There is little in life that holds us back worse than the habit of procrastination.
What starts off as an offhanded “I’ll get to it later” often turns a simple task into a monster that looms over us as a deadline draws nearer and nearer. Most of the time we find ourselves procrastinating the most unpleasant tasks on our to-do lists, trading a more comfortable present for a stressed-out, time-starved future where we have to rush around to finish a task that we originally had plenty of time to accomplish.
Procrastinating affects us in all sorts of negative ways, from causing us to miss work deadlines to risking our health over putting off doctors’ appointments, to damaging relationships when we continually think we’ll pay attention to our loved ones “later.” Still, many of us are stuck in a trap that keeps us from doing the things we need to get done. To make things even more frustrating, we often look back and realize that the time spent procrastinating really wasn’t filled with anything valuable, either.
Was it really worth putting off your school project in order to watch some old documentary on a subject you weren’t even interested in to begin with?
So, what do you do when you realize that it’s time to take the procrastination bull by the horns? How do you make the changes you need in order to get on the right track?
The first step is something you’ve already done. You need to recognize that it’s time to put a stop to the procrastination. Of course, recognizing a problem and solving a problem are certainly not the same thing. Still, realizing that you need to make a change really is a big step, and acknowledging that you’ve already taken a step can help you take the next one.
Now things are going to get a little more uncomfortable because it’s time to start taking action. There are several strategies you can use to get yourself up and moving. The one that works best for you may depend upon why it is that you’re procrastinating in the first place.
It’s Just Too Much!
For example, many of us put off projects because they are just so complex that we become overwhelmed before we even start. If you have a multi-part project that you need to complete, take the time to break it down into its component parts. Rather than thinking “I have to complete a 15-page report by the end of the month,” make a list of the various tasks involved and tackle them one at a time. Your list might look something like this:
- Brainstorm topic ideas
- Get input from friends/teacher/boss/etc. and choose topic
- Go to library and do research (or put aside time to research online)
- Write rough draft
- Get input on rough draft
- Write final draft
By attacking each item in turn, you can avoid the paralysis that often comes with not knowing where to start or even feeling like you’ll never be able to finish.
I Don’t Wanna!
So much of the time, we end up procrastinating because we simply don’t want to engage in particular activities. We may find them unpleasant or just be uninterested in them. This might be the case with cleaning house, for example. You think, “I’ll do the dishes later.” Unfortunately, the longer you think this, the more dishes there are by the time you finally get around to the task. This, of course, reinforces the idea that we didn’t want to do that darn thing in the first place.
Getting past this hurdle requires us to adjust our thinking a little bit. In some cases, we just have to “suck it up” and get started. The funny thing is that once we get some forward momentum with the unpleasant activity, we almost always find that it wasn’t as bad as we expected. It’s the dread over doing it that causes us so much trouble, not the actual act of getting it done. Logically speaking, we would actually avoid more distress by simply starting the task than we create by trying to avoid it.
There are a couple of methods you can use to get the ball rolling and start on your task. One is to give yourself a “start deadline.”
We often think of deadlines as being the time we have to have a project finished, but creating a start deadline can help impose a sense of urgency that gets us motivated to begin. Another common method is to give yourself a reward once you’ve completed a task. The size of the reward should probably relate to the overall size of the task accomplished, so making a dreaded phone call might earn you a special snack, while finishing an entire months-long project at work may warrant a few days off to spend with friends and family.
“Procrastination is opportunity’s natural assassin.” Victor Kiam
What If I’m Not Good Enough?
Procrastination is also a tool that we use to keep ourselves from experiencing failure. It is not unusual for people to put off tasks because they are worried about the outcome. This can result from multiple concerns, including fear of failure (or even success) and perfectionism.
Perfectionists will often procrastinate starting a project because they feel like they have to have everything in order to ensure it goes off without a hitch—before they even get started. Because the timing for such things is rarely ever “perfect” (because, let’s face it, there is no such thing as perfection), this can lead to an inability to even get started, let alone finish a project.
In order to get started, the perfectionist may have to recognize that it is more important to get something done than it is to get it done to a ridiculously high standard. Setting deadlines and asking others to hold you accountable can be a great way for this type of person to see progress instead of remaining stalled.
Fear of failure is certainly related. Oftentimes people will delay a task for fear that even if they do their best, the end result will not be good enough. Generally speaking, this is a self-esteem issue. One of the best ways to get past this holdup is to spend time really picturing the end result that you want from your project. It’s impossible to reach a goal if you never set one, after all. By having a good idea of what it is you’re trying to accomplish, you are setting yourself up to reach that goal.
Putting Procrastination to Work for You
While we almost always think of procrastination as a negative thing, there are times when we can use it to our advantage. If you’re trying to quit smoking, for example, you can procrastinate your next cigarette for 15 minutes. By the time those minutes have passed, you will likely have moved past the craving and be on to something else. If not, you can always procrastinate another 15 minutes. Even if you don’t quit smoking immediately, this ensures that you will cut back the amount you smoke in a day.
You can also use procrastination as a tool to combat worry. Much of our time is wasted worrying about things over which we have not control. Let’s say you have a dentist appointment set for next week. Is worrying about what the doctor will say or do going to have any effect on what actually happens? The truth is that it won’t. So, when you find concerns starting to rise up in your mind, you can give yourself permission to procrastinate and worry about the situation later.
What do YOU procrastinate about the most…and what do you do to overcome it?