I am one of the world’s great procrastinators. I work from home, and between distractions on the computer and the daily chores required for living, I find myself falling behind at work.
When I do get into my working moods, I am an almost unstoppable force. My girlfriend is amazed by my dual nature — and just the other day she found herself putting off an important work related task. The conversation that ensued went something like this:
Her: “Will, How do I stop procrastinating?”
Me: “Hold on, I’ll tell you in a minute.”
After the pillow she threw hit me in the face, we got down to business and laid out some plans for her to follow — and it worked.
Common Causes of Procrastination & How To Not Procrastinate
Recognize the difference between an appropriate delay in action, and an irrational postponement. Is there a reason or a justification for your waiting to do something? Maybe there’s important paperwork you’re waiting on, or a piece of mail that you need before you finish your task. These would be “good” reasons for delay. If you’re simply putting something off because it bores you or there’s something you’d rather do, that is considered procrastination.
Unpleasant tasks rarely turn out to be as bad as you think. Our brains lead us to some dark places, and sometimes we can worry and worry about how difficult or mundane a task is and justify putting it off because it seems boring. Complete these run of the mill tasks early in the day, to get them out of the way, and to do them while your brain is too sleepy to object. I like to pay my bills online first thing in the morning — it may be boring, but at least my brain won’t complain too much. Schedule boring tasks for early in the day so you have time to give yourself a reward for doing them.
If you’re procrastinating because something “looms ahead of you”: something huge and seemingly unmanageable like starting up a small business, getting a new job, having dental work, or preparing the annual budget or tax return, you will naturally put it off. The job seems too big or like it will take too long to do now, so you put it off. Simple action — break these large jobs into smaller, more manageable tasks. Draw up a plan (advice you’ll read again and again about how not to procrastinate) and take on the first thing on your list, no matter how small. This tiny sense of satisfaction will get the ball rolling, and your job will seem more manageable.
Sharing your deadlines with someone else, a “procrastination partner”, is a great way to make yourself accountable for your work. Trust me, you are not the only person in the world with a procrastination problem. How do you stop procrastinating? Involve a partner, or even a team of partners, and make deadlines among yourselves. You’ll be amazed how much work the group of you can get done, and the rewards you give yourselves will be worth it. Go bowling, go see a movie, enjoy a nice dinner out — anything to celebrate a group accomplishment. Teamwork is a great fix for procrastination.
Another method I use to avoid putting off work is to make a clear mental picture of the job once it is finished, and imagine how good I will feel once the job is done. This is sort of like “brain candy”, and is a great way to tease your mind past its standard method of procrastination. Maintaining a focus on the end result, not just the process of the task, will keep you in good spirits. Think of this as “whistling while you work”.
Finally, sometimes the biggest source of procrastination is simple distractions, either at home or at work. As you get distracted from a work project, make it a rule that you are not allowed to move out of your chair, make a call, surf the net, pick up a book, or play a game until you return to your task. This is particularly hard for me — as I said, I work from home — but once you make a habit of avoiding distraction, you’ll find it easier and easier to get your work done. This all goes back to rewarding yourself and re training your brain to avoid procrastination.
One step to help you avoid distraction at the workplace is to tailor your work environment. Make a little office space for yourself, if you don’t already have one — close your doors, hang “Do Not Disturb” signs where needed, clean up the clutter on your desk, and put the work right in front of you. Other distractions are food, soda machines, snacks, magazines — anything that is not directly related to the job you are putting off. This kind of single mindedness may be temporarily boring, but hopefully by now you’ve realized that you can get to the good stuff once you’ve gotten the work out of the way.
Human beings are procrastinators by nature. We want pleasure and we want it now — in a perfect world, no one would have to work. We’d lie on the beach all day sipping fruity drinks and playing frisbee with gorgeous models. But we do have to work — and we work to GET that beachside reward. If you can learn to stop procrastinating, you’ll have a more fulfilling life, and you’ll spend less time worrying about work and more time enjoying the fruits of it. Now that you’ve got some tools at your disposal, get this article off your desktop and get to work. How do you stop procrastinating? Train your brain toward better working habits, and remember the rewards you’ll reap.