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Do you want to know how to stop procrastinating? Well, for starters, you can stop reading this article right now and get back to work.
But since that’s probably not going to happen, let’s take a closer look at some strategies for overcoming procrastination.
The Primary Causes of Procrastination
There are many reasons for procrastination. Some are on a mission to achieve perfectionism, others fear not doing their best on hard tasks, and others are just disorganized regarding their time and available resources.
Let’s start by saying that procrastination does not always equate to laziness. Rather, it is a behavior based on unfounded beliefs about ourselves. The key is finding what triggers our procrastination tendencies. Is it fear, anxiety, or some other underlying issue?
Here are some of the more common causes of procrastination:
Fear of the Outcome
When you fear failure, you are more prone to putting off tasks. The best way to battle this is to look fear in the eye, connect to it, and realize what is causing it so it can be addressed. Once you do this, you can move on from procrastination.
Sometimes you look at a task and see how complicated or complex it is, and it can begin to feel overwhelming and challenging. If something seems too hard, many of us tend to avoid it altogether. However, it can help to recall previous successes and results you have achieved before.
If you resent the task you have to complete, you may feel rebellious and don’t want to follow through, so you find ways to distract yourself. This comes down to control. Instead of feeling rebellious, take control by rewarding yourself when you get the task done. You also need to have a reminder of the negative consequences that will arise if you don’t get it done.
Lack of Motivation
When we don’t like a particular task, we often put off doing it. However, the key is focusing on something positive that can come from the task so it motivates us to get it done. For example, you might not like filing your taxes, but the refund you will get can motivate you to get it done.
Lack of Focus
A lack of focus can be due to the number of distractions. To minimize this, seclude yourself. If your cell phone is a distraction from getting school work done, for example, turn it off. If you can’t concentrate in a busy dorm, go somewhere quiet and isolated where you can focus.
It is also hard to stay focused when you are tired. To overcome this common cause of procrastination, ensure you get enough sleep, eat a healthy diet, and exercise regularly.
If you don’t know where to start, things can get overwhelming. Once you find that each particular task has a clear beginning, middle, and end, you can use this information to tackle each small task, breaking up a big project into something more manageable.
When you feel that you must strive for perfection, it can cause you to put tasks on the back burner out of fear that you do not have the skills or talent to do each task justice. However, to improve on those skills, you need practice. And practice comes from completing each task and not procrastinating.
What Are the Five Stages of Procrastination?
The procrastination cycle is a pattern of behavior that people will go through repeatedly when delaying tasks unnecessarily.
Stage One: The Statement
Every chronic procrastinator announces at the start of the day that they will get their work done. Each day starts the same. They say it to themselves and their peers, making the tasks real.
However, after making that audible statement, you have the internal voice that says these tasks won’t take that long or you have plenty of time to get everything done. This stage of the procrastination cycle is the longest as it is when you try to justify the procrastination in your own head.
Stage Two: Fear
We have covered this above, but fear is the next stage. Once you realize something is due, you are sent into shock, and you go back to doing what you know best—procrastinating.
Stage Three: Motivation
You may tell yourself you will definitely get things done, but motivation is always a factor in procrastination. This is when the procrastinator will start the task, try to speed through to get it done, and then convince themselves that it is time for a 15 minute break because they worked for hours already.
Stage Four: Acceptance
The next stage of the procrastination cycle is acceptance. You accept defeat and resign yourself to receiving the lowest grade on a test or the negative consequences of missing a work deadline.
Stage Five: Repeat
Finally, the cycle repeats itself another day. Once you see that you are back at the start of the procrastination cycle, you will know that the four motions above will soon follow.
There Is no Single “Best Way” to Overcome Procrastination
Personally, I’ve come to embrace my procrastinating nature to a certain degree. When my to-do list gets too long, I simply start a new one. And you know what? Most of the time, the tasks I thought I had to do turned out to be unimportant.
Sometimes, procrastination can signal that what we’re working on is wrong. It can also signify that maybe we need to step back, take a deep breath, and recharge before tackling the task again tomorrow.
