To overcome procrastination you need to do more than avoiding the saying “Oh, I’ll do it later”. It’s about managing time, priorities, habits, and effective decision making.
“Procrastination is an attitude’s natural assassin. There’s nothing so fatiguing as an uncompleted task.” — William James.
I think this quote nails it for overcoming procrastination. To avoid fatigue and the stress and bother related to it, we need to get things done, especially those things that we like to avoid.
“Procrastination often finds no place to hide when vision and purpose combine to light the path ahead.” — Michael Pedrotti.
Procrastination is an extremely common problem. In a 1996 report by Harriott and Ferrari, it was found that more than 20 percent of adults consider themselves to be chronic procrastinators. From this and other studies, it has been estimated that there are six main styles of procrastination.
6. The over-doer.
If you believe that you are a procrastinator then you will probably be able to identify with one of these styles. Regardless of which style you relate to, it is possible to work in order to overcome procrastination. You first have to accept that you do procrastinate. Second, consider how different your life would be if many of the things you put off doing were done in a timely manner.
Consider Your Last 12 Months
Have you put off doing something for yourself that you know would improve your life? Have you avoided starting a project that could make a huge impact on your success? If you are always reading about self-improvement and personal success and yet don’t put any of it into action, you may need help to overcome procrastination.
Procrastinating may allow us to have fun now and work later, but usually not without cost. Most often it means having to do some serious task cramming. We usually end up having to do the job anyway, often the day before it needs to be finished, by which time other priorities have come along.
Types of Procrastination
To keep it balanced, keep in mind that there is such a thing as good or creative procrastination. Consider for a moment what you can choose to do in the next 60 minutes.
A. Nothing or
B. Something that has little relevance to your long-term successor
C. Something important to you and your future.
If you were to put off jobs that fall into category B and instead do something from category C then that is good procrastination. It could be that you avoid washing the dishes to spend time with your family. Congratulations on choosing the better path. The dishes will be there when the rest of your family is at work, sport, school, or somewhere else.
So, what about the not-so-good procrastination? It comes down to a mind-game in the end. People who choose category B tasks while avoiding category C activities may need to change their procrastination habits rather than completely having to overcome procrastination.
Like eBay bidding, procrastinating can be addictive. You’ll tell yourself you won’t do it next time, or at least not as much. You might even put a reminder on your cell phone or write a note on your wall in cake icing to jog your memory about that little task that needs attention.
But you’ll ignore those mental cues anyway because you don’t want to do whatever it is you need to get done; you’ll put your cell phone on silent, tune out the cake icing, or eat it, and end up back at square one.
Procrastination often involves strong feelings about the task that you are avoiding. Acknowledge those feelings and then balance them with the advantages that will be yours if the task was already done.
It can get so bad sometimes you outright deny the need to do that thing until the fire is lit under you in the form of a deadline.
To overcome procrastination, some changes are required in terms of the way we think and manage our time.
Procrastination can be very taxing on your sleep, your sanity, and the quality of your life. A very small number of people thrive on postponing work, but most do not. The result of those last-minute jobs, that have to be done anyway, is usually poor and most often they look “rushed”.
Methods for Overcoming Procrastination
Better still, rather than trying to overcome procrastination (mostly a waste of time) change your procrastination to type C (see a few paragraphs above for an explanation if you missed it).
1. Schedule Your Fun Time and Your Work Time
One thing you can try is scheduling time for work and play. This will allow you to know with confidence that you can fit in some time for having fun as well as time to get the job done. Make sure that the time you allow fits into the time available.
Spur-of-the-moment activities are sometimes more fun but they really burn through your time if you don’t make plans. Schedule your bar-hopping, dolphin-hugging, and eyebrow-waxing into your day and then look at what time you need to complete the work that must be done.
If your plans seem to fit the available time, you can have fun and get the job done on the same day. When you know your need for fun has been taken into account, you’ll be more inclined to get the job done.
