I've been meaning to write this post for a while now, but why didn't I? Because I was procrastinating. I do it all the time even though I know most of the tricks of the trade for time management I still manage to put things off and leave them until they reeeeeally have to be done.
We're all guilty of it. Why would you do something now if it doesn't have to be done straight away or better still, if you don't actually want to do it? I wrote the first sentence of this post about three and a half hours ago. Since then I have checked my phone at least 30 times, gone to the bathroom twice, removed my nail polish, played with my puppy, read every new email I received (including what's on offer on Groupon today)....and here I am supposed to be writing an article on how to stop procrastinating. I'm actually supposed to be writing an article on anxiety right now but I'm procrastinating on that too because I know it'll take too much mental strength to get it done today. *sigh!*
The truth is I know how to not procrastinate and I know how to teach others about procrastination but I find it really difficult to take my own advice and implement it when it comes to procrastination. Now I have one hour and 20 minutes before I need to be somewhere so this will get done for sure. (LOL!)
So why is it that we procrastinate when we know we need to get stuff done?
One in five people say they are chronic procrastinators and put off doing multiple things on a daily basis. We use excuses like "I perform better under pressure" or "I'll do it tomorrow when I have more time". The problem is you don't perform better under pressure you just perform, because you have no choice. Time is running out and the deadline is approaching so you have to do it.
Similarly, people think that saying "I'll do it tomorrow" is okay but what they're not taking into consideration is how terrible they are at predicting their future actions. They don't consider how they will feel tomorrow, or next week, and maybe circumstances won't allow them to carry out the task then. For example, I was supposed to do the laundry this morning but I got distracted and started doing other things. I told myself "I'll do it tomorrow morning instead." Right now it's really sunny outside and today would be a great day to dry my clothes in the fresh air (how old do I sound?!). Tomorrow it's due to rain so I can't hang out my clothes then and I'll probably end up putting it off until I have no clean clothes left and I'll have no choice but to put on three or four loads of washing in one day instead.
The reason I'm putting off doing the laundry isn't out of laziness, it's because I don't like doing it. What I do love though is the feeling of having all my clothes freshly washed and new sheets on my bed. That's what I need to concentrate on. It'll take me about ten minutes to go upstairs, grab the laundry, put it in the washing machine and turn it on. Then after about an hour it'll take me another ten minutes to hang out my clean clothes and wait for them to dry. That 20 minutes of doing something that I don't enjoy will be outweighed by the week's supply of clean clothes in my wardrobe and the lovely feeling of getting into my bed with fresh sheets on it once it's all complete. Now that I've thought about it that seems like a fair trade and I'm going to do the laundry the minute I'm finished writing this post.
Other than not liking a task, the main reason for procrastination is the fear of failure. This is why so many perfectionists will rate very highly on procrastination. They are scared to carry out a task incase they do it wrong or in case they don't live up to their own high expectations for themselves (another reason I am putting off writing the article on anxiety).
Here are some of the main reasons we procrastinate:
- Procrastination feeds on failure and people choose to do anything other than complete a task that they think they will fail at
- The reward for getting the task done is so far in the future we feel that it's not worth it, i.e. starting your thesis six months before it's due date instead of leaving it until there's only a month to go before the deadline
- The harder you expect the task to be the more you procrastinate because working on something hard feels like a loss and it's much easier to just not do it
- The mental effort that it takes to complete a task is more than the physical effort, i.e. instead of doing a relatively easy maths equation in our heads we will get up and get a calculator or our phone and type in the equation instead of pushing our brain to think about it
Fear not! There are a few excellent ways to help you stop procrastinating, you just have to be willing to do them. Despite my procrastination today I have tried them all and they definitely work!
Increase the value of the task and decrease the value of doing something else - think of how you will feel when the task is complete. Will you be proud of yourself? How will you benefit from completing the task? When you procrastinate you're usually doing it because you know the task needs to be done, you'd just rather not do it right now or even at all.
