10 Best Ways to Cure Procrastination Forever
It’s a familiar feeling for almost all of us: we have a project to start, we know the deadline is quickly approaching, we know what we need to do, yet instead of sitting down at the computer or getting out the paint and paintbrush, we decide to do a load of laundry. The laundry leads to cleaning out the basement, which leads to rearranging the cupboards, and before we know it, the day is gone and we haven’t made any progress on our project. Yes, this is the dreaded procrastination, and it strikes all of us at one point or another. Whether you experience procrastination only rarely or its your constant companion, curing your procrastination is probably a goal that is relatively high on your list.
Most procrastinators have tried to beat it in the past, and found that it’s tougher than they anticipated. That’s because procrastination doesn’t have a single cause, nor does it have a single solution. We procrastinate for different reasons that may be related to our personality, our schedules or the specific project we’re working on. You may procrastinate at work for different reasons than you procrastinate going to the gym or cleaning the house, for example. To beat procrastination forever, you need to identify what is going on in your brain when you’re putting off work, and how you can change the way you think. The following ten tips will help you get more acquainted with your habit of procrastinating, and give you useful tools to change your life.
10Identify the Root
Most of the time, procrastination isn’t a time-management issue, it has a deeper root cause. Take a look at one of the areas in your life where you tend to procrastinate, and think about how you feel when you’re experiencing it. Are you fearful of how your life may change if you actually accomplish the task? Are you terrified that you will make mistakes or that your work won’t lead to a perfect project? What anxieties are attached to the project, and where do they come from? Are these fears different than ones you experience in relation to a different task you often put off? You may not be able to answer the questions perfectly at first, but just thinking about them is a great first step.
When you are experiencing fear or anxiety that leads to procrastination, your most likely reaction is to deny it and push it away. That’s why we busy ourselves with mundane and distracting tasks that don’t really need to get done. We don’t want to think about the fear or anxiety, so we train our minds to focus on busywork. Even if you are not ready to identify why you’re experiencing fear about this particular project, you can take the step of at least acknowledging that you’re afraid. Don’t push it away. Sit with your fear, give it some attention, and be fully present with it. It may seem counterintuitive, but the more you acknowledge and feel your fear, the less of a hold it will have on you.
9Start Changing Habits
Procrastination is a habit, plain and simple, and the way to change is to start replacing it with other, healthier habits. Even after you’ve identified the fears associated with your procrastination and learn to accept them, you still need to break the habits that have taken hold over years or even decades. Changing a habit as daunting as procrastination can seem like an overwhelming task, and taking on this task may trigger even more desire to procrastinate. It can become a cycle that is quite difficult to break, especially if you are always looking at the big picture.
The key to breaking the procrastination habit is to chunk projects into small, manageable pieces. What is the first thing you usually do when getting ready to start a large project? If you’re a procrastinator, you probably tend to think about all the deadlines you need to meet, all the words you need to write, or all the pieces that need to be included in your presentation. It’s overwhelming, and it makes complete sense that you don’t know where to start and therefore don’t start at all. Instead of looking at the big picture at the beginning of a project, just look at the first task that needs to be done. Maybe that’s writing one intro piece, or checking out some books to be referenced in your PowerPoint presentation. Once you’ve identified the first task, it becomes much easier to take that first step. Forming the habit of chunking up projects every single time will lead to less anxiety, which will then lead to less procrastination.
8 Increase Focus
We often procrastinate because we become overwhelmed with too many projects and don’t know where to start. Are you the type that never says no to anything? Are you continuously offering to help others even though you know you don’t have the time to get it all done? Do you request too many projects at work, then get stressed when you realize you’ve overcommitted? Many people procrastinate not because they are poor time-managers, but because they simply can’t complete everything they commit to, no matter how skilled they are at managing the time they have.
One of the keys to beating procrastination is being able to focus on the project at hand, which is extremely difficult to do when you’ve got ten other projects all clamoring for attention. The first step in this situation is learning how to say no and being honest with yourself about how much you can actually accomplish. The second step, once you have your to-do list pared down, is to choose one task and make a commitment to focuses on it until it’s finished. No more hopping from project to project getting a little bit done here and little bit done there. You need to train your brain to focus exclusively on one task and resist the temptation to multi-task. Multi-tasking is not your friend when you’re trying to break your procrastination habit! A helpful tool is to set a timer on your phone or watch and commit to no distractions for a certain period of time. You may start out with only five or ten minutes, but you can always build up from there.
