More time, less stress. Mission impossible, right? While it might not be easy, it is most certainly possible—if you’re willing to follow these tips to stop procrastinating and start accomplishing. Let’s take a quick look at what you can do (as in, right now in case that wasn’t obvious).
Experts define procrastination as the voluntary delay of some important task that we intend to do, despite knowing that we’ll suffer as a result. That ‘suffering’ comes in the form of added stress at best, but may also include sub-optimal results, negative health impacts, missed opportunities and wasted time. Even with all this to lose, the work of Joseph Ferrari, a professor of psychology at DePaul University, has found that as many as 20 percent of people may be chronic procrastinators. So here they are, my nominees for the best tips on how to stop procrastinating, in the real world.
Envision your accomplishment
- Imagine how you’ll feel once you finally check that task off your list. Literally, close your eyes, take a deep breath and envision yourself completing the task (submitting that paper, filing your taxes, stepping into your newly remodeled bathroom, etc.). Freedom from anxiety. Freedom from nagging pressures. Freedom from self-doubt. Select a reward for yourself and follow through in making it happen once you’ve earned it. This reward could be a weekend away at the beach, a pint of triple chocolate ice cream or anything in between.
Stop trying to be perfect
- Very rarely are perfect results expected. Don’t hold yourself back from starting something out of fear that it won’t be perfect. It probably won’t be perfect! With some solid effort however (enabled by starting early on), it will be more than good enough.
- Get an accountability partner. Partner with someone objective – not your boss or significant other or a competitor – someone with whom you can share your goals and deadlines. Put these goals and deadlines in writing. Then establish a plan to share progress, for example, a weekly call, email or coffee. The thought of letting someone down might be the perfect motivator, and their encouragement might be just what you need to keep you going.
Healthy mind and body
- How motivated do you think you’ll be to tackle that nagging project on the Monday after the Super Bowl? The Oscars? Your child’s birthday party? (Insert activity that leaves you exhausted)? These are the days that are good for catching up on the tactical activities, knocking the ‘quick wins’ off the to do list, and these days will come. But it’s not an all or nothing game. Any reduction to the health of your mind and body will decrease your ability to think clearly and focus. Avoiding substances (including coffee) and getting a good night’s sleep helps to obtain a clear and focused mind that will give you your best chance for success. ‘Work hard, play hard’ – the order of operations is important here.
- Distractions are procrastination’s partner in crime. You may finally sit down to get that important task done, only to hear that ‘ding’ ten minutes later from your phone on the desk. Whether that ding represents an email, a Facebook message or the latest ‘breaking news’ story in the past 10 minutes – it can likely wait an hour. People don’t really expect emails to be answered immediately. If you’re really brave, disable all notifications during the time you’d like to focus (except phone calls, which are typically reserved for emergencies these days). A study done by researchers from the University of Irvine found that “it takes about 25 minutes to get back into the swing of things after you’ve been interrupted…Even after you’ve removed the interruption, you’re not working at the same capacity you were pre-distraction.” All these distractions ultimately result in lost time. Of course you may hit a point when you actually need a break to recharge, when you’re no longer adding much value, when your time is truly better spent at the gym, with your family or on some email responses. It’s important to recognize these points, but don’t confuse necessary breaks with distractions. This brings me to the last, and in my opinion, most important tip.
Be honest with yourself!
- “I work better under pressure.” “I need time to let my ideas come to me.” “I’ll start it after I clear my inbox.” These things may be valid to a certain extent, but be honest with yourself. If you’re feeling the stress of procrastination, you likely need to honestly answer the question, “what are you waiting for?”
The reality is that we all procrastinate to some degree or another. Sometimes putting off that task is our body or mind’s way of saying you need a little extra rest. But when that becomes the go-to response to everything it might be time to take a look at how you are managing your time. In the end, a little more attention and focus can pay big dividends in peace of mind.