If you get distracted by another task think of how that other task will not bring any value to your current situation and the more important task will still be hanging over you. i.e. by taking off my nail polish earlier on I was just putting off writing this post and I'd be finished it by now if I hadn't spent that time doing something that didn't need to be done. I will feel a greater sense of accomplishment once I've completed this post than I did removing my nail polish - a task that could be done later on and only takes five minutes, instead of drawing it our for 20 minutes earlier.
Make rewards immediate - make the project or task you don't want to do feel more appealing by giving yourself a little treat either while you're doing it, half way through or when you finish it, depending on the length of the task. For example, if you have to clear out the garage and it's going to take you four or five hours get a few of your favourite podcasts ready and listen to them while you start clearing.
Then set your alarm on your phone for a treat break after 45 minutes (one hour seems way longer than 45 mins). Set your alarm for 15 minutes later to tell yourself to get back to work. The thoughts of doing the work is always worse than when you're actually doing it. Once you are back doing it after two minutes it won't seem so bad anymore.
Make the consequences of your procrastination immediate - this is my least favourite one but I think it's the most effective. It's easy to be lenient on yourself when you don't want to do something but it's a lot harder to break a promise or commitment with someone else. If there's something that you hate doing like going to the gym for a spin class, ask a friend to go with you at the same time. If you cancel on them you'll feel a lot worse than if you just decide not to go. Saying something aloud to others means you have to follow through or others will know you back out of your commitments or responsibilities and probably think badly of you.
There are also apps like StickK that you can download that make sure you follow your tasks and goals by placing a monetary bet. If you don't complete the task they will donate the money to a organisation you don't like. Sounds kinda funny but I've seen it work. No one wants their money going to an organisation they don't agree with!
Adopt the Two Minute Rule to everything you do - this rule is pretty simple but extremely effective. If you have a task to do ask yourself - how long will it take to complete? If it will take less than two minutes then do it right now. No excuses, just get it done right now and you'll be free again in just two minutes. So the next time you have a small task and you say "I'll do it later", get up and do it straight away. Don't let yourself put things off. When you master this the bigger tasks won't seem so bad either and you'll be more inclined to do other things quicker too.
Get rid of distractions - this is exactly what I should have done today and didn't. Every time my phone went off I picked it up and read the message or update. What I should have done is put my phone in another room and only check it after I had completed this post. We have more distractions than ever before and they're obviously going to add to our procrastination. Most of us can't go half an hour without picking up our phone for immediate updates and interaction. If a task needs to be done practice some self control and leave your phone in another room until it's done. Turn off the TV and put away the tablet. Getting your phone back can be your reward once you've completed your task.
Commit to your future actions - this one involves a change in lifestyle usually in order to prevent procrastination in the future. If you know that you end up playing games on your phone every time you're supposed to be doing another task then delete the games. It's that simple! If you can't trust yourself to complete the task by practising some self-control then you have to get rid of whats stopping you. If that means not buying any sweet treats in the grocery shopping in order for you to only eat healthy foods then that needs to be done too. Soon enough you will grow out of your bad habits and gain more self control over your actions.
Write down your priorities - every night before you go to bed write down the tasks that you need to do tomorrow. No matter how big or small they are, write them down. Then rank them in order of highest to lowest priority. Whatever is most important do it first. Break it down into small, manageable pieces and give yourself a reward after every milestone. Remember the first two minutes are always the hardest but once you've gotten through them the rest will just flow. Once your first task is complete give yourself a reward like playing a game on your phone or enjoy a cup of coffee but remember to get straight onto the next task before you get too comfortable in the break zone. Soon all of your important tasks that you were dreading will be done and you can go enjoy something else instead.
Well, that's it. I'm finished! Now that I have fifteen minutes to spare I'm off to do the laundry that I should have done this morning....better late than never, eh?!