7 ways to stop procrastinating, understanding the psychology behind it and to optimise your life
Never do tomorrow what you can do today. Procrastination is the thief of time. (Charles Dickens)
We have all been there. A job or task that is looming over us but we just can’t face it. We’ll do everything and everything else to avoid it. Procrastination makes us feel good in the short term, but like laziness, it’s unhelpful in the long term.
Procrastination is often confused with laziness, but in reality, that’s certainly not the case. Psychologists point out that around 20% of people fall into the chronic procrastinators category and the constant putting off of duties causes constant negative feelings and emotions. Moreover, it is said that many procrastinators are perfectionists, who put tasks off out of fear of failure or what others may think of them.
So how can you get yourself out of this downward spiral of untouched tasks, duties and jobs? What are the seven best strategies to live a happier and healthier life, without constant psychological stress or should have done?
The following tips apply to all parts of your life, whether for personal or professional purposes, your exercise routine or kickstarting a new healthy habit.
- Stop making a mountain out of a molehill.
You are tasked with a job or multiple to do lists or just one colossal piece of work. You can’t bear to start it because it is just too much. The thought of it stresses you out and sends shivers of horror down your spine. You find 15 other tasks to do so you avoid that dreaded piece of work. In reality though, you are just pushing what you should be doing further down the line, making matters much worse and you are likely to become more stressed.
To avoid doing this, be realistic with yourself. The task won’t go away, so you may as well set some time aside and start it now. The quicker it is done, the quicker you can do something else.
- Break it down into manageable chunks.
In school, we chunk work for students when they get overwhelmed by what seems to them like a mammoth task. Do the same for yourself and that task you have been procrastinating over. Tick things off, work your way through bit by bit. Make a list. Before you know it, you will see results and you’ll feel much better.
- Keep the end goal in sight
Why are you doing it? What is your why? You need to be clear on this question as otherwise you’re more likely to give up or put your work off. If the end goal is to hand in a huge piece of academic work, imagine how proud you’ll feel once it’s done. If you have to do your tax return, think what a relief it will be when you’ve waded through all those receipts. And if nothing seems to motivate you, picture yourself and the end result, that moment when you have completed that task and have overcome what seemed impossible at the start.
- Be accountable
If you need an extra push in the right direction, partner up with someone. Be it exercise, a healthy eating regime or filing your tax return. If you’re in it together, doing a challenge with someone else or even just having someone to ask you every day how you are getting on, then you are more likely to stick to it. It’s advisable to pair up with someone who won’t let you off the hook. You don’t want to start blaming each other for not sticking to your side of the agreement.
- Create time and an effective environment
If you procrastinate, the best time to start is always tomorrow or later. However, as Benjamin Franklin remarked: “You may delay, but time will not”. The best way to tackle this is to make a plan. If you block out time for what you have to do, you are more likely to stick to your time table. If working on something for hours sounds too daunting, setting a timer and having regular breaks can certainly help. You may have heard of the Pomodoro Technique (invented in the 1980s) through which you work for 25 minutes and then have a short break, around 5 minutes, after which you work for 25 minutes again, and so on.
Having a good working environment is essential, too. You want this to be free from distractions, disturbances and mess so you can focus on the job in hand.
- Imagine your future self
You will find an excuse for everything if you look long enough. However, the best way to get up and get going is to envisage what your future could look like, if you take action now. Time will pass whether you put in the effort and work or not. You don’t want to disappoint your future self. As Karen Lamb puts it: “A year from now, you wish you had started today.”
- Reward yourself
Working hard and keeping to your end of the bargain takes focus, determination and persistence. Such qualities deserve to be acknowledged and you should give yourself a pat on the back. If that’s not enough, don’t feel bad for rewarding yourself: A nice hot cup of coffee, a quick walk or burst of exercise, listen to some music or a podcast, have a healthy snack or message a friend. Do what does you good and what makes you happy. Just make sure you don’t fall into the procrastination trap again. Christopher Parker puts it bluntly: “Procrastination is like a credit card. It’s a lot of fun until you get the bill.”
Changing your ways is always scary and adapting new techniques to help you reach your goals is certainly a case of trial and error. Some may work better for you than others, but sticking with it and being consistent is key. Remember you’re not lazy. You just find many other things to do to avoid something that scares you a bit. But you are also brave. You can do scary things and once they’re done, you’ll feel much better. Give it a go. You have nothing to lose and all the time and happiness to gain.