We all know how it goes. There’s a paper you’ve got to write or an errand that you have to run. There’s still some time before the deadline. And there’s also that other task you’d rather do, which you enjoy more. You decide to do that first, so the one you’re dreading won’t feel so bad afterward.
Or you want to do such a good job that you dive in too deep to come to the surface in time to meet the deadline.
Most of us procrastinators are always set ourselves up for failure or at the very least, some really stressful late night hours of chasing a looming deadline that takes on monstrous, anxiety-causing proportions.
As a procrastinator, you may also often grossly underestimate how much time you’ll actually need for the task. And by the time you realize you’ve barely started, the clock’s ticking and you’re panicking.
Just like the way to the Christian hell, the way to procrastination is often paved with good intentions.
I’m not even going into the distractions of your favorite Netflix show releasing, that concert you’ve been wanting to watch, or any of the other last-minute things that life throws at us.
Of course, there are some of us who claim we are master procrastinators but always get the job done on time. For the rest of us, we need to sit down and figure out a way to cure this often-stressful habit before it takes over our lives and destroys our peace.
Here are ten ways to become better at beating procrastination and getting things done.
Take baby steps:
When you’re not motivated to reach your goal, it’s hard even getting started. So even the first small step towards it will seem like an achievement. For instance, if you have some reading to do for your paper, spend ten minutes or so reading a page. Once you’ve taken that step, you’ve already told your brain that a change has happened. Your naturally lazy brain (we are all wired to be lazy) will no longer resist. You will then set off a momentum towards your goal, that will carry you like a wave and get you there.
Focus on the reward and the steps:
Mountain climbers would get easily demoralized if they were constantly focusing on the sheer height of what they’re trying to achieve. Instead, they focus on the summit they want to reach, and they also focus on the small steps they’re taking. Not on how steep the path is.
There’s a lot we can learn from mountain-climbers about setting goals and reaching them. One big takeaway is that focusing on the reward or the outcome you want is going to give you an additional push towards it.
Make a To-Do list:
If you’re fortunate enough to already know ahead of time all the tasks that need completion by the end of the day, make a To-Do list first thing in the morning. As you’re making it, visualize how much time each task will take you.
If you don’t already have an external deadline, create a deadline for yourself. Setting hard deadlines makes it easier to commit to tasks. Imagine you’re the boss that’s waiting for you to hand work in, and hold yourself to the deadline just as your boss would.
Prioritize the least-favorite task:
Put the task you’re most likely to push down to the bottom of the list, at the top. This way, you can get it done first. You’ll have a sense of achievement from it. And the other tasks will follow easily.
Setting a timer (after putting your phone on the airplane mode) can be a simple way of defining an intent for yourself. You’ll find it easier to focus on. Breaking up the time you spend on the task into bite-sized pieces will break down a complex task into smaller, more manageable parts.
Be kind to yourself:
If you failed to meet a deadline you’ve set for yourself, don’t beat yourself up. (At least, not too much.) The first thing you need to do to change the way you work is to stop calling yourself a procrastinator. Often, we are what we think we are. Think of the future, not the past. And cut yourself some slack while you focus on making that extra effort towards getting the job done on time.
Probe the reasons you procrastinate:
Every time you find yourself pushing off something you need to do, pay attention to what’s really going on underneath. What are your thoughts? What are you feeling? What are the things you’re brushing under the carpet? How do you usually behave when you procrastinate?
Sometimes, perfectionists tend to procrastinate in an anxiety-ridden way. When you notice what’s really going on, you can begin to change your behaviors in a compassionate, positive way.
Switch off your phone:
In other words, turn off all distractions. Keep away from any environments or external stimuli that could distract you. This means finding a space of energy and focus for yourself, in the midst of the chaos of your everyday life.
But let’s face it, in an ideal world, there wouldn’t be laundry to do, babysitters who cancel last-minute, that urgent help your team leader requests of you, or those emails that need answering urgently. Finding a calm, focused space despite the chaos is possible to achieve. Whether you do it with the help of mindfulness or a productivity-inspiring playlist on your headphones is up to you.
Get someone to hold you accountable:
Rope in a partner to help you overcome procrastination. This could apply to your professional or personal life. Ask someone you trust for help, and hold yourself accountable to them. It’s harder to let someone else down than yourself.
Give yourself a little reward every time you tick off a box on your To-Do list. Make it a bigger reward for the less agreeable tasks. It could be anything from a cup of hot chocolate to a few minutes on Instagram. You’ll keep things interesting and stay motivated.
There are other things you can do to help cure procrastination. Think about the things that keep you from doing the job. Is your desk clean? Do you need a more ergonomic desk chair? Are your morning habits making you less effective by the time you sit down to work? Do you need a change in your nightly routine?
With a will to change your habits, anything is possible. Even serial procrastinators, such as yours truly, can learn to be less bothered about perfection and more on deadline.