Everyone does it, including you. You have things to do, important things or mundane things, and you put off doing them until the last minute. If Procrastination were an Olympic event you might be in the running for a gold medal, you’re that good at it. You make jokes about being a world class procrastinator with your friends, telling them that sure, you could finish that project right now if you wanted to but (yawn) you’re just going to do it tomorrow.
Procrastination is putting something off until later, either due to carelessness or habitual laziness. It’s putting off till tomorrow what you just as easily could have finished up today. A procrastinator postpones or needlessly delays accomplishing something –just because.
A person who is habitually late to everything, from weddings to dates, is someone who procrastinates getting ready to leave. Maybe they don’t start getting ready until it’s nearly time to leave or they move so slowly that by the time they should leave for the event, they’re still way behind schedule.
. . . and let me say that I am guilty of procrastinating too, but that doesn’t make it right. Why do we let things slide until we’re in a time crunch and the deadline is looming and we’re not even CLOSE to being finished? Why do we procrastinate?
Why Do You Do It?
The behavior of procrastination affects almost everyone at one time or another in their life. For some it is a continuous habit, part of who they are, a not-so-endearing character trait; for others it may be a situational thing and doesn’t affect too many events in their life. For whatever reason, people put off things they don’t want to do.
Because You Are Afraid. No one likes to admit that they fear something, but fear might just be the reason you put off doing what you know you should do. Whether it’s fear of failure or fear of success, it’s still fear. Fear is a paralyzing emotion. It has the ability to stop us in our tracks-literally.
Because You Don’t Think it’s Important Enough. You don’t place a high enough priority on the task at hand, it’s not vital and so it’s not worthy of you beginning it. You know the task needs to be done and you may already have decided that you’re the one who must do it. However, there is always something else more important on your to-do list that keeps bumping that particular job back to the bottom.
You Don’t Know Enough to do the Task. You may procrastinate beginning a project because you simply don’t know everything you need to know in order to complete the task. You may not have consciously admitted this to yourself, but deep down you know it and it’s coming out as an aversion to starting the project
Because You’re Too Busy. Life is busy. We have work and commitments and sometimes, just sometimes, we can’t get to a particular task because we’ve run out of time in our busy day to complete one more thing.
Because It Works. Unfortunately, procrastination can reinforce itself. If we avoid something we don’t want to do (like cleaning out the rain gutters) by engaging in behavior that we want to engage in (like hanging out with friends) then getting to it later, we can say that putting it off wasn’t that bad after all. And besides, we had fun while we procrastinated.
You Haven’t Committed To the Task at Hand. You may think the task should belong to someone else, it’s not really your ‘job’ to do and the task is a waste of time. If this is how you’re looking at this particular item, then you need to ask yourself what will happen to you if you don’t complete it.
You Just Don’t Want To Do It. Everyone is faced with jobs in life that they simply don’t want to do. They’re either gross, like having to clean toilets, or they’re dangerous, like climbing up on the roof and cleaning the leaves out from the rain gutters. We put off doing the task at hand because we simply do not want to do it. Period. There is no underlying psychological reason for putting it off. It’s that recalcitrant two-year old in us coming out to say “I don’t wanna and I’m not gonna”.
You Could Just Be Lazy. Yes, that’s what I said. I know it’s not an easy thing to hear about yourself, but sometimes facing the truth about ourselves can help us overcome bad habits and succeed where we otherwise may have failed. You need to find a way to motivate yourself out of your habit of being lazy in order to stop procrastinating.
How Can You Change Your Behavior?
Below are a 9 optional strategies to help you stop procrastinating. Not every tip will work for every person, so take what you can from this list and see what works for you.
Step 1. Take an Inventory
Do you hear a little nagging voice in your head telling you that you need to do something? Can you see a visual in your head about the task you’re avoiding and are you feeling the physical and emotional consequences of what will happen if you don’t complete this task? Look at the clues that tell you just when and how you’re procrastinating and you’ll be able to see that you are indeed putting something off. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell when you’re procrastinating because you’re attempting to avoid thinking about it but if you piece together the clues you’ll be able to pinpoint your behavior in order to get a handle on it.
Step 2. Learn How You Procrastinate
Do you think if you ignore the job at hand it will eventually go away and not bother you? Ignoring the problem/job won’t cause it to disappear in a puff of smoke.
Do you over-estimate or under-estimate the degree of difficulty in completing the task? Do you scoff at the impact not finishing the task will have on your future? Perhaps you substitute something important for something REALLY important, like putting the dishes away instead of working on that term paper that’s due in two hours.
Maybe you take a short break, but let that ‘’short’ break turn into an all night event, and therefore put off getting to that task you need to finish.
You might focus on one part of the job to the exclusion of the remaining task and thereby never finish the entire thing.
Once you recognize how you procrastinate, you’ll better be able to put a stop to it. Often we don’t even realize that we are procrastinating until it’s too late and we’ve missed a deadline.
