How do you stop procrastinating? 9 Essential strategies

Procrastination is one of the most common problems facing the modern worker. It costs time and money and, it is a major cause of stress and its associated health problems. So, how do you stop procrastinating? It’s a very simple question but the answer is not quite as simple as that. As with every aspect of time management, if you want to see real and lasting changes in your behaviour; it is not a simple matter of making one big change and everything will be solved.

If you want to stop procrastinating, there are many small changes which you can make to arrest the negative behaviour and, introduce more positive behaviour.

9 Worst reasons why people procrastinateHow do you stop procrastinating?

If you want to stop procrastinating, you need to make a number of small changes which will add structure to your day and introduce more of the behaviour you wish to see i.e. taking action on the stuff that really matters. The following are examples of some of the behaviours which you might consider.

1. Capture your commitments

Do you hear a little nagging voice in your head telling you that you need to do something?  That doesn’t mean that you should be doing that task right now. It is usually just your subconscious mind reminding you that you agreed to do something. You make commitments every day but do you actually capture them?

If you don’t keep a record of every task that you agree to do, you are likely to jump from one task to another; as soon as that little voice in your heads tells you that there is something you need to do.

When you are properly organised and you capture every commitment that you make, you can look objectively at your list and decide which task is the best use of your time in any given moment. You will also put that little voice in your head to sleep. It won’t need to remind you of anything because you will know that you have it captured.

2. Understand the environment which makes you productive

There are certain environments which encourage your productivity and there are some which inhibit your productivity. For example, if you are a sports nut but you need to work while the big game is on, you would be best to work in a room which does not have television access. Simply put, if it can distract you from your work, you need to remove it from your working environment.

It is important to note that what distracts one person may not distract another. My friend Jay needs background noise to work at his best. If the place is too quiet, he gets distracted by one-off noises e.g. a passing car. If I need to concentrate, I cannot have background noise but I am able to block out those one-off noises. However, if I am performing a mundane task, I need music to keep me motivated.

Learn what works for you and create a productive environment to match.

3. Stop deluding yourself

There are a number of B.S. myths which procrastinators tell themselves in order to justify their behaviour. If you want to stop procrastinating, you need to avoid telling yourself this nonsense. I will cover the 3 most common myths here:

“I work best under pressure”

Pressure can be great for helping us to get work done. It gives that extra little bit of motivation to drive us on. Pressure is fine as long as you can retain control but we are not designed to cope with constant pressure. Pressure should be an irregular occurrence.

If you constantly put yourself under pressure, the point at which you fail to remain in control comes earlier and earlier. Once you no longer feel that you are in control, you begin to experience stress. And, despite what some people tell you, stress is never good.

“I can’t do this unless I have X uninterrupted hours”

This is simply another stalling technique that master procrastinators use for telling themselves it’s ok to not start the project because they won’t have time to finish it.  Hello?  If you don’t start the task, you’ll never finish it.

How would have felt, on your first day of school, if the teacher had told you that now you had started school so, you couldn’t go home until you had completed your entire schooling? Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? Well, that is the same level of thinking that you are using when you say that you can’t start a task because you won’t be able to finish it in one sitting

You can easily begin a job, do as much as you can in the time available and then, make a note of where you left off. You will be able to pick up where you left off at the next opportunity.

“I can’t do this unless it’s perfect.”

All you can do in any situation is the best you can do with the time and resources available to you. Perfection is neither possible nor necessary. There will always be the opportunity for improvement but if you don’t take action; there will be nothing to improve on.

4. Break the job down

Large jobs can seem overwhelming once you consider the amount of work to be done and the time it is going to take. But your job today is not to think of all of the work which needs to be done over the course of the entire project. Each project is completed one small step at a time. Your job today is to focus on the small steps which need to be completed today.

I am currently working on a plan for my business which runs for the next 18 months. I am not thinking about the work which needs to be done in the next 18 months. Each day, I have a list of tasks (5-10) which need to be done. I know that once these tasks are completed each day, I will get to where I need to be in 18 months.

So, whenever you have a big project, break that job down into small tasks which you can then focus on. You will experience less overwhelm and you will be more inclined to take action.

5. Develop a positive attitude

Often times we don’t begin something we have to do because we tell ourselves how difficult it’s going to be, or how disgusting the job is and how much we’re going to hate doing it.  How would things be different if you focused on how you would benefit from completing the job and; if you reminded yourself of all of the knowledge and skills that you possess that you will help you complete the job successfully.

It is easy to be negative and it takes effort to be positive. But, a positive outlook will give you a far greater chance of success in any situation.

6. Ask for help

It’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help when you know that you can’t do it on your own.  If you don’t understand a project at work, rather than putting it on the back burner (procrastinating), ask someone to clarify it for you.  Once you understand it better, the fear of tackling it will be gone and you can proceed.

If you feel that there is too much work in a particular job, consider delegating or outsourcing some of the tasks. The earlier you do this, the quicker you eliminate stress, fear and doubt. A problem shared is a problem halved and when you are left with only half the problem; you will feel a lot more confident and motivated to take action.

7. Learn how long it takes

World class procrastinators have unrealistic views of the time it takes to accomplish something You’ll tell yourself that a certain task will only take three hours to complete, so you really don’t have to start it right this minute.  Of course, these estimations are often miles out, leading to massive problems; not just for the procrastinator but for every individual who is depending on them completing the job on time.

The first time you complete a job, you may find it difficult to estimate how long it takes but there is usually somebody who has completed it before. Why not ask them for their thoughts? Also, when you do a job for the first time, you can take notes of how long each stage takes and any unforeseen obstacles that you faced along the way. This way, next time you have to do the job, you will be able to make a realistic estimation of the time required.

8. Set a time limit

If you really don’t want to do a job but you have to do it, you are going to have to make it happen. There is no shame in not wanting to do it but even the jobs you hate should get your best efforts. There is a simple way to get this done – don’t defer it; stage it.

The temptation is to put it off to the last minute but then you will have to complete it all in one go which is only going to make matters worse. Instead, start it immediately. Set yourself a time limit e.g. I am going to work on this for 1 hour today then, complete that hour. You can do the same tomorrow. You will find it easier to get started because you are not taking on the full job and you will be able to get the job done in a number of stages.

9. Use contextualised lists

When you find yourself with some unexpected time to kill, it is important that you be able to look at your task list and quickly find something which you can get done to maximise your time. If you have a big task list e.g. more than 20 items, you will have a lot of items to scan through. To make matters worse, there will be a number of these tasks which you cannot complete because you don’t have the time or resources.

The answer to this is contextualised lists where items are grouped by context. Say for example that you are regularly out on the road without your computer or files. It would be helpful to have a list just for phone calls which need to be made. That way, if you find yourself with some free time, you can go straight to the phone call list, knowing that you can complete each of these items. You can then start to work your way through the list of calls until you run out of time.

Contextualised lists are also very important where you have limited access to a resource (including people). If you only see your boss once per week, you would want to deal with every issue that you need him/her for. If you have a task list under the heading ‘Boss’, you can just bring this list to your meeting and cover every item on the list, while the two of you are together.

If you are struggling with procrastination, check out Stop Procrastinating.

Procrastination is a major problem but with effort, commitment and organisation, it can be overcome. ‘How do you stop procrastinating?’ is a very common question but most of those who ask it are hoping for a simple, easy to implement answer which will solve all of their problems. Life doesn’t work that way. You stop procrastinating one step at a time, by implementing effective strategies. Try some of the strategies listed above and you will see your results improve.

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