If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably found yourself staring at a blank word document or a half-finished project more times than you can count.
Procrastination can be a problem even for diligent and productive workers. For some, it is a rare and anxiety-inducing situation; other people thrive when they feel a deadline breathing down their necks. But if procrastination has drastically affected your life negatively and becomes a problem you can no longer ignore, take action to end the cycle.
Procrastination is the bane of productivity. It can drive you crazy and make you feel like a failure.
What’s the deal? Why do we put off the things that we know will make us feel better about ourselves and our lives? And how can we stop procrastinating?
First, we have to understand what’s going on in our brains when we start putting things off. Procrastination has its roots in our desire to avoid discomfort and pain, but it manifests in different ways depending on your personality type:
For example, if you’re an introvert who avoids social interactions because they make you anxious, then you might put off attending parties or networking events—even though those activities would help grow your career. If you’re an extrovert who likes to stay busy all day long and hates downtime, you might put off taking breaks from work or eating lunch so that you can keep working instead.
Even the most productive professionals procrastinate occasionally. Some people only feel productive when they’re working against a looming deadline. But if your procrastination is starting to interfere with your work, it’s time to look in the mirror and stop yourself from falling into this bad habit.
The good news is that there are ways to change these habits so that they don’t interfere with your productivity anymore! Here are seven strategies for beating procrastination:
The first step to increasing your productivity is to get rid of distractions.
These include but are not limited to:
- Your phone. This can be one of the biggest culprits, as most people have their phones nearby at all times and don’t hesitate to look at them no matter what else they may or may not be doing. If you need your phone for work (and even if you don’t), it’s a good idea to turn it off during certain periods of time so that you’re completely focused on what you’re doing.
- Your email notifications. Similar to your phone, email notifications are easy ways for people—both coworkers and loved ones—to get in touch with you, which takes away from whatever it is that you’re trying to do right now. Keeping your email notifications off during certain periods of time will help prevent this problem by giving others the impression that they should only contact you through other methods during those times. However, if your job requires constant attention from a variety of sources, it’s likely not possible for you not to keep your email notifications on 24/7; though in this case, consider getting rid of other distractions instead by following these steps:
- Ask loved ones who live with or near you not to disturb you when they know that’s what is happening (e.g., “I’ll be working until 6 pm so please don’t talk to me after 5:30”).
- Find a quiet place where noise won’t distract you from finishing up those last few emails before closing down for the night or weekend (e.g., the library).
Set SMART goals.
Some of the first pieces of advice people learn about productivity is to set goals. But many people make the mistake of making a general goal like, “Be more productive” or “Learn Italian”. Without specifics and measurable steps, it can be easy to run out of steam, or find yourself working on something that isn’t actually moving you towards your goal.
Enter the SMART goal. This method helps you take a step back and think about exactly what you want to accomplish, and how you can break it down into manageable chunks that will help you make progress without wasting time or getting overwhelmed.
SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound:
- Specific — You should have a clear idea of exactly what needs to happen in order for the goal to be accomplished
- Measurable — You should be able to track your progress at each step so that you know when the task is complete
- Achievable — It should be possible for you to accomplish this goal with the resources available
- Relevant — The goal should support your overall plan
- Time-bound — There should be clear deadlines associated with each part of the project
Make a to-do list.
One of the most effective ways to beat procrastination is to make a to-do list. You may have tried this before and found that it actually increased your sense of anxiety, but if done correctly this can be a powerful tool.
You’ll want to start by writing down everything you need to do. If you’re working on a project, write down all the steps required for completion. The more detail you provide for each item on the list, the better. For example, “feed my dog” isn’t as helpful as “feed my dog 2 cups of dry food in his blue bowl at 8am and 10pm every day.” This ensures that you know exactly what needs doing and how much time it will take so that you can prioritize accordingly.
Once your list is complete (and detailed), it’s important not to worry about what order things need completing in! Don’t try and prioritize them right away because these things can change. Make sure everything is written down first—we suggest adding anything that comes up later in the day so your list is always up-to-date—then go back through and number the items based on their importance for the next day or week (depending on how big AND AMBITIOUS you want to be). Start from one and work your way through each item until there are no numbers left! And don’t forget to check things off as you complete them—this helps give you a sense of accomplishment and motivates us to keep going!
Break big tasks into smaller ones.
One of the best ways to beat procrastination is to break large and difficult tasks into smaller, more manageable ones. By setting this kind of strategy, you’ll know exactly what needs to be done in order to complete your task.
Having an established plan will help you feel less overwhelmed and more motivated because it’s easier to focus on a single action than on a huge project as a whole.