Of course, sometimes procrastination is a product of laziness. If you have an exam to study for, a paper to write, a presentation to make, or a boss/client to appease, the work will have to get done, whether you start today or put it off until tomorrow.
Only Do Work You’re Passionate About
Maybe you don’t have a procrastination problem as much as a work problem. If you find yourself procrastinating day in and day out, week after week, month after month, year after year, maybe you’re not doing what you’re meant to do. Maybe it’s time to get a new job, switch careers, or drop out of school and pursue your passion.
Of course, there’s also a good chance you’re faced with a painful, unpleasant task, and you simply need to power through to get to where you want to be in life. If that’s the case, then read on (or better yet, stop reading now and go do what you need to do).
Stop Procrastinating With These Steps
If there’s work you need to get done either for your career or at school, here are some effective ways you can try to overcome procrastination:
1. Practice Time Management Skills
The first 30 minutes of the day is always for work. Does this sound familiar: you start the workday/study session by telling yourself you’re “just going to check email/Facebook/Twitter/Reddit for 5 minutes, then I’m going to get to work”.
Before you know it, 5 minutes have dragged into 2 hours, and 2 hours have dragged into 4 hours, and you realize you’ve spent half your day sucked into a never-ending loop of checking email, social media, YouTube, and your favorite viral news sites?
The first 30 minutes of your day/workday/study session should be spent doing work. If you need to check email or your social news sites, do it once you’ve established a good work groove, and you’ll find it much easier to shut it off. Or better yet, block distractions out completely until you’re done.
Having trouble jumping into those first 30 minutes? Tell yourself that you’re just going to get 10 minutes of work done, and if it’s just too painful, you’ll give yourself a break. That first 10 minutes is usually all you need to start getting focused.
Here are some time management techniques you can try:
- Use a to-do list: Write down a list of the hard tasks you must complete, along with each deadline.
- Prioritize tasks: Write down the tasks you have to complete in order of importance. The more urgent tasks should be at the top of the list.
- Set reminders: Reminders help you complete your tasks, whether it is a simple sticky note on your computer or an app that sends you a notification when a deadline is coming up.
- Establish a routine: A consistent routine helps you accomplish tasks. Dedicate a certain time each day to work on a particular task or set aside a specific day.
2. Become More Self-Aware
Procrastination usually comes in two forms. There’s:
- Difficulty in starting a task
- Getting distracted while working on a task
They both follow a similar pattern of self-rationalization.
- You tell yourself, “I really need to get started on this.”
- You feel stressed.
- You feel the urge to do something else, so you tell yourself, “I’ll get started soon, but I can afford another 5 minutes doing this one other thing.”
Giving yourself this little reprieve temporarily relieves stress and reinforces the neural pathways associated with procrastination, making it just a bit easier to fall victim to procrastination again 5 minutes later.
Try this next time you find yourself facing this never-ending cycle. Next time you’re about to start a task, and you feel a voice in your head telling you to “check your email; it might be important!” or “I wonder if anyone commented on my Facebook status,” resist the urge. Tell yourself you’ll just resist it this one time.
You’ll find that the urge does pass once you acknowledge it for what it is – a sudden impulse driven by your reptilian brain.
Related: How to Change Your Mindset
3. Block Out Distractions
Did you know that willpower is a limited resource that can be depleted like any other form of energy? Much like going on a morning jog tires you out for your evening workout, the more energy you spend resisting temptation, the less energy you’ll have for resisting temptation later on. This has been confirmed by real studies.
What does this mean for someone trying to get rid of procrastination tendencies? Knowing that Facebook or Reddit is one click away can make it more likely that you’ll get distracted and procrastinate.
While you might be able to resist the temptation during the first half of your workday, as you expend energy focusing, you’ll become more and more likely to give into temptation and start procrastinating.
