In a nutshell: You already know you shouldn’t put off till tomorrow the things you can do today. Here’s how — and why — to defeat your procrastination habit.
Lost time. Blown opportunities. Poor reputation. Bad decisions under pressure.
These are some of the results of procrastination, which bedevils everyone at some point. However, for some, it becomes a habit. A very, very bad and even potentially destructive habit.
The good news for chronic procrastinators is that there are ways to overcome the wait-until-the-last-moment habit.
But it’s going to take some work on your part to change things. You want to work smarter, not harder. Minimizing of procrastination will help.
Why Procrastination Is Unproductive
So, what’s the big deal with procrastination? You’re busy. It’s hard to get to everything. Why should you feel bad about sometimes pushing things to the last minute?
Well, that might prove true if it’s a once-in-a-while thing. But for many, procrastination becomes the rule, not the exception. That’s not a “new normal” you want to get comfortable with.
The reasons behind procrastination are numerous. It’s hard to say for certain exactly why you do it. But there’s something for certain: You can inflict damage on your life in many ways, including:
- Wasting time. You spend so much time avoiding the things that you need to do that you could have done those things three times already.
- Missing opportunities. Opportunity knocks, you hesitate to answer, and off it goes, never to return. Life only offers these moments here and there — procrastination is a killer if it keeps you from making the most of them.
- Harm your career. Once it gets around that you don’t meet deadlines consistently or put off routine tasks to the last minute, it will cause some people to shift opportunities to others who don’t procrastinate.
- Lower self-esteem. It’s a vicious cycle. You feel bad that you’re always late. But you keep being late because you feel bad about yourself. And down you go into a low self-esteem spiral.
- Poor decisions. Procrastination usually has its roots in the inability to make a decision. The irony is that waiting until the last minute forces you to make decisions in haste — often bad ones.
- Poorer health. The stress and anxiety of not taking care of business when you should lead to more risks of health problems.
So now that you know some of the consequences, how do you rid yourself of this self-destructive habit? Here are few tips.
Recognize the Problem
If you’ve read this much of the article, then you probably are to the point where you are willing to acknowledge you have an issue with procrastination. If you are still not sure, some of the signs of chronic procrastination, according to Mind Tools, can include:
- Spending significant parts of your day on low-level tasks
- Leaving important tasks on your to-do list for long periods of time
- Reading emails and other communication repeatedly, unable to decide what to do about them or how to respond
- Finally start a task and then immediately taking a break
- Doing things for others first rather than taking care of your own work
- Waiting for “inspiration” that never really arrives
Now you know. It’s really you, isn’t it?
If you still are not sure, consider taking this test on procrastination from Mind Tools.
At some point, you knew the phrase “to-do list” would come up. The difference here is the extra emphasis on the “to-do” part. They truly can help with getting organized, but they must be done in such a way that the task list is reasonable and that you actually do them in the time frame specified.
It’s not that hard to set up, but there are important rules. Keep it short and simple. Don’t make long lists you have no way of accomplishing or you will just feel worse. The idea is quality, not quantity. Make the list the night before and hit that first item (which should be the most important) right away once you wake up. And don’t avoid some small but annoying task; just knock it out and stop wasting energy worrying about it.
Break Down Big Projects
Chunk out each small phase of a bigger project and treat them as individual tasks. Big projects sometimes are hard to start simply because of their intimidating scope. Smaller pieces make reaching the ultimate goal easier. It also makes it easier to start right now, today, on the project.
For some people, having someone check on them is a good idea. It works when studying, diving and working out. Why not with beating procrastination? The key here, according to Entrepreneur, is to have someone who will be brutally honest, consistent in checking in on you and also agree to consequences when you don’t act. You may consider getting someone outside of your industry.
Turning life’s challenges into a game — gamification is the official term, according to Psychology Today — can make achieving goals easier. Turning a task into something fun works wonders. This can go in many directions. For example, set a timer for a half hour and see how much you can get done, then do something you enjoy for five minutes. These little sprints of work can add up as the day goes on.
Psychology Today also suggests this one: write two donation checks, one to an organization you love, one to an organization you hate. Give them to someone you trust (perhaps the accountability buddy). If you get the task done on time, the check goes to the charity you like. If not, off goes the check to the charity you hate.
Now, that’s motivation!
Procrastination doesn’t make you a bad person. But it certainly can inflict damage on your life. Put these tips into action and end this bad habit. You’ll be happy you did.