One of the most common questions I get is “how do I stop procrastinating?”
It’s human nature to avoid hard work if we can – and it’s no surprise that many people find themselves chatting on social networks, or tackling “easy” work rather than getting on with important projects.
If you struggle with procrastination, though, there’s plenty you can do to make it easier to get on with the task at hand.
Try at least one of these tips today:
One of the best ways to beat procrastination is by taking action – straight away. If you tend to start your day by staring at your inbox, or chatting to colleagues, look for a few quick (5 – 10 minute) tasks that you can complete, so you get a sense of instant achievement.
These might be:
- Making that phone call you’ve been putting off
- Sorting out the stack of files that’s threatening to engulf your desk
- Writing a plan for your big project (see tip #5)
… or anything that you can get done and checked off your list quickly.
#2: Tell Yourself “I’ll Just Open the Document…”
It’s very easy to feel daunted by big projects – especially if you’ve been putting them off for a while. This tip might seem a bit silly, but it really does work to overcome inertia.
Let’s say you’ve got a major report to work on, and just thinking about it gives you a sinking sensation in your stomach. Instead of telling yourself “I really must do a couple of hours on that today,” tell yourself, “I’ll just open the document.”
Opening a document is so very easy that there’s no room for procrastination to creep in … yet once the document is open, you might well find that you can tell yourself “I’ll just do five minutes on this section.” Before you know it, those two hours will have sped by.
#3: Write a To-Do List for the Day
If you don’t already use a to-do list, get into the habit of writing one at the start of each day. Your to-do list doesn’t have to be complex – it could be a few tasks jotted down on a Post-it note.
The act of writing a list helps you to focus, especially if your job involves lots of different tasks and responsibilities. It lets you prioritize different tasks (you might want to put “1” against the most important, “2” against the next, and so on).
Your to-do list will also keep you on track during the day. Instead of finishing one task and wondering what to do next, you’ll be able to move straight on.
#4: Use Your Energy Peaks Wisely
Are you at your best in the morning, or in the afternoon? You’ll almost certainly have particular times of the day when you can focus well – and times when you struggle to get anything done.
Once you’ve identified your energy peaks, you can use these times of day for your most important work – anything that requires a lot of concentration, or that you tend to put off doing. Use your energy slumps as a chance to catch up on less intense work, like answering emails.
You might even want to adjust your working hours to take your energy peaks into account (if your boss will allow that). For instance, if you know you’re at your best between 7.30am and 9.30am, you could try getting into the office earlier.
#5: Make a Plan – then Make a Start
It’s very easy to procrastinate when you haven’t quite pinned down what you’re supposed to be doing. By writing a plan, you have a roadmap to take you step-by-step through a particular project.
Your plan doesn’t need to be complicated, but it should break things down enough that it’s easy for you to get going, and so that you always know what the next step is. It’s useful to make your plan on a computer rather than write it on paper: that way, you can easily move steps around, or add in extra ones.
Once you’ve got a plan, make a start! Even if you can only tackle one step right now, it’s worth doing it so you get a sense of achievement and progress.
#6: Look Forward to Something Fun Later
Some projects are intrinsically motivating: you enjoy doing them (once you get going, at least) and you get a real sense of satisfaction from completing them.
Most of us, though, have to tackle at least some tasks that are a bit tedious. If you’re facing a lot of boring work, try motivating yourself with the promise of a reward. You might decide to go out for lunch, or to watch a movie after work, or simply to treat yourself to your favorite coffee – whatever works for you.
This can also be a good way to stay motivated in a group, if you’re all working on a task or project together: you could decide on something that you all enjoy, and agree to do it once you’ve finished (or reached a certain point).
#7: Finish in the Middle of a Task
If you struggle to get going at the start of the day, try to complete your workday when you’re in the middle of a task – not when you’ve just finished something. That way, it’s easy to pick up where you left off the following morning.
If you’re worried that you’ll forget what you were supposed to do next, jot down a few notes before you leave for the day.
This also works during the day – for instance, if you know you tend to procrastinate after a coffee break or after lunch, try leaving a task half-finished that you can pick back up. Once you’re into “work mode” again, you’ll find it easy to keep going.
If you’ve successfully beaten procrastination (or if you’re in the process of beating it!), do you have any tips to add? Let us know in the comments.