Do you know this feeling? When you look at your to-do list but you somehow can’t motivate yourself to get started? Or maybe you are putting off making an important call or starting something you always wanted to do (a hobby, a business, etc.)?
Everybody struggles with procrastination at some point, and in the worst cases, it can prevent you from achieving your goals. Fortunately, with the right approach and strategies, you can learn how to stop procrastinating and trick your brain into getting things done.
Before getting to the strategies you can use to beat procrastination, it’s key that you become aware of the situations in which you procrastinate and understand the underlying reasons for this behavior. Only then will you be able to pick the appropriate tricks and behaviors to learn how to stop procrastinating.
1. Recognize when you are procrastinating
The first step to learn how to stop procrastinating is to recognize when you are doing it. Are you taking a break immediately after starting on a new task? Are you checking social media instead of doing your research? Or maybe cleaning your house suddenly becomes more important than writing your job applications? In other words, are you taking any opportunity to avoid tackling what you need to work on?
Be honest with yourself and recognize when you are obviously putting things off.
Once you’ve recognized that you are procrastinating, start writing down the time you are spending on it. You might be surprised at how much time you are wasting and will be more motivated to change your habits.
2. Understand why you are procrastinating
Understanding the reasons why you are procrastinating will help you find the right strategies to avoid it.
Do you feel you don’t have the skills for the task you are asked to do? Are you afraid of failure? Do you have difficulties getting out of your comfort zone? Perhaps you just find the task unpleasant or boring?
Identifying the causes of your procrastination will allow you to equip yourself with the right tools to help you get things done. These could be asking someone for help, consciously facing your fears, or even wondering if you are really doing what you want or if you should envisage re-setting your goals.
“You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.” – Abraham Lincoln
3. How to stop procrastinating with the right strategies
Lack of organization often leads to procrastination. A structured approach will help you work more efficiently and boost your confidence.
Prioritize: It’s good to have a to-do list but it’s even better if you prioritize tasks and work in order of priority.
Time-block: Schedule time for each of your tasks. This will help you focus and get things done more quickly. Also, make sure your timeframe is realistic (keep in mind that we usually need more time than we initially thought).
Have everything you need handy: There’s nothing more frustrating and disturbing than having to interrupt your work again and again because you realize you need to fetch something. Make sure you have everything you need for the task you are working on so that you can focus your energy on it without any distraction.
Clear out distractions
Make it easier for you to stay focused by clearing out as many distractions as possible. Ideally, you should be able to be undisturbed. If possible, switch off your devices. Also, make sure you have water or tea, pens, documents, or anything you need around.
Obviously, as a parent, it’s not always possible to work in a quiet environment. However, we can introduce some good habits. E.g., I have asked my son to craft a sign that I can paste on the door when I’m in a conference call to avoid being disturbed.
Oftentimes, the most difficult part of getting things done is simply getting started. Usually, after kicking off, it’s easier to carry on and complete the task.
Make a start
A good strategy to start working on a task is to decide on a minimum amount of time to dedicate to the task (e.g., 5-10 minutes). This way, the task will seem less overwhelming and chances are high that you will work longer once you got started.
Tackle the biggest task first
You probably know this situation: You have that one task that you think is very difficult, will take a lot of time, and/or is something you don’t necessarily enjoy. This one item that you keep pushing down your to-do list without finding the courage to tackle it.
Well, this is the perfect task to start your day. Pick this dreaded task and work on it first. Completing (or at least getting started on) this can have many beneficial side effects: you can tick off the most difficult task from your to-do list, the rest will seem easy-peasy to work on and, most importantly, it will give you a great feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment that will motivate you for the day. And from my personal experience, I can tell you that these dreaded tasks often get completed much quicker than we initially thought.
Break the project into chunks
The fear of failure is one of the main causes of procrastination. So the question is how to stop procrastinating when your to-do list seems overwhelming. A good strategy to make it easier to get things done is to break projects into smaller, more manageable tasks. This will keep you motivated and maintain a feeling of accomplishment. Who doesn’t enjoy the satisfying feeling of ticking items off your to-do list?
Trick your mind into motivation
Keep your long-term goals in mind
If you’re lacking the motivation to get work done, try to remind yourself of your long-term goals. Procrastination is our mind focusing on short-term gratification so keeping in mind the overall purpose of your tasks is a great way of staying motivated.
Keep the momentum going
Once you got started on a project, it’s essential to keep things going. Try to work on your project on a regular basis – even on the days you don’t have time, just spend 5-10 minutes on it to keep the momentum up. Procrastination is a bad habit, momentum will help you get rid of it and learn healthier working habits.
Know your procrastination triggers
Make sure you identify your procrastination triggers and avoid them. If home office bears too many distractions for you, try to work from somewhere else. If you know that any smartphone notification can set you off track, make sure your phone it on silent and out of sight. Also, you could decide to switch off emails while focusing on a specific task.
Make yourself accountable
Accountability is one of the most efficient ways to beat procrastination. Of course, depending on the type of work, many projects already have deadlines. However, what about your goals in life that don’t have a set timeframe? Maybe you’ve always dreamed of attending a dancing class or to travel to a specific place. Set yourself deadlines, make them official, or start an accountability group with like-minded people who keep each other motivated.
Don’t forget to celebrate even your smallest accomplishments! Reward yourself with a cup of coffee, a game you enjoy playing, a short nap, an episode of your favorite series, or whatever will be motivating for you.
Be kind to yourself
We often fail to realize that we sometimes procrastinate because we need a break. It might be because we are lacking sleep or due to stressful situations we are going through. As usual, it’s crucial to make sure we take care of ourselves and our basic needs are met. It will be much easier to motivate yourself to focus on getting things done if your cup is filled.
Let go of perfection
Did you know that perfectionists count amongst the biggest procrastinators? Perfectionism can overcomplicate a project or task to the point that it becomes intimidating and overwhelming.
Stop seeking perfection and focus on getting things done instead. Remember that perfection doesn’t exist – and even if it did, it would look different for every individual!
Stop self-sabotaging yourself
In some cases, it’s our negative self-talk or our lack of self-esteem that keeps us from moving on with our projects. Try to let go of negative feelings. Instead of beating yourself up for procrastinating the day before, make sure you don’t repeat it the next day. Be indulgent and talk to yourself nicely – imagine what you would say to a friend to motivate them, it will help you find the right words.
At the end of the day, learning how to stop procrastinating is a question of tricking yourself into getting things done. Becoming conscious of procrastination habits and understanding what makes you procrastinate will help you find the right strategies to overcome them.
And if you’ve been reading this article to avoid working on something, it’s time to try out these strategies and get things done. Let me know how it worked for you!