Cramming to finish important tasks at the last minute or moving deadlines back? You have likely entered the dangerous waters of procrastination. Knowing how to overcome procrastination is an extremely important trait possessed by highly effective leaders. If you find yourself falling into the procrastination trap, you’re not the only one. Most people struggle with procrastination in at least one area of their lives. We sometimes procrastinate because we just don’t know how to start. The good news is that learning how to overcome procrastination is not complicated. It simply requires accountability and attention to your work habits. Possessing the skill of being self-motivated is the difference between treading water in your career and moving towards your goals at a quicker pace.
What is Procrastination?
Before investigating how to overcome procrastination, let’s look at some of the basic psychology involved. Procrastination is the act of prioritizing incorrectly or putting off tasks that seem intimidating, unpleasant, or just plain boring. Many people mistake procrastination for laziness. In reality, procrastination is not doing nothing. It can actually cause you to work harder than necessary in the long run. Recent research has suggested that procrastination is the result of having difficulty managing stress. This reframes our common understanding that it is simply a delay tactic! Procrastination is task aversion by definition, but it comes from a deeper place than simple avoidance. What’s more, it does nothing to reduce stress. In fact, it creates more anxiety in the long run.
Giving into procrastination may seem harmless enough, but it is more than just inconvenient. It can have long term implications and impact your ability to achieve your goals. Procrastination oftentimes produces feelings of guilt which will eventually impact your performance. Over a longer period of time, it can lead to feeling disillusioned with our ability to produce. In more extreme cases, this thought pattern can result in depression and even job loss. Let’s look at some strategies for overcoming procrastination.
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Strategies for Overcoming Procrastination
Overcoming procrastination is possible. This is where the “rubber meets the road”, where it takes more than just knowing how to overcome procrastination- you actually have to do something. Just like any habit, you can change the way you are used to getting things done. If you are serious about kicking this habit to the curb, here are some strategies for overcoming procrastination that will help tremendously. It won’t happen overnight, but if you employ even some of these strategies, you will see significant change.
Awareness is the First Step
Self-awareness is key for changing any habit. In order to truly overcome procrastination, you need to understand the why behind what you’re doing. Identify areas where you are using procrastination to keep you from feeling unqualified or like a failure. In most cases, this simple awareness will give you the ability to sense when you are falling into old patterns. Slow down and choose another course of action.
Make Starting Easier
Oftentimes we avoid what we think will be challenging. If we are unfamiliar with a task or are pressuring ourselves to get it all done in one sitting, avoidance is natural. Set a low bar for yourself. Those who know how to overcome procrastination make getting started very easy for themselves. Give yourself even 15-minutes to start at a task, and break it up into manageable segments.
Put it on the Calendar
Block out time to work on your important projects (or those you have been avoiding) the same way you would an important meeting. When we tell ourselves “I’ll get to it,” we often never do. Putting your tasks on your calendar makes them more real and keeps you focused and motivated. When you start your work time, set a timer to keep you focused. Try 30 – 45-minute work sessions with 5 – 10-minute breaks as a way to keep your head in the game.
We’ve all been there. You think a task will take 2 hours and it ends up taking twice as long. Unless a task is entirely repetitive, it’s almost impossible to judge how long it will take. Build some flex time into your schedule so you don’t feel the pinch if something takes longer than expected.
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Ask for Help
Accountability makes us work harder. It’s a simple truth. Team up with a colleague and work together. Working with someone else can help get rid of boredom and your impulse to avoid the task. The results will be even greater if you are both working on the same project. If you are able to share the experience, it automatically lessens the stress on both of you.
Rework the Task
Studies show that we can “trick” ourselves into believing a task won’t be as hard as we think. Consider re-working the task in your mind so it feels like a challenge or a puzzle that needs to be solved. The challenge could sound something like, “Let’s see if you can get this done in the next two hours and have the rest of the day to do whatever you want!”
Take the Pressure Off
Because self-criticism is often a major by-product of procrastination, it may be smart to take a break to recenter yourself. Take some deep breaths and get your mind off the task at hand. Remember that self-criticism is not a recipe for productivity. Give yourself some time to breathe and you will find it easier to work and focus.
Silence the “Noise”
Where and how you work is just as important as when and IF you work. When you are finally ready to tackle that task you’ve been avoiding, make sure you choose a place where you can focus. Silence your cell phone, close your email, and shut down anything else on your electronic devices that could be distracting.
This is a great way to motivate yourself. Take the things that have been keeping you from working and use them as rewards for finishing what you set out to do. Hold off on checking social media, watching your favorite TV show, or having that afternoon snack until you check your scheduled task off your list. This will give you the internal motivation to stay focused and get it done.
Learning how to overcome procrastination will take time. You’ve most likely spent years building this habit. Allow yourself to make incremental changes and don’t expect an overnight transformation. Employing the strategies to overcoming procrastination that we gave is a great first step. As you make these small changes, you will begin to notice a meaningful difference in your efficiency. You’ve got this – now it’s time to get to work!
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