If you keep putting things off or have problems making decisions then you may suffer from procrastination. If this applies to you I have some tips which will help you stop procrastinating
Most people procrastinate to some degree or another. Some may mildly procrastinate by putting things off to the next day, or not dealing with issues there and then. But that’s generally fine as long as the issue is dealt with in good time.
To others, procrastination is a big problem with the capacity to really affect their life and with the potential to ruin it. Procrastination can affect many life areas – from dealing with finances to dealing with tasks at work.
In this article, we will look at procrastination – what it is, and then offer some simple tips and guidance on how to stop procrastinating (which have worked for me and can work for you)
What is Procrastination?
Here is (the first part) of the wiki definition:
“In psychology, procrastination refers to the act of replacing high-priority actions with tasks of lower priority, or doing something from which one derives enjoyment, and thus putting off important tasks to a later time”
You can read the full Wikipedia definition of procrastination here
I would put it more simply – it is “the art of putting things off”
I would also point you at a really interesting article from the New Yorker which explains some more about procrastination and what might cause it – read it in full here
The above article (interestingly) mentions that – the term “procrastination” is derived from a Latin word meaning “to put off for tomorrow” – and in that context, it is exactly what it says on the tin – putting off things to tomorrow that seem too difficult to do today!
I personally am (or have been) a terrible procrastinator, and believe me (from personal experience), procrastination does have the potential to really affect your life.
Really serious procrastinators will keep putting things off until the very thing that they keep putting off causes them a serious problem.
Research suggests that the causes of procrastination may lie in low self-esteem, but in this article, we will concentrate on some “quick fixes” which will hopefully work for you
First-up though, I am going to rewind a little bit and try and answer the question of “what is procrastination?” a little better.
To me, procrastination is really about putting things off – usually to the next day. An example of this would be a tricky phone call, or dealing with a letter, or doing a job around the house.
Trouble is with this sort of procrastination is that it is very likely that exactly the same process will happen the next day as well, then the next day, then the next day, until the initial problem is actually small compared to the problem caused by the procrastination.
And the knock-on effect is likely to be things like:
- Poor Time Management and wasted time in prevaricating, worrying, mulling over a decision to be made
- Increased Stress Levels – and the stress that non-action can cause either “in the moment” or further on down the line when the non-action causes a real problem
- Feelings of Low Self-esteem – feeling wretched about not taking action
- Low Self-confidence – often procrastination arises from a lack of self-confidence, and is in many ways is a vicious circle, not dealing with things because of a lack of self-confidence can further lead to issues around self-confidence.
- Missing Opportunities – job opportunities, social opportunities, opportunities to save money.
Can you see why I would rate dealing with procrastination as one of the absolutely key life skills?
I firmly believe that if you were able to deal with your procrastination, and if you ultimately stop procrastinating you would
- Be much more organized
- Free up time
- Increase your self-esteem and self-confidence
- Give you a sense of achievement
- Reduce your stress levels
- Improve your image to the outside world as a “can-do” sort of person
- Take opportunities when they occur and not miss out due to inaction
And the good news is that there are things you can do and actions you can take that will deal with your procrastination issues …
OK? So now that we understand what procrastination is I can offer a few tips for overcoming procrastination…
Here we go …
1: Do the Bad Stuff First
Yes, there will be things that you are genuinely dreading doing such as making that phone call or responding to a letter.
Or mopping the floor…..
Well, do the bad stuff first.
Prioritize it above all other things.
And give yourself a reward when you have done it, and then move on to the next more pleasant task.
You may find that the “bad stuff” was not as bad as you had thought and you will get an instant sense of achievement out of doing it …
Commit yourself to doing one “bad stuff” task a day up front, the first thing you do, and you will feel much happier which in turn will help you stop procrastinating about the other stuff you have …
2: Make a Realistic Plan
Often procrastination occurs because of a lack of focus and a lack of direction. Sometimes things can just seem too overwhelming because they are, at least in your head, too interlocked with all the other things you have got to do
Most people would advise writing them down and make a “to do” list, but in my experience, you end up with a list of stuff which makes you feel even more overwhelmed because there is so much on it.
So make a plan for your week….. do it on a Sunday evening if it helps, and map out everything you hope to achieve, everything you need to do, and plan it in .
Spread the bad stuff over the week, commit to the plan and track it through the week adjusting it as necessary.
Other stuff will come up, it’s bound to, but do your best to stick to your commitments, and then the following week do the same thing again. Before you know it you will stop procrastinating for good because everything will be in your plan!