Step 3. Make Yourself a Productive Environment
For example, if you work from home, create a home office where there’s no TV to distract you from your work. Sure, that “Walking Dead is on and it’s Sunday night after all”, but you don’t have time to watch it because you have a deadline with a client. If the TV is there, you’ll be tempted to turn it on and then full-blown procrastination occurs. If you are addicted to the Internet, but need to use your laptop or computer to do your work, then try to go somewhere where you won’t be able to receive a signal and get online. Removing temptation to do something other than what you NEED to do will help you put a stop to procrastination.
Throw Out Those Procrastination Myths. “I work best under pressure” . Once you believe that you can only work under pressure, you’re giving yourself permission to procrastinate. This can snowball and create serious problems for you if you have several deadlines looming.
“I can’t do this unless I have five uninterrupted hours” This is simply another stalling technique that master procrastinators use for telling themselves it’s ok to not start the project because they won’t have time to finish it. Hello? If you don’t start the task you’ll never finish it. It’s ok to start something and then stop so you can finish it later. Sometimes the simple act of beginning a task will break the cycle of procrastination and allow you to finish your job.
I can’t do this unless it’s perfect. The problem that most procrastinators have is that we are too hard on ourselves, demanding perfection where perfection is impossible. If you think you can’t start your term paper until you have THE perfect opening sentence, then you have once again given yourself permission to put it off.
Step 4. Break Down the Job
You have a job to do and it looks enormous. You could never, ever complete a job that big, so why even start? If that’s your mindset, then you probably won’t finish the job. In order to combat this kind of thinking, break the job or task down into small, manageable chunks. Your kitchen is a disaster, it’s too much for you to handle. Start on one end and clean off one counter. Voila! You’ve started. Take baby steps and soon you’ll see that the entire task has been completed.
Step 5. Change Your Attitude
Often times we don’t begin something we have to do because we tell ourselves how difficult it’s going to be, or how disgusting the job is and how much we’re going to hate doing it. By giving ourselves reverse-pep talks we give ourselves permission to avoid beginning the task at hand. When you hear yourself doing this, change your attitude. Be like the Little Engine that Could and tell yourself that you CAN do this, it’s not that difficult. If you tell yourself that you don’t know how to do a particular task, change that around to tell yourself that you can learn as you go. It’s all a matter of mind over matter. If you think you can, you can.
Step 6. Ask Someone for Help
It’s true that you may not be able to do everything on your own. You’re not Supermwan / Superman, though you do think you’d look pretty cool in those red tights. It’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help when you know that you can’t do it on your own. If you don’t understand a project, rather than putting it on the back burner (procrastinating), ask someone to clarify it for you. Once you understand it better, the fear of tackling it will be gone and you can proceed.
If you have a big job to do, then ask a friend to help you be accountable for working on it. Let them check up on you every so often to see that you’re making progress and soon you’ll find that the job is completed. The Buddy System works!
Step 7. Keep What Needs to be Accomplished in Plain Sight
If you put away the project specs where you can’t see them, it’s much easier to not think about what needs to be done. Leave your work where you can see it, as a visual reminder of what you have to do. If it’s hidden, it’s forgotten.
Step 8. Learn How to Tell Time.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, you already know how to tell time and you can even do it on a clock without a digital readout. But did you know that world class procrastinators have unrealistic views of the time it takes to accomplish something? It’s true. You’ll tell yourself that a certain task will only take three hours to complete, so you really don’t have to start it right this minute. (I have been so guilty of this myself) You can wait till later and then you’ll finish it up in three hours. What you fail to realize is that other things can happen along the way to distract you and stretch that three hours into six and pretty soon you’ve missed that deadline. Starting now is a good best option.
Keep Yourself on a Schedule. Take a calendar and write down all the things that you have to do, the blocks of time that are taken up with things already scheduled. The blank spaces in between those times are the times when you can work on your task. Make sure you don’t over-schedule your time and under-estimate the time you’ll need finish a project.
Step 9. Set a Time Limit.
Maybe the task at hand is something you really don’t want to do. That happens to all of us and there’s no shame in admitting that you would simply rather not do it. However, if it’s a job that you must do, here’s a good tip on how to not procrastinate. Tell yourself that you’re going to work on it for one hour. Devote that one hour to the project or task and then stop. Set another time limit the following day, depending upon when the job needs to be accomplished. Knowing that you don’t have to do something unpleasant ALL right now will go a long way towards helping you avoid not doing it at all.
Make a List. If your Dad was anything like mine, then he had a list for everything. He had a list for the things he was going to accomplish each day, and even a lists of the lists he needed to make. Making a list can also be a useful tool in helping you avoid procrastinating.
Write down a list of what you need to accomplish. Put it in order of importance, highest to lowest. Next, start with number one and work your way down the list, checking off items as you go. Not only will this help you be organized, but putting those little check marks next to items you’ve finished will give you a mental boost and help you feel successful. And who doesn’t like to feel successful?
Basic human nature will always play a role in procrastination. Pleasurable activities are infinitely more enticing than painful or dull ones. Consciously determining why you procrastinate will go a long way in helping you change your behavior. Don’t expect to transform your habits over night, but do take small steps in the right direction and you’ll eventually get there. If you reward yourself for your little successes in this area, you just might make non-procrastination more pleasurable than full-blown-avoidance-procrastination.