To begin with, make a list of everything that has to be done in order for your task or project to be completed. Then, prioritize each individual step so that the most important tasks are taken care of before the secondary ones. This way, if you run out of time, at least you’ve accomplished the most important steps first!
Once you have your list in place and have prioritized each step, create mini-deadlines for yourself by setting date ranges for when each step will be completed by. Marking off these steps as they’re being done allows you to see just how much closer you are getting to accomplishing your goal—another way to motivate yourself!
Get rid of unnecessary tasks.
- Do you find it hard to focus on your work? Are you easily distracted by daydreams, social media, or random thoughts of nothingness? Start with the basics: identify and remove distractions. This might mean turning off all notifications on your phone and computer (e.g., email notifications), closing open tabs that are unrelated to what you’re working on and putting away electronic devices like iPads, Kindles, etc.
- Once distractions have been removed, go a step further and tackle unnecessary tasks. Pull out a calendar, set up a list of things that need to be done each week (e.g., groceries; dry cleaning; dinner with friends/family), then get rid of everything that’s not absolutely necessary to accomplish those goals.
- Finally, focus only on the tasks that will bring you closer to your own goals—not someone else’s! Remember why you started in the first place: maybe it was for peace of mind or freedom from stress or something else entirely. Put simply: don’t lose sight of why you’re doing something in the first place!
Prioritize your tasks.
Prioritize your tasks.
Rank tasks based on their importance and urgency. Important tasks have a high impact on your life, even if they’re not time-sensitive. For example, an important task could be “Redecorate the living room,” while a more urgent but less important task would be “Pick up the dry cleaning.”
The strategy is to tackle the important tasks first, since those are the ones that give you maximum overall satisfaction in life. After all, what’s urgent today may not matter much in a year—but this doesn’t mean that you should ignore urgent items entirely. Instead, try to handle them efficiently so you can get back to what’s important as quickly as possible.
For example, if you have an important goal of “Getting promoted at work,” one daily action might be to prepare by reading an article about effective management techniques. This action is both important and urgent—and it’ll help with two other goals: “Earn $10,000 more per year” and “Be recognized for excellent professional performance.”
Set deadlines for yourself.
Deadlines help you to get things done, so make sure you have a firm one in mind before you start on your task. Ideally, it should be realistic and attainable enough that you can complete the task by then so that you don’t fall behind. If you miss a deadline, set another one. Be consistent with these deadlines to avoid derailing your productivity. On a calendar, track each deadline as something tangible and keep them in mind regularly until they are met.
Tell others about your deadlines and goals.
In the workplace, try to set goals with your team. If possible, find a mentor that can hold you accountable for your deadlines. Do not be afraid to ask for help when you need it.
Track your progress, and reward yourself when you’re finished.
Procrastinators will often say “I need more time to finish this”. While in some cases this may be true, generally speaking, it is not. Students have been known to cram an entire day’s worth of studying into a single day before the test, and other people seem to get important things done at the last minute that they’ve had days or even weeks to do. How do they do it? For one thing, they track their progress.
If you’re a procrastinator, give yourself regular deadlines leading up to the final deadline of your project or task. These are markers that will help you measure how much work you’ve done so far and how much more remains, so that instead of saying “I need more time”, you can say “I’m right on schedule” or even “Hey look! I finished early!”
Tracking your progress also helps you avoid burnout by giving yourself mini-deadlines along the way. If it’s too hard—or boring—for you to work on something from beginning to end without stopping for breaks, set these mini-deadlines as short breaks between sections of your task/project. Make them realistic for what you can accomplish within that time frame and don’t let yourself take longer breaks than planned! Once your break is over (and only then), return to work until your next scheduled break comes around. Using this method means that when your final deadline arrives and you’re ready with a completed project or task—you get another reward! Bask in the glory of not having procrastinated until now!
Focus on the task, not the time it takes to complete it.
- Focus on the task, not the time it takes to complete it. If you focus on how long a task will take and think about all the things you could do with that time, you’ll just end up procrastinating more. Instead, try focusing on completing the task as quickly as possible so that you can get to other things.
- Try to do the same tasks in less time. Challenge yourself to beat your own best time for completing a certain task. That way, it won’t seem like such a chore and you might actually enjoy doing it (or at least be done faster).
- Beat your procrastination and motivate yourself so that you can be more productive and accomplish more in less time!
- Remember the power of willpower. At one point or another, we all have to deal with situations where we feel overwhelmed, discouraged or unmotivated. But it’s important to recognize that this is a perfectly normal part of life—and no matter how badly you may want something, sometimes getting it requires patience and perseverance. It’s essential to remember that willpower isn’t just something you were born with—you can actually build your own willpower through hard work, practice and self-discipline. With the right mindset, anything is possible!