3: Break Down Big Tasks Into More Manageable Ones
Sometimes a task is just too big that it seems overwhelming and you will therefore never start it because it just seems too much
Clearing out the garage, painting the house, dealing with your finances are generally just too big a chunk of activity to tackle all at once so what do you do? Put them off for a time that never comes because the tasks are just too big
So break them down, commit to the smaller chunks and put them on your plan.
If you need to clear out the garage do it over a couple of months, starting with sorting a small part of it, doing a couple of tip trips a week etc
Breaking things down into smaller chunks will make the whole thing seem less daunting and will get you started and help you stop procrastinating for good…
4: Commit to Spending 15 Minutes on a Task
15 minutes isn’t very long.. honest…
What can you do in fifteen minutes?
Well, you could start a task, that’s what
Once you do this, there is a good chance that you will find that insurmountable task less daunting and you may even have enough motivation to continue with it.
Or you could get really bold and commit to an hour on the task – you never know you may even complete it!
Give yourself a reward if you do complete a task, or even part of a task and move on to the next one
5: Visualize Yourself Completing a Task
Take a minute and picture yourself completing a particularly unpleasant task that you have been putting off.
How would it feel? Good?
Would you feel a sense of accomplishment that there will be one more thing ticked off your list?
Then spend another couple of minutes visualizing the consequences of completing that task…. what would that mean?
- No more phone calls from the finance company
- Ability to move on to something else
- Feeling more organized
Keep a focus on the end result.
Many athletes and sports people use this technique to motivate themselves.
Whilst it will not turn you into an Olympian, it should give you enough incentive to at least get started.
6: Picture the Implications of not Completing a Task
If you don’t complete a task what will happen?
If you procrastinate long enough what will be the real consequences of your actions.
- Maybe your partner will get annoyed and start to mistrust you
- Maybe your bank will start charging you and ultimately foreclose on your house
- … maybe you will miss deadlines and lose your job
These are quite extreme examples but I urge you to just sit down and picture the potential consequences of your inaction and the problems that it could lead to further down the line
That should spur you into action!
One step further that picturing non-completion would be to actually calculate the cost of not completing a task
For example, if you have to respond to your mortgage company because you are behind on your payments and are putting it off calculate in real terms what your procrastination would cost you …
Chances are there will be an admin charge, and then interest applied.
But if you phoned them and explained the situation – even if you cannot pay immediately, my bet is that they will waive the admin charge and you could ask them to delay extra interest payments
Calculate the real cost to you personally of not taking action, it could be a sobering thought
7: Apply Work Principles to Home
There is every chance that you are quite disciplined at work and that is because you work in a tighter framework than you do at home.
People are relying on you to deliver stuff and you have deadlines and responsibilities to match.
Often you have to do things at work because it is “your job” and you will get sacked or disciplined if you don’t do it.
So why not apply those principles to your home life?
Give yourself consequences if you don’t do something or alternatively ask for help if you need it
8: Ask (or Pay for) Help if You Need it
If you need help or support to complete a task then ask for it.
This help could be from your boss, your partner, your family, a friend or a neighbor
Consider “outsourcing” certain tasks
So if you are putting off cleaning the bathroom and it’s starting to smell consider getting a cleaner
Or if dealing with your finances is too overwhelming then consider getting a bookkeeper
Or if you are having trouble getting out for your morning jog, then join a club or find somebody to jog with
Of course some tasks you will need to deal with yourself (such as a tricky phone call, or responding to a letter) but I bet there are a number of things on your list that you could get somebody to help you with.
9: Get an “Accountability Partner”
Who is the equivalent of your manager at work…
This could be your partner, or a friend, or a colleague, and mutually support one another
Do it together, each supporting one another, so there is a consequence to a lack of action
This could be a real consequence (bills don’t get paid, deadlines are missed etc) or something you have defined between you (a night out, a trip to a football match etc)
Get someone who you can be accountable to and aim to hit your deadlines together
10: Read a Book or Take a Course
I have added this final tip because it is an important route that many people would choose to take and that is to read a book, or even better take a course in overcoming procrastination which will help you (partly because you have put down your hard earned cash) become more accountable for your actions.
Below is a list of resources which I have found useful:
The first is a short (35 page or so) eBook which you can read quickly and gets to the fundamentals of procrastination and what you can do about it. I bought the resale rights to this one so I can sell it to you at a good price
The second link is more of a course with exercises, targets and stuff to complete every week.
Both will help you ……..
You can buy it by clicking on the link below for a temporarily reduced price
There you have it .. ten top tips to help you overcome procrastination plus a couple of eBooks for further guidance if you need it.
I hope this article helps you, it has been quite cathartic for me writing it.
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I urge you to try the above techniques, see how they go for you, and they should go a long way towards helping you stop procrastinating and moving on with your life…… Good luck!