7 Just Start
Forward momentum is often the key to getting a project started, and for that momentum to get rolling, you have to do something. It doesn’t matter what that something is, only that it involves forward progress. Have to clean the entire house before the in-laws come over for dinner? Start by simply picking up the socks that are on the living room floor. Need to write a 3000-word presentation for the meeting tomorrow morning? Start by pulling up a blank word document on your computer. Determine the very first action needed to get the project completed, no matter how small it may seem, and just do it. This makes the task seem more real and gives you that little boost of accomplishment you need to keep going. You’re turning a hypothetical ‘need to do’ into a concrete ‘am doing’, and that can often make all the different in the world.
For most of us, it’s easier not even to start a project than it is to leave one partially completed. The sense of urgency that is missing when we haven’t started yet returns as soon as we take that first small step. Have you noticed that the hardest thing to do when you want to work out in the morning is simply getting out of bed? Once you’re out, everything else seems to fall in place, and before you know it, you’re dressed and ready for a jog. That’s the beauty of just doing something—once you start, it becomes much easier just to keep going.
6 Remove Any Obstacles
What’s getting in your way at the start of your project? No matter how small it may seem, it could be just enough to trigger procrastination. Before you start any project, you need to remove your obstacles and free yourself to perform the task unencumbered. What does this look like? Let’s say the task you are putting off is writing a report for work. Every time you start the task, you get distracted by checking new emails as they pop up, straightening your desk that always seems untidy and getting lost researching links to include in your presentation as they always tend to lead you to more articles you want to read.
The trick is to remove those obstacles before you even begin your task. In the above scenario, you would start by not even opening your email program before beginning your report. If it’s too much of a temptation, write your report from a location with no internet access. You’d next make sure your desk was cleaned before you began your task, or move to a clear space to work. Finally, research all of your links beforehand and have them handy to insert into your presentation. When you remove obstacles, you’re setting yourself up for success and limiting the distractions that always seem to get in your way. It’s always more difficult to regain focus than it is to retain it, so limiting anything that may interfere is a key strategy that should help you remain on-task.
5 Be Realistic
Are you procrastinating because you’ve realized you’ve gotten in over your head and you know you’ll never be able to get the job done? Being realistic when taking on projects is an important proactive tool to avoid procrastination. This tip relates to the above suggestion to increase focus. However, it also refers to the fact that some of us take on projects that we are unqualified for, or that we don’t have the resources to complete. We may be worried that the person we accepted the task from will ‘see through us’ if we turn in subpar work, so we decide not to turn it in at all. After all, many of us would rather be seen as someone who did not meet a deadline as opposed to someone who had inferior knowledge or skills.
To overcome this habit, you need to be realistic and honest with yourself before you take on a project. Ask yourself if you have the knowledge, training or skills necessary to complete it. If you don’t, can you collaborate with someone who does and are they available to help? If you find yourself continually wanting to take on work that you can’t complete, this could be a sign that you need to take additional classes or seek out training to help improve your skillset. You gain nothing by saying yes to projects you know you’ll never be able to succeed at, but you can learn from this and use it as a roadmap to guide you on a path to self-improvement.
4 Recognize that You’re Procrastinating
Sometimes procrastinating shows up in ways that aren’t easily recognizable. If you don’t know you’re doing it, how can you take measures to stop? Recognize that you’re procrastinating when you’re doing things such as starting your day with a low priority task from your to-do list, or reading emails several times without deciding what to do with them. Many times, we’re not avoiding work by simply staring out the window or endlessly wiping down our clean desks and computer monitors. In fact, procrastinating can look an awful lot like staying extremely busy. The difference is, when we’re being productive, we’re focused on the tasks we need to get done to accomplish an overall goal. When we’re procrastinating, on the other hand, we’re busying ourselves with mundane tasks or busywork that could easily be accomplished by someone else or at a later time.
Would you rather make coffee than get down the nuts and bolts of why your most recent promotional campaign failed? Most executives would probably answer this question with a no. If they wanted to make coffee, they would have stayed a secretary instead of going into sales. However, their actions tell a different story. Making coffee is a task easily accomplished while finding the holes in your latest strategy is far more difficult. Understand that the necessary task might not be the easy one, and realize that responding to an email from a business colleague or offering to take your co-worker’s shirt to the cleaners is just another way to put those tasks off.
