How to Stop Procrastinating
Everyone has experienced that dreaded afternoon feeling.
The realization that you must hand in an assignment or meet a work deadline and you’re frantically trying to complete your work at the last minute.
You may have known that the deadline was coming, but you still put it off for a long as possible – preferring to do any other task available.
Procrastination is a real thing, a trap that many of us fall into, where we do almost anything other than the task we need to do. It may be an avoidance of an unpopular task, or it could be preferring to focus on more enjoyable tasks.
You need to be able to develop effective strategies that allow you to overcome procrastination.
It’s important to understand that procrastination is not the same as laziness. If you are lazy, you are inactive and trying to avoid all work at any cost.
In contrast, procrastination is an active choice. You are likely to still be busy, but you are simply doing any other task than the one you need to do to ensure that you can meet your deadlines.
Regular procrastinators need to examine the root cause of their procrastination. Once you are aware of the reasons for your procrastination, you can start to develop strategies to help you overcome them.
Perhaps you are trying to avoid specific tasks because you find them challenging or don’t like the work.
Maybe you are procrastinating because you are anxious about the work or lack confidence in getting started. Self-sabotage is often a cause of procrastination because a person may feel undeserving of a job role.
You might feel overwhelmed with a project and are unsure of the best place to start, so you leave it as long as possible until it feels almost unmanageable.
Some people who are perfectionists may be procrastinators because they are scared of making a mistake. They may be afraid of receiving negative or constructive feedback or suffer from a fear of failure.
In addition, they need self-motivated people who can work carefully with others to ensure that their own workloads and deadlines do not impact those of others.
If someone is a persistent procrastinator, they may develop negative traits that could hinder their career prospects.
For a start, if someone is a self-sabotager, they may refrain from applying for new positions and new opportunities simply because they were putting off writing their cover letter or submitting their resume.
If they don’t have the confidence to put themselves forward for new roles or fear failing, they will be more likely to procrastinate and prevent themselves from rising in the workplace.
Secondly, if you develop a reputation for being a procrastinator in the workplace, your line manager may overlook you for a promotion.
They may feel that you are not adept at keeping on top of your workload and fear that your procrastination could impact other people from managing their tasks. This is especially true if you collaborate with others as part of a team.
If you are known for putting off complex tasks or only focusing on the enjoyable aspects of your job, you may be viewed as being unhelpful or as someone who cannot prioritize and manage their workload. You could be seen as a poor decision-maker and someone who cannot be relied upon to ‘get the job done.’
You may have developed bad habits, and you need to overcome these to see that you deserve better success.
To help develop strategies that will help you stop procrastinating, you need to be aware of the signs you are doing it.
As mentioned above, procrastination is different from laziness.
You may be incredibly busy, but you may still be avoiding doing the task that you need to do. Therefore, some people don’t realize that they are procrastinating because they are working hard on other tasks.
For those working in project management roles who need to focus on a wide range of tasks simultaneously, it can be much harder to recognize the signs of procrastination.
Here are a few common signs that you are procrastinating.
- You create a to-do list, but you focus on the easy tasks first.
- You avoid the complex items – especially those tasks that you don’t like – and put them off for as long as possible.
- You start to undertake a task yet get easily distracted by other activities such as checking your emails, making a cup of coffee and nipping to the toilet.
- If someone asks you a question or sends you an email, you respond immediately rather than continuing with your existing task.
- You may feel that you are simply ‘not in the mood’ or ‘not in the right frame of mind’ to do a specific task, and you decide you’ll wait for a better time, which never seems to come.
If any of these behaviors sound familiar, you are probably procrastinating.
In small doses, there is nothing wrong with a little procrastination. But when it becomes more obvious to others, it's time to do something about it and find ways to help you stop procrastinating.
You may be surprised to learn that not all procrastinators are the same.
In fact, accountability coaches Ali Schiller and Marissa Boisvert believe that there are four distinct types of procrastinators.
They think that you need to understand your personality type to identify which group you belong to. Once you’ve gleaned this insight, you’ll be better positioned to establish ways to help you stop procrastinating.
A performer is someone who believes that they work better when they are under pressure.
They may deliberately choose to leave themselves tight on time before starting a task because it helps them focus.
However, these workers may find that they may small mistakes. They can be tricky to work with – especially if they need to collaborate with others and can’t fit their work schedule to that of their team members.
Their decision to leave tight timescales can have severe consequences for other people who prefer to have a better grip on their time.
A self-deprecator is a person who commonly mixes up procrastination with laziness.
They may believe that they are lazy by avoiding tasks, but they actually have been working hard and simply need to take a break.
Schiller and Boisvert believe that this procrastinator needs to understand that regular breaks or walks to get some fresh air can make them far more productive. They can work more efficiently and get more work done by refreshing their mind and resetting themselves.
An overbooker is a person who has an enormous to-do list.
They purposely add too many tasks to their workload so that when a job inevitably isn’t completed, they can use the phrase “I was too busy” as an excuse.
These workers often avoid doing tasks they don’t like doing, and they use busyness as their explanation.
These types of people need to think carefully about the reasons behind their procrastination – then they can decide which methods are best to help them stop procrastinating.
The novelty seeker is someone who is easily distracted by new tasks and new projects.
They love the challenge of starting new items but don’t take the time to make sure that previous tasks are completed.
