Take a look at these simple strategies for overcoming procrastination.
“Putting off an easy thing makes it hard. Putting off a hard thing makes it impossible.”
George Claude Lorimer
Procrastination is not a trivial matter or one to be joked about. It can be a debilitating condition that causes major stress and anxiety and it could cost your relationship or your job. Overcoming procrastination is essential for many parts of our lives.
Procrastination is the ‘thief of time’. Time is an extremely important commodity, one that most of us would say we don’t have enough of. So why do we waste it?
Let’s start by exploding a myth; procrastinators are NOT inherently inefficient or lazy! Procrastination is a habit with an origin. It’s a habit you can so easily get into. But happily, it’s a habit that you can also get out of.
Quite often we’re not even aware we’re doing it, although we do know the job’s not done and the pressure is building! You’ll have the best hope of resolving this if you recognise when you’re procrastinating, and understand how and why you’re doing it.
So it isn’t just the act of putting something off that’s the issue. It’s also recognising that it’s a symptom of such things as self-doubt, lack of confidence and fear.
Usually procrastination relates to tasks you have to do, rather than those you make a choice about and therefore want to do. If you feel you can choose not to do something, the pressure is removed; if you feel it’s something that, one way or another, you’ve got to do – then you’ll start to feel all the symptoms of anxiety, stress and resentment even.
One of the first things for you to recognise is that you always have a choice. You have a choice even when it’s to do with work. Of course there are consequences and you need to take that into account – but they may not be as bad for you as having to do the task!
So let’s look at some strategies that may help you in overcoming procrastination. Not all of them will help everyone, so you must do what works for you.
Let’s say your task is work-related. First trace back what brought you to this point. You clearly chose at some time to take this job or promotion which now involves you in a task you don’t want to do. But it still leaves you with choices.
– You can see the task as part of the positive decision you made in the past so the task is, in effect, part of a positive move on your part;
– Just as you made that initial choice, so you can choose to change your job or your position to one that doesn’t involve what you don’t enjoy!
You can change your attitude towards the task. Change from thinking “I have to do it”, to “I choose to do it” by thinking about the reasons you want to get this task done. When you believe you’re doing something from choice rather than being forced, it’s always a lot easier.
Often it’s just a question of making a start on it – not necessarily finishing it. If it’s a difficult task, spend a set amount of time (say 10-20 minutes) just thinking about the task and jotting down some quick thoughts about what you could do. This may give you the inspiration and motivation to get started.
Sometimes, it may be that you just don’t like what you have to do. In that case you may want to make it one of the first tasks of the day and to put a time limit on it. If you set a time – say 20 and 40 minutes – when it’s up, put it aside and do something else. You can pick it up again tomorrow and, although you may take a little longer to do it, at least you’ve started so you won’t be continually worrying about it.
Being a perfectionist can also create problems for you. If what you have to do isn’t something you’re good at, if it’s unfamiliar territory, if it’s challenging, any of these can cause you to procrastinate and in the process cause a great deal of stress. (Being a perfectionist used to be seen as a reason. Now it’s thought by many that perfectionists procrastinate less but they worry about it more!)
Recognise that no-one is good at everything and give yourself permission to be like every other human being – less than perfect! Start the task anyway, then review it and if necessary modify; then continue with a bit more. It doesn’t need to be done all at once and you’ll probably improve as you get further into the task.
A great strategy is using a technique originally developed for computer software development. It’s called ‘Time Boxing’. It involves setting out the tasks you need/want to do today, and allocating a period of time for working on each (different amounts depending on the task.) Then when the time is up put that task away and move onto the next.
This means you make some progress on all your tasks but the ones you’re dreading at least have an end point so you know it won’t be dragging on and on. This will give you a bit more motivation and you’ll end up with at least part of the task completed. Tomorrow you can do the same!
Having said that, you may find you become involved with the ‘dreaded’ task once you get into it, so don’t stop if you don’t want to. The other things you planned to do will probably be much easier to start tomorrow than this one!
If you’re hard on yourself when you haven’t addressed something you should have, it won’t help you – in fact you’ll add to the stress you already feel and probably procrastinate even more.
If you reward yourself in some way for tackling a task (not necessarily completing it) even though you don’t want to – it’s more likely to have a positive result. Even when the task is particularly awful to you, the thought of the reward at the end, as long as it’s in line with the horridness of the task, will make it bearable.
And by the way, you may need to use the reward system with tasks you enjoy doing too! That’s when you’re likely to want to continue with the fun rather than knuckle down to the other tasks! So think of an appropriate reward for actually stopping this task and starting one you’re not so keen on (maybe having some chocolate or a cup of tea?)