Twelve practical steps to end Procrastination
We have all been there; in fact I frequently procrastinated while writing this blog. Instead of finishing an urgent and time-consuming task, we might have a sudden urge to clean the desk or volunteer for a coffee run. There’s no need to feel guilty about occasionally procrastinating. But, if this delaying action turns into a habit, it can start holding us back.
We might begin to feel ashamed, guilty, demotivated, or disillusioned with our work. Some of us use this strategy in certain areas of our lives, e.g. when it comes to exercise, studies, finances, socially or at work.
In a job setting, these unconstructive feelings can hinder our productivity and make us miss out on goals and career advancement. It might eventually lead to depression or job loss. According to Scott (2017), it could even have a lethal impact on your life, e.g. not acting upon symptoms of a serious disease.
What is procrastination?
The good news is that since procrastination is a habit, it can be changed. To break the pattern, its advisable to take a step back and view it from a different perspective. Remind yourself that it is ok to feel uncertain tackling difficult tasks. Examine what unhelpful thoughts tend to hold you back, and don’t be hard on yourself. Acknowledge that your worth is not decided on what you achieve in life (Hendricksen, 2018).
Some of these self-sabotaging thoughts have developed over time, or are springing out of more recent experiences. These unhelpful rules and assumptions tend to revolve around certain themes, such as:
Fear - of failing, success, uncertainty about the future or imagining catastrophic scenarios. These can all influence you to avoid risk.
Control- a need to be in charge of a situation, task, etc. “things should be done my way.”
Contentment - seeking pleasure, e.g. “life is too short; I should do the enjoyable activities first.”
Low self-confidence - e.g. thinking “I’m not good enough”, “I’m not able to cope.”
Low energy – telling yourself“I’m too tired/overworked/unmotivated/low, so I can’t do this right now.” (CCI, 2018) I find this excuse to be common when it comes to physical activities, such as exercising.
“Once you know why, when and how you procrastinate you are ready to find a solution “ Steve Bressert
To change these ingrained thoughts, focus on alternative, more helpful rules or assumptions. Find ways of incorporating these into your daily life. As these manners have been formed over time, they can be difficult to shift. You can also use some practical strategies to stop the delaying of a dreaded activity.
Practical strategies to end procrastination
1. Gain clarity of exactly what needs doing: make a to do list, prioritize each task, grade, and estimate time for each task
2. Break down the large task to smaller more manageable chunks.
3. Schedule, organize your commitments on a weekly basis according to your diverse roles, e.g. as a mother, friend, daughter, manager, co-worker, etc. with clear targets of what you would like to achieve each week. (Covey, 1989).
4. Dispose of excuses, be honest with yourself and don’t pay attention to your internal chatter.
5. Bite the bullet, do the task you really don’t want to do first. All other chores will feel much easier afterwards.
6. Five min trick, promise yourself that you will spend only five minutes on the task, then reevaluate to see if you can continue for longer, etc.
7. Set time restrictions, schedule reminders on your phone of how long you should work on a task (e.g. 30min).
8. Flow utilization, work on something you enjoy doing, get into the flow and then quickly switch into the task you are dreading.
9. End perfectionism, this all or nothing thinking can hold you back. You can strive for excellence, but shift the focus to getting the job done.
10. Motivate, don’t be too hard on yourself and reward your achievements however small, e.g. after you have finished part of the work, watch a Netflix show, go on social media, have some caffeine intake, go for a walk, etc. Try not to reward yourself with food, as it can turn into a habit hard to break.
11. Create a calm space, surround yourself with the optimal non-disruptive environment, e.g. if based in an open office, use headphones with your favorite music or earplugs, put your phone on silent, without reach and turn off notifications, close your email inbox, etc.
12. Accountability, assign partner/friend/manager/counsellor who will assist you in keeping you on track.
It’s important to note that Procrastination can be a sign of serious underlying health issues, e.g. it can be a cause of serious stress and illness, anxiety or depression. According to Mindtools Ltd. (2018), you might need to seek advise from a trained professional to guide you through this.
Knowing why, when and how you procrastinate can really help in getting rid of the pattern. However, you don’t always have to change the underlying thoughts to succeed. So dismiss your excuses and use a selection of the practical actions that would suit you, it can often be enough to stop the habit.
Bressert, S., (2016),“Tips to beat Procrastination”Psych Central. Retrieved from: https://psychcentral.com/lib/tips-to-beat-procrastination
CCI, Center for Clinical Interventions, (2018). Retrieved from: http://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au/~/media/CCI/Mental%20Health%20Professionals/Procrastination/Procrastination%20-%20Information%20Sheets/Procrastination%20Information%20Sheet%20-%2005%20-%20Unhelpful%20Rules%20and%20Assumptions.pdf
Covey, S.R., (1989), “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”,Free Press
Hendricksen, E., (2018). “5 ways to finally stop procrastinating”, Psychology Today, Aug 15th. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/how-be-yourself/201808/5-ways-finally-stop-procrastinating
Mindtools Ltd. (2018)“How to stop procrastinating - overcoming the habit of delaying important tasks.” Retrieved from: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newHTE_96.htm
Scott, S.J., (2017) “A simple guide to mastering difficult tasks and breaking the procrastination habit”