Procrastinating: we all do it. In the face of a looming deadline, we hide our heads in the sand. Although the “sand” is usually a YouTube hole, or an endless series of unnecessary chores. It’s amazing the stupid things that we get done when we DON’T want to do something else. Cleaning my keyboard, picking out new drapes for the windows, even car cleaning are all things that I get done when I’m avoiding a more important task.
Some say that beating procrastination simply comes down to willpower, but I think it’s more than that. In many ways, it’s a matter of learning ways around the blocks that you set for yourself. Everyone works differently. You just need to figure out what your pitfalls and motivators are, and create the right atmosphere for yourself to get things done. Here are a few ideas that I’ve gleaned from a lot of research and personal experience. See which works for you!
- Think in terms of days and even hours instead of months. Numerous studies have found that those who think of a deadline as “35 days” instead of “about a month” are much more likely to start early and complete the task before the deadline. You can make the deadline feel even more real and immediate by eliminating weekends or certain days that you know you certainly won’t get things done. For example, 35 days is really only 22 work days, much of the time. Now do you feel like you’d better get moving?
- Break it down. There’s a reason that classes do unit tests and midterms instead of just saving up all the deadlines for the end. We perform better when we break tasks down into pieces with mini-deadlines along the way.
- Tell someone your goal. This tip is a mixed bag. Some experts say that this actually has a negative effect on your achievement, because you get a little bit of a social high just from telling someone your goals. It might make you think that you’ve already accomplished the task, and keep you from being more motivated. On the other hand, many of the most notorious procrastinators are also people who are very susceptible to social pressure. So, just the idea of others following up on how things are going for you can make you feel more motivated to make things happen.
- Get rid of the pressure. As a writer, I find that there are some things that I want to write that I put off forever because I let the pressure build in my head. I start thinking about how much hinges on this thing that I’m writing. If I don’t make it all I want it to be, I’m probably a failure, I think. I can never make it better! Well, if you let that kind of language continue, you could procrastinate forever. Let yourself know that there’s always time to improve and get better. That doesn’t mean that you can’t finish a task right now. Stop overblowing the pressure and just get the job done. If you want to fix it later, you can fix it. And if you can’t… it’ll just be evidence of how much you’ve improved.
- Eliminate distractions. We all have things that pull us away from the task at hand, and when we’re procrastinating, we welcome each minor distraction wholeheartedly. But you have the power to push your distractions out of sight and mind. Put a filter on your computer that will keep you away from social media. You can also put your phone into a lockbox or put it into someone else’s keeping until you’ve earned it back.
- Eat that frog. This idea is adapted from a book by Brian Tracy. “Eat that frog” sounds gross, but the idea is that you need to tackle the worst, most dreaded task on your list first. After that, everything else is a breeze. Admit it, we all have something that’s on the to-do list day after day because we just keep doing all the other things first and somehow never get around to that most-dreaded task.
- Dedicate three minutes to it. Lots of things can seem intimidating if you look at the whole scope of the task. But break it down and tell yourself that you only have to do three minutes of it. So, if the task is doing the dishes, just get started on it for three minutes. If the task is making a call that you don’t want to, tell yourself you only have to talk for three minutes and if it takes longer, you can say goodbye and hang up. This could be a problem for some people, but most will discover that (1) most dreaded tasks only take three minutes, or (2) even if it takes longer, once you get started, it’s easier to do.
- Put ONLY THREE things on your to-do list. I’ve heard before that we only have the capacity to get three dreaded tasks done in a day. If you’re like me, though, you get a little rise out of just making your to-do list. There’s something satisfying about looking at all the things that you’re GOING to do. Somehow, we sometimes feel like we’ve already gotten the dreaded task done if we have it written on our list. Once I get started on my list, I start adding optional tasks, easy tasks, things that it would be NICE to get done, but really don’t matter that much. And then I end up doing the least important things and neglecting the most important things at the top of the list. However, when I challenge myself to a list of ONLY THREE things, they almost always get done. It might seem modest at first, but imagine if you got three hefty tasks taken care of every day. You’d have an insanely productive week!
- Focus on the benefits instead of worrying about the worst-case scenario. For example, focusing on the benefits of that lost weight instead of obsessing about punishing yourself for how you look now can make you feel more positive and proactive about it.
It’s almost always better to get things done earlier. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you work best under a deadline. That’s a lie. An external deadline might be the only thing that motivates you, but it shouldn’t be. You’ll always do better work if you’re given time to modify what you’ve done, check for mistakes, and gather more evidence or input from others. Science has shown over and over again that things work better when we’re more connected, more in control and more proactive feeling, instead of just reacting to problems that come. This article takes a look at how that applies to addiction, but the principle applies for everything from changing your relationships to getting up in the morning.
So, which techniques help you curtail your tendency to procrastinate? Let me know in a comment below!