To avoid this, use software like Rescuetime, StayFocusd or Freedom to block distracting websites or block the internet altogether. Not having to deal with the temptation of constant distractions will not only make it less likely that you’ll succumb to momentary temptation, but it will actually give you more energy to focus on your work and avoid procrastinating when you’re tired.
Here are some techniques for eliminating distractions:
- Don’t check your emails: Sometimes, checking emails first thing in the morning is the wrong thing to do. It can easily put you in what is called a “non-action” mood. Instead, make your lists or pull out your to-do list to review the day’s tasks.
- Avoid social media: As a procrastinator, social media will be your biggest downfall. Turn off all your platforms and focus on the tasks at hand.
- Time yourself: You can also use the Pomodoro Technique. You set a time limit for your work, and after the set amount of work time, take a break and do something you want to do for a bit and then go back and set another block of time.
- Get rid of clutter: Sometimes, something as simple as having an organized workspace free of clutter can help you avoid distractions and improve productivity.
4. Embrace Imperfection
One of the reasons we procrastinate is to avoid making tough decisions and dealing with a difficult task. If you’re trying to write the perfect paper, coming up with the perfect thesis can be so intimidating that you don’t even want to start.
Instead of always aiming for perfection, start intimidating projects by just getting started. Can’t come up with a perfect first line for your essay? Just start writing anything that comes to mind on the topic. Can’t think of a topic? Just start writing down anything vaguely related to the subject matter.
The same can be applied to studying. Is the thought of reading that thick textbook too intimidating? Just start by reading the table of contents or the first page. Too tired to take notes or really process the concepts?
Just skim through what you need to get through and come back tomorrow to re-examine the material when you’re refreshed. Getting something done is better than doing nothing, and once you get started, you’ll often find you have more energy than you thought you did.
5. Make a Schedule and Stick to a Deadline
Human beings can be strange – if we’re meeting a friend, we’ll set a fixed time to do so, and we show up. Most of us would never make an appointment with a friend and simply avoid showing up for no reason.
Yet when it comes to important tasks like going to the gym or getting another chapter written for your novel, we’ll just set vague goals and feel perfectly comfortable pushing back our self-imposed deadlines.
Start scheduling your important tasks and showing up every time, no matter what. You wouldn’t bail on a meeting with a friend just because you feel a little tired, would you? So, why do you do it with the gym?
If you want to go to the gym three times a week, instead of just telling yourself you’ll go three times this week, pick three days and three times that you’re going to show up, and don’t miss those appointments no matter what.
When setting deadlines, keep the following in mind:
- Deadlines should be appropriate, concrete, and meaningful
- Try setting intermediate deadlines that correspond to specific tasks
- Make sure your deadlines are actually helping you
- If the deadlines are leading to increased stress, you may need to modify them
6. Cut Down on the Number of Decisions You Make
Too many decisions can be overwhelming and can shut you down. To stop procrastinating, cut down on the number of decisions you need to make each day.
To do this, start each day not thinking about what you want it to look like. You will waste a lot of time thinking about what you want and don’t want to do. Instead, make some decisions ahead of time.
For example, decide the day before what you will have for lunch or when you take each break. You can start creating better habits around making fewer decisions to boost effectiveness and productivity.
Here are other ways to cut down on decisions:
- If you exercise, decide ahead of time which day of the week you will do this
- Choose your outfit the night before
- Schedule time the next day to complete your most important tasks
7. Avoid Over-Complicating Things
If you wait for the perfect time to get things done, you will find that time might never come. Stop over-complicating things and reaching for perfectionism, and you can stop procrastination in its track.
If you have a large task, assignment, or project, break it down into smaller tasks you feel are more manageable and not as overwhelming.
8. Increase Your Motivation
Having a partner in crime is always a good motivator, especially if chronic procrastination is a problem for you. A partner can help make the tasks more fun, and they can encourage you to meet your goals.
This could be as simple as having a good friend to talk to when you need to get back on track. They can help spur you into action.
One Last Tip
Stop procrastinating by reading articles about how to overcome procrastination and just get to work!