How to Beat Procrastination

We’ve all been there. An important project or piece of work is imminently due. You have very little time left to complete it, but you know it has to be done, so you are working in a frenzy to finish it, but you still have so much left to do. The thing is, you were given this task weeks, even months ago. You have had plenty of time. Why didn’t you do it earlier? Is it because, like almost everyone else, you procrastinated?

Procrastination is the habit of delaying an important task, usually by focusing on less urgent and easier activities instead. Procrastination isn’t laziness, which is the unwillingness to act. It is actually an active process – you choose to do something else instead of the task that you should be doing. And none of us are immune; according to research, 95 percent of us procrastinate to some degree.

Even minor episodes of procrastination can make us feel guilty, but over a long period, it can demotivate us and lead to a loss of productivity that could have serious consequences. So, it’s important we do something to prevent it. The first step to overcoming procrastination is to recognize that we are doing it.

Are You Procrastinating?

Procrastination, as we said, is a habit and like all habits, we can overcome it. It may be that sometimes that we are putting off an important task for a good reason, but if we are constantly filling our days with low priority tasks, or starting high importance projects and then breaking off to do something else, or completing unimportant tasks that other people have asked us to do, then we are probably procrastinating.

Why are You Procrastinating?

There are a number of things that could lead to procrastination. Do you find a particular task boring or unpleasant? If that is the case, get it out of the way quickly, so that you can focus on more enjoyable tasks.

Poor organization can cause procrastination. You could use To-Do Lists to organize your tasks by priority and deadline.

It’s possible that you just feel overwhelmed by a task. If you have doubts about your own ability to compete a task, it is much more likely that you will put it off and complete the tasks that you know that you’re capable of doing.

How to Overcome Procrastination

“Do first what you don’t want to do most.” ― Clifford Cohen

Any habit is something that you won’t get rid of immediately. Procrastination will only stop being a habit when stop doing it. Here are some strategies to help:

Forgive yourself for procrastinating in the past: it can make you feel more positive about yourself and reduce the likelihood of procrastination in the future.

  • Commit to the task. Focus on doing, not avoiding and promise yourself a reward if you complete a difficult task on time
  • Minimize distractions by turn off your email and social media. If you are working from home, turn off that TV.
  • Complete the tasks you hate as soon in the working day as possible.  That means you have the rest of the day to concentrate on work that you find more enjoyable.
  • Identify and focus on the long-term benefits of completing a particular task, rather than the short-term gain. Think also about what will happen if you don’t complete the work? How might it affect your personal, team or organizational goals?
  • Break down tasks into more manageable chunks. Organize projects into smaller tasks or create an Action Plan to organize your project, starting with quick and small tasks first. Getting “small wins” can provide a sense of achievement and give you some momentum.
  • You can set up Reminders on a daily or even hourly basis, to remind you that you should be working on that important project.
  • Spend 15 minutes a day or just clean and clear things as you go (email, physical cleaning, tasks, etc.). Otherwise you may leave these things and they can become overwhelming, leading to procrastination.
  • Just Do It. It is easier said than done, certainly, but the company who slogan it is has a guide: The Nike Guide to Overcoming Procrastination.
  • Automate if you can. If there are repetitive, simple everyday tasks that can be automated, then do this time and allow yourself to concentrate on more important, interesting things. Tools like Zapier and IFTTT are free for personal use, although they may have some limitations.
  • Realize that you will not achieve perfection. Nothing is perfect, but if you work hard and consistently, you may be surprised at how good what you produce ends up being.
  • Counterintuitively, it might help to work less. Stop trying to do too many things at once. Multitasking is a myth. You can’t do six things at once. As we’ve previously said, focus on the task that’s most important and do that.

“Doing things at the last minute reminds us of the importance of doing things at the first minute.” ― Matshona Dhliwayo

Remember, don’t be too hard on yourself. You will not beat procrastination overnight and if you are finding it difficult, then you are not alone. Give yourself a break now and again. And don’t believe that that you can never beat procrastination. You really can.

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