Procrastination is a killer. We all do it no matter how hard we try. But how can we overcome procrastination? The first step is to not judge yourself. Did you know we are predisposed to procrastinate? I’ve put together a helpful list of a few of my favorite tips to help you stop procrastinating for good.
Why do we procrastinate?
People procrastinate for many reasons, but why do we do it so often? If you’ve ever procrastinated (which we all have) you know the feeling well. You wait and wait to start or finish something. You have a set deadline but watch as you spend time doing everything else. Then you have to rush through whatever it is at the last minute. This leaves you feeling stressed, overwhelmed, and depleted. It’s a frustrating feeling – so why do we keep doing it over and over again?
Did you know our brains are actually programmed to put off tasks? Research shows that near-term gain almost always outweighs the attraction of a future reward. That simple gratification feels much more pleasurable. It all goes back to your brain and choice. Looking at the opportunity and the cost of the given situation – what would you rather choose at the moment: a reward or a delayed reward?
Our brain naturally sides with concrete ideas and rewards over abstract concepts. So basically our brains are working against us but that doesn’t mean we can’t overcome procrastination. It means that procrastinating is not a personal flaw, it’s in our genetic makeup, which just means we have to work that much harder to re-train our brains. But the bright side is that it does eliminate a lot of the guilt. You shouldn’t feel bad about something that’s natural.
Helpful Hacks to End Procrastination
Take a Break.
This might sound counterintuitive, but if I find myself procrastinating, it is likely because I am heading towards burnout. I am usually non-stop and passionate about my work, so procrastination is a big red flag for me. If I find myself hesitant to start or complete a project, I shut down my laptop, head outside, breathe, meditate, have lunch with my sister, or get a good night’s sleep. Afterward, I can come back to the task with fresh eyes. We all need breaks.
It can be easy to get caught up in planning for perfection. However, I’ve found that there is a thin line between being prepared and entering into a spiral of perfection that ends up inciting inaction. If we never start we never finish. When I find myself in hyper-perfection mode, I encourage myself to just start the project. So often, things change once they’re out in the open, so it’s good for me to get the pencil to paper as soon as possible even if I don’t feel ready. The only right time to start is now. When in doubt, take the right next step.
Think About The Big Picture.
Even the most tedious tasks become important when you remind yourself of how they will help you achieve the greater objective. If I find myself weighed down by a task or project, I remind myself that completing this task will help me achieve my larger goals. I love practicing visualization exercises, where I close my eyes and envision myself achieving all of my objectives. I imagine what it feels like to embody these achievements and notice all of the tiny details about what is happening around me as I succeed. This exercise helps me reignite the desire to move forward. Sometimes you just need that extra boost.
If I’m feeling hesitant to start something, I’ll do a spirit check. If the project is important to my business, but doesn’t light a spark in me, I’ll ask someone else to take care of it. If possible, I’ll find someone who either loves the work or can benefit from the project. Sometimes it turns out that a project is no longer aligned with my path and my hesitation is what signals me to change my mind. Other times, the hesitation is a sign that it’s not the best use of my time and I am better served bringing in outside help. After all, we can’t be the best suited for every job.
If something is hanging over my head that I know I need to do, but it’s challenging, I’ll do it first thing in the morning. I’ll then follow the difficult task with a project that I love working on, maybe creating a new program or checking in with some of my favorite clients. Following challenging work with work that brings me joy is like a mini reward for making it through the tough stuff. Plus, taking care of dull or challenging tasks first thing in the morning increases your chances of finishing them because you have less resistance.
I make a list every morning of what needs to get completed that day. This can be very effective because I love crossing things off my list and completing tasks – it makes me happy. It also helps you capture the specific tasks that need to get done. Sometimes, we just imagine this one large task versus the sub tasks that can be easily completed.
Make it Playful.
I have some fun colorful pens and notebooks that I use to make my to-do lists, goals, intentions, etc., and it makes the task of crossing things off so much more fun! Adding a sense of play to your work can make it feel less complex and stressful. Try to pair the boring or frustrating tasks with upbeat music, podcasts, or something to keep a sense of play.
Stretch it Out.
I try to get up every hour or two to take a 5-min break. Use this time to get what you need. Sometimes I need to stretch my legs or drink a big glass of water or walk around the block to clear my head. I feel so much more clear and focused when I get back to my desk. Taking some time to stretch and move my body can help shift my energy and keep me motivated.
Find An Accountability Partner.
Find someone you trust to share your goals with. When we do this, it creates a little helpful social pressure which can lead to us getting it done. Sometimes, it’s easier to show up for other people rather than ourselves. Showing up for someone can help. That person can be your cheerleader, and a friendly reminder to stop procrastinating. When you have a task to complete at work, tell someone when you will finish it. Your brain will feel more obligated to do it! It can take some of the load off if you have someone to help share your tasks with. You can plan a time with friends where you all complete tasks you’ve been avoiding. The company and support can help a lot.
Remove The Hidden Blockage.
Sometimes we find ourselves returning to a task repeatedly, still unwilling to take the first step. Patiently ask yourself a few “why” questions: Why does it feel tough to do this?” and “Why’s that?” The source of the blockage can surface quite quickly. Often, the issue is that a perfectly noble competing commitment that is undermining your motivation or something you need to have a better handle on to continue.
Procrastination is more than just a bad habit. It can be how our brain processes new tasks. I hope that these helpful tips give you the right mindset shifts to be more productive. We can all struggle to get things done but with the right mindset you can be super productive and embrace your to-do list with a can-do attitude.