Some people will attempt to do this the other way round – work than play later. That might be okay in other circumstances but we are talking about the type of job that you really don’t want to start. Having some scheduled fun first can often put you in the right mood to tackle even the toughest of jobs.
Try writing your schedule or plan the night before. Take five minutes to plan a few key activities for the next day. Make sure to schedule a time for type C activities while minimizing type B.
You need to stop and think about what exactly will be in the deal for you if you do finish the task before it is overdue. There are often rewards that we do not immediately see. One significant one is a bonus rather than a reward. It is the feeling you get when you finally tackle and complete a job only to realize that it wasn’t that difficult after all.
In line with this, choose to do the most profitable activity first. Say to yourself; “I must do the one thing that will give me the most gain”.
Celebrate your achievements, no matter how small. If the intrinsic reward of completing the task is not enough, decide to treat yourself to something as an incentive to get off your bottom and work. Promise yourself something that you consider a treat, a dinner out at your favorite restaurant, taking the dog for a walk, or some other activity that is a worthy reward for finishing your work.
4. Find that Extra Energy
Lethargy can impede your abilities too. Once you start lounging on the couch and being a lazy slob, it’s very hard to get up and work. You have to make yourself get up, and maybe get some coffee, or lick an electrical socket … you know, something to get you energized. Even if you really, really don’t want to get up from watching your shows, just do it anyway. Self-discipline can benefit you not only by helping overcome procrastination, but it will help get you to be more inclined to work in general.
5. Free up Some Time
Take a look at your schedule … is it packed to the gills with stuff to do? Feeling overwhelmed will make you dismiss working, so take a look at your plans and get rid of what does not need to be done or tended to. Trust me, the family goat can go another day without being milked. Once you free up your schedule, you’ll relieve a lot of tension and be relaxed enough to finish your work.
6. Break It into Smaller Parts
Got a big chore? Try breaking the work down into smaller tasks and complete one or two each day over a period of several days. This will allow you to spend more time and put more effort into each aspect of the job and will result in a nicer result. Don’t do this if time is of the essence though. If you’re an embalmer, on-call physician, or firefighter, doing some work now and leaving some till later might be detrimental. Use your own judgment when breaking jobs into smaller parts. The second part of this is to get someone else to help you start. A problem shared is a problem halved.
7. It Is Not a Failure
If something doesn’t work out the first time, don’t call it a failure – it was a test. Go and test something else.
8. Minimize Distractions
Our world is alive with tweeting and buzzing and beeping and all things distracting. Turn off or tune out a few of the more time-consuming or attractive distractions and focus on the job to be done. It is surprising how much less distasteful a job or task can seem when there are fewer things distracting us.
Ask someone to hold you accountable for completing a certain task within a given time. Just knowing that they may ask you how it is going at any time often is enough to keep you moving.
10. Face up to the Hard Jobs
We can so easily allow errands to distract us from doing a difficult job. Type C activities are often considered “difficult” before we make a start on them. They can be extremely satisfying once started so … put aside the errands and stop filling up your days with busy-work (type B) and tackle one, just one, for now, type C hard job today. Even if it is only for a few minutes.
11. Throw Away the Type B to-do List
Many list-makers use the excuse that they got a lot done today because their to-do list is all ticked off. The biggest trap here is that the to-do list is usually a list of type B jobs. To-do lists are dangerous if they contain all type B jobs. Completing a long list of jobs might make you feel busy and productive, but unless the list contains type C jobs, you may be getting a lot of things done but, considering the long-term value of them, they are the wrong things. Type C jobs rarely make it to your to-do list. You know they have to be done and are really important, and then you make a list of all the other things you can think of to distract you! If you do have a to-do list, be sure to put your frog at the top position (see point 10 above).
12. Ask the Right Questions
Ask yourself these three questions right now.
- What are the most important problems in my life/work/home that need my attention?
- Am I working on one of them?
- Why not?
Overcoming procrastination is mostly about choosing to change the way we value our time. The last point above clearly highlights this.