action feel bigger, and the costs of action feel smaller. The reward for doing a pestering task needs to feel larger than the immediate pain of tackling it.
So, if we are “hard-wired” to procrastinate, then how do we outsmart it? It turns out we use our minds to help us, rather than giving in to emotions such as feeling inadequate or guilty.
In his article for inc.com, 11 Ways to Beat Procrastination, Travis Bradberry offers a list of actions (summarized below) to take in order to remove the mental blocks that prevent us from accomplishing what we need to accomplish:
1. Figure out why.
Procrastination is telling you that you need to take a moment to figure out why you are procrastinating. Examine your situation and assess what’s at the core of your inaction. Have you taken on too much responsibility? Does it go deeper? Maybe you hate your job. As Bradberry states, “This could end up being the most productive step you take in conquering your task.”
2. Remove your obstacles.
Consider obstacles that might get in your way before you start to work on the task at hand and develop a management plan that works around any obstacles. This will avoid losing focus. As Bradberry says, “… it's much harder to regain focus than it is to maintain it.”
3. Jump right in, no matter what.
As Bradberry says, “When you focus your attention on how difficult and cruddy it is to get started, you discourage yourself from doing so. When you dive right in no matter what, your mood quickly improves, which helps you to stay on task.”
4. Cut holes in your project.
Meaning, break up your whole project into smaller tasks to avoid getting overwhelmed by the size of the project.
5. Work in the right environment.
Bradberry writes, “Even if you do everything else right, working in the wrong environment can make you succumb to procrastination. This means keeping yourself away from television, electronics, friends, and loud places.”
6. Enjoy small victories.
“There's nothing quite like checking something off your to-do list … Remember, it's not about doing small tasks to avoid big tasks; it's about including small tasks in your daily checklist to build your confidence and momentum.”
7. Get real.
Bradberry states, “Setting unrealistic goals for your day is a great way to become discouraged and to succumb to the negative moods that fuel procrastination. Setting realistic goals keeps things positive, which keeps you in the right mood to work.”
8. Take control of your self-talk.
Bradberry warns, “Saying to yourself, ‘I'm not going to procrastinate, I will not procrastinate,’ virtually ensures that you will procrastinate … Instead of telling yourself not to procrastinate, think about what you will do and how great it's going to feel to have it done. This way, your mind fixates on the action you want to take instead of the behavior you're trying to avoid.”
9. Don't be a perfectionist.
Bradberry relates, “Author Jodi Picoult summarizes the importance of avoiding perfectionism perfectly: ‘You can edit a bad page, but you can't edit a blank page.’”
10. Focus on results.
Bradberry writes, “Chances are, you don't enjoy going to the dentist. Not many people do. So why do you go? It gets results. Your dentist is quite good at making your teeth and gums healthier and more appealing. The same mentality applies to a challenging task. While it may make you anxious to get started, don't focus on that. Just think of how great it's going to feel to get things done and how much worse you'll feel if you wait until the last minute and don't give it your best effort.”
11. Forgive yourself.
Punishing yourself just reinforces the negative and does the opposite of helping you avoid procrastination in the future. The better approach is to just “get back up on the horse.”
More Ways to Beat Procrastination
Now that you’ve read about the 11 ways to beat procrastination and you still aren’t sure how, read on.
In her article, 10 Scientifically Proven Tips for Beating Procrastination, for Forbes, Vanessa Loder offers additional advice including:
Pick Your Poison.
The key to beating procrastination is focus. We often give ourselves too many things to do and become overwhelmed. Start by choosing just ONE thing that you’ve been procrastinating and make a commitment to complete that task in the next week.
Once you’ve narrowed it down to one task, you must take immediate action. Today. If it feels daunting or you don’t think you have enough time to complete the task, do the Five Minute Miracle below.
Five Minute Miracle.
This is one of the best techniques for people who struggle with procrastination. The Five Minute Miracle involves asking yourself; “Hmm, what action can I take in less than five minutes TODAY that moves this forward even the tiniest bit?” Once you’ve identified a small action, set a timer for five minutes and spend five minutes working on the task. Research shows that once you start something, you’re much more likely to finish it … Remember: Small action is still action. Five minutes can make all the difference.
Do a Power Hour.
A Power Hour consists of putting away all distractions and working in concentrated chunks of time (to begin with I suggest no more than twenty-minute intervals) followed by short periods of rest, in order to harness the optimal performance of your brain and body. Science has discovered that our brain naturally goes through cycles with peaks and valleys. To maximize your output, it is vital that you honor these peaks and valleys by balancing concentrated, focused time with relaxation and integration.
Have a Procrastination Power Song.
Pick a song that really gets you energized and play it whenever you want to tackle something you’ve been procrastinating. The brain likes to have a trigger to create a new habit, plus you’re more likely to follow through when you’re feeling good in your body.
Finally, Mindtools.com has a few more suggestions in their article, How to Stop Procrastinating to help you. Overcoming the Habit of Delaying Important Tasks, among them are:
Promise yourself a reward.
If you complete a difficult task on time, reward yourself with a treat, such as a slice of cake or a coffee from your favorite coffee shop. And, make sure you notice how good it feels to finish things!
Ask someone to check up on you.
Peer pressure works! This is the principle behind self-help groups. If you don't have anyone to ask, an online tool such as Procraster can help you to self-monitor.
Rephrase your internal dialog.
The phrases "need to" and "have to," for example, imply that you have no choice in what you do. This can make you feel unempowered and might even result in self-sabotage. However, saying, "I choose to," implies that you own a project, and can make you feel more in control of your workload.
Aim to "eat an elephant beetle" first thing, every day!
Get those tasks that you find least pleasant out of the way early. This will give you the rest of the day to concentrate on work that you find more enjoyable.
Mindtools even has a quiz you can take to access how much you procrastinate.
Be Good to Yourself
The most important thing to remember is that you need to be a friend, not a foe, to yourself. You should be your own best advocate and your own best friend. Treat yourself as if you were someone else important to you who you want to see succeed. With that new mindset, you can conquer anything, including procrastination.
What do you think?
- Do you ever procrastinate?
- What sorts of tasks might cause you to procrastinate?