Novelty seekers are often entrepreneurs, and they need help and guidance to make them complete a task before moving on to the next one.
Now you know the reasons why you procrastinate, and you know the signs to recognize when you are procrastinating.
The next question is, “How do I stop procrastinating immediately?”
Here are a few practical tips to help you overcome your procrastination tendencies.
By now, you will understand that there are many reasons why you might be putting off a task. You need to be self-reflective and think honestly about why you are putting it off.
Is it because you don’t like the people you are working with? Do you find the task a challenge? Is it something that you dislike doing – if so, what exactly about it do you not like?
Be as honest as possible with yourself. Failure to think critically will lead you to bad habits, and you will find it much harder to stop procrastinating.
Top tip! Think about creating a personal SWOT analysis. If you know what your weaknesses are, you can develop ways to overcome them. This will help you think about your performance and improve your skills and your general employability.
A quick and easy way to ensure that you always complete tasks on time is to look at your managerial capabilities.
How are you keeping track of what work needs to be done and what tasks have pressing deadlines?
It would help if you started by drawing up a to-do list or by creating effective work plans and action plans. You may wish to colour code your list – perhaps by urgent priorities/medium priorities/low priorities or tasks that require input from others.
By outlining exactly what you need to do and when it needs to be done, you can be more confident that you are working efficiently. If you know that you are working with someone else on a project, can you talk to them to find out when they need your work to help them work effectively?
Make sure that you put a detailed plan in place and consider it something you have to stick to.
Top tip! Focus on the unpleasant tasks first. A strategic way of using your to-do list is to ensure that you have done the off-putting functions first. You can then allocate more time to the jobs that you enjoy doing.
It would help if you focused on doing an activity, rather than avoiding an activity.
You may need to change your mindset so that when you see a task, you know it needs to be done straightaway. For example, some people find that writing a list and crossing items off can be strangely satisfying.
Top tip! Why not set yourself up with a ‘task jar’ – perhaps putting a dollar in a jar every time you complete a task ahead of schedule. By motivating yourself with a reward, you may find it easier to complete the tasks you don’t like.
Break your work down into minor elements – one step at a time.
Many people procrastinate because they feel that a task is too overwhelming. But if you break it down into smaller, more manageable chunks, it becomes easier to tackle. The smaller the task feels, the more manageable it will seem, and you will no longer put it off.
By ticking off smaller elements from your to-do list, you will be less likely to feel overwhelmed and will be able to see your progress.
A change of scene can make you more motivated.
With many people continuing to work from home, it can be easy to get distracted from your work or school assignments.
There are plenty of distractions at home, such as turning on the washing machine or glancing at social media. If you are easily distracted, move your desk to somewhere with fewer distractions or go to a different place such as a café.
Simply picking up your laptop and moving to a different room or another part of the office can reinvigorate your mind and help you to work more effectively.
This is similar to the tip above, but more specific and can be done even if you can’t change your environment.
Eliminate any distractions. If you find that you have procrastinated for too long and you’re now in a rush to meet a deadline, take practical steps to eliminate any distractions.
Try to find a way that you can constantly work without any unexpected interruptions.
Top tip! Don’t be afraid to put your phone on mute or let calls go straight to voicemail. Likewise, turn off your email notifications – you could even consider using an out-of-office reply explaining that you are unavailable for a few hours.
A beneficial technique is the two-minute rule.
This is a strategy devised by David Allen, who believes that if a task takes less than two minutes, you should do it now.
Overcoming procrastination is about creating new, positive habits. And you can make these habits by creating a series of two-minute rules. It’s about refining your to-do list and your job tasks into items as small as possible.
This relates to breaking tasks down into steps or smaller tasks.
For example, someone may start by saying they want to go to the gym for a workout. The first step is not hopping on the treadmill or picking up a dumbbell. Instead, the first task is to put on your gym wear or your sneakers.
Instantly, a ‘big’ activity turns into something much smaller and achievable, and this is motivating.
In a work context, checking your emails could turn into “respond to two emails.” Or responding to a colleague on a specific strategy could be “make one sales call.”
The quicker it is to create a streamlined to-do list, the easier it becomes to install it as a new habit that can fit into your daily routine.
You will soon find it much easier to be efficient and tackle those challenging tasks because you are only limiting them to two minutes. From here on in, you can start to make your way towards your end goal and you will be more productive.
Procrastinating can have a severe impact on your work life. You may think that it’s harmless to wait until you have a pressing deadline before making a start on a project or specific task. After all, if you make the deadline, surely there’s no harm.
Well, you might be wrong about that.
Employers want to work with people who are great team players.
They want to have people who can prioritize, meet deadlines, be good decision-makers and put their ego to one side to collaborate with co-workers for the good of the business.
If you gain a reputation for procrastination, you may be viewed as someone difficult to work with. When working within a team environment, your actions can impact other people’s ability to do their jobs. As a result, you could be seriously hindering your career-development opportunities.
You must look carefully at your working practices. Are your procrastination tendencies affecting others? Are you causing delays or issues elsewhere due to your inability to get on with the task?
You may wish to work on improving your organizational skills. Simply asking someone else to look at your to-do list could be enough to help you to identify immediate priorities and hold you accountable.
Procrastination is a tough habit to break, but you can succeed. The first step is admitting you procrastinate. The next step is making a single positive change to move away from procrastination, one step at a time.