3 Reward Your Progress
Waiting until the end of a project to get a reward can seem like a very long time, especially if your project is a large one. No wonder you’re waiting to start on a project when you know you won’t be able to celebrate the completion of it for weeks or even months. In these cases, setting up a continuous rewards system can help you nip procrastination in the bud. Associating reward with only the final goal does not help with motivation throughout the project. It can also lead to a feeling of discontent once the project is over, the reward has been received, and you’re back to square one.
Most of the time, we most need to be rewarded in the early stages of projects, when motivation is low and the finish line seems like it’s miles away. When we develop a continuous reward system, we shift our focus away from the final goal, and focus on our small chunks we need to accomplish to get there. We stop looking at the final product and instead look at rewarding the effort and performance it will take to get there. The main goal of continuous rewards is to change the way we think, and associate work, not the completion of work, with something desirable.
If your project is to write a 25-page report on your company’s newest product launch and the marketing efforts associated with it, reward yourself for every five pages you write. If your project is making 100 cold calls in a week to potential customers, reward yourself every time you make 20, regardless of the result.
2 Talk to Your Future Self
If you’re procrastinating, you’re having a hard time tapping into the ‘feel good’ emotions that come from the project. Why not do a little time travel and project yourself into the future? Have a talk with your future self and ask how good it feels now that the project is completed. Think about how your future self might be different if you keep putting off the project and never get it done, or turn in subpar work because you did everything at the last minute. Try not just to see what your future self says, but also how that self feels.
It can be very difficult to put off short-term pleasures in exchange for long-term feelings of satisfaction. When a huge project is staring you in the face, it doesn’t seem like much fun to type out hundreds of words or call dozens of people who might hang up on you. What sounds like much more fun is getting another cup of coffee, or watching your favorite movie, or even gaining the small satisfaction that comes from completing an easy and probably unnecessary task. This is human nature. To fight it, you need to use your imagination. Is that cup of coffee going to give you as much satisfaction as knowing you put in a lot of hard work and turned in a report that will further your career? Just this small switch in thinking could be enough to convince present self to delay some gratification so that future self can be happy.
1Quit Trying to Be Perfect
Perfectionists, beware! You are the most likely type of person to suffer from procrastination. Why? Because you’re more focused on perfect results than you are on quality of effort. It’s a misconception that procrastinators are lazy and just don’t want to do the work. In fact, most procrastinators are so concerned with doing the work and doing it perfectly that they just can’t stand the thought of doing anything less than 100%. Unfortunately, it’s rare that you turn in perfect work every time, no matter how hard you work on it, and this is what gets to the perfectionist. They battle feelings of wondering why it’s even worth the time or effort if they can’t be perfect, and they opt for being known as the person who misses deadlines instead of the person who turns in a less-than-perfect performance.
Like most of the tips on this list, battling perfectionism is about changing how we think. Though it will probably be an uphill battle, you must convince yourself to focus on the quality of the effort involved, and let go of the result. Most of the time, we can’t control results anyway. Even if we complete a project that is perfect in our minds, our bosses or colleagues may not feel the same way. When you focus on the effort rather than result, you take away your need for perfectionism and open yourself up to creativity.
The procrastination bug has bitten us all from time to time, and some of us live with the constant struggle of putting off projects until they reach crisis stage. We opt to clean off the kitchen counter for the tenth time that morning or print out pictures from our vacation three years ago instead of facing the blinking cursor on our computers. It’s important to realize that procrastination is not a matter of poor time management, nor is it the sign of laziness. Instead, we must realize that it’s simply a series of bad habits that stem from a root cause that was established somewhere in our past. When we’re able to recognize what this cause is, we can then start changing habits to facilitate healthier choices and actions.
For true procrastinators, the act of putting off tasks has become a part of their personality and so ingrained in their self-image that it can be very difficult to change. Just as smokers have a tough time picturing themselves as non-smokers and overweight individuals cannot see themselves as slim, procrastinators just don’t know who they would be if they didn’t put off what needed to be done. True change comes from awareness, and being aware that you have a problem and that you can do something about it is where you must begin. By utilizing our ten tips to end procrastination forever, you can realize why this has become a part of your personality and finally take actions to change.