“Procrastination is the thief of time.”
-Edward Young, English poet (1683-1765)
I procrastinated in writing this article. Seriously. I admit it.
At times, wanting to get things “just right,” I’ll slip into procrastination: making lists, jotting down ideas, checking emails, clicking on links to websites in my bookmarks toolbar… and so forth. Worried about how something will turn out, I’ll simply slow down or will be more prone to distraction. That was the case with this post – and as the Edward Young quotation so aptly captures, time was definitely stolen – or more accurately, wasted.
Procrastination isn’t usually a problem for me, but 20% of the U.S. population are chronic procrastinators, according to Dr. Joseph Ferrari of DePaul University in Chicago. That fact means that procrastination and the ensuing reduction in productivity are significant problems in the U.S. . It gets worse: studies have shown that college students who procrastinate are more apt to get sick from colds, the flu and gastrointestinal problems.
What can I do?
If you sometimes procrastinate, you might gain some insight into why you do so by understanding the three basic types of procrastinators; they are:
- The thrill seeker who looks forward to the rush he or she gets when facing last-minute deadline pressure
- The avoiders – those who avoid completing tasks for fear of failure or success and who are especially worried about what others think of them. Perfectionists fall into this category (this is me)
- Decisional procrastinators – those who simply can’t make a decision; not making a decision relieves this type of procrastinator responsibility for the outcome of events
No matter what type of procrastinator you are, there are six simple steps you can take to address this issue…
1. Set clear goals
As you approach projects and tasks, set clear goals for their completion. Using this post as an example, my goal could simply be: complete a first draft by Sunday evening, revise Monday evening, schedule for publication at 4AM on Tuesday. My clear goal would be to have the post completed and final by Monday evening.
If you don’t know where you’re going, how are you going to get there? Set clear, definitive goals. Your goals should be specific, measurable, and time-bound (i.e., have a clear completion date and/or time.) And having done this, stick to those goals.
2. Eliminate distractions
We all have WAY too many distractions every day. Only you know exactly what works for you, but here are a few things to consider:
- Turn off all electronic alarms for email, SMS, etc.
- Log off your email account
- If working on your computer, have just one program or browser tab open – unless your work requires research & multiple tabs
- Close the door
- Ditch the iPod, iTunes, and anything else that’ll distract you
- Forward your phone into voicemail
- Shut off your Blackberry…
…and so forth. In short, reduce the number of potential distractions so you can FOCUS.
3. Stop worrying about perfection
Face it: it’s not going to be perfect. Things in life rarely are. Better to hammer out a rough draft and revise later than spin your wheels for hours. Instead of worrying about how others will react to your work, recognize that you’ll be disappointed in yourself if you don’t get the work done or do a poor job because you procrastinated… and in the larger scheme of things, that disappointment will sting far worse than any other.
4. Don’t lie to yourself
Sometimes we’ll tell ourselves little lies like, “I’ll be much better equipped to jump on this early tomorrow morning,” or “There’s not enough pressure on me to do this now – I’ll wait till tomorrow, or the day after.” All we accomplish when we lie to ourselves like this is to waste our best resource – time. Don’t lie to yourself! You aren’t kidding anyone. Stop lying, start doing, and you’ll feel better about yourself.
5. Break it into pieces
One of the oldest axioms out there, but it’s true: break the task into smaller chunks and tackle one at a time. For this post, it could be something like: a) create a rough outline of the post; b) conduct research; c) write a rough draft. By turning it into a series of smaller pieces, the task becomes more manageable. Focusing on the first, smaller step of a project makes the entire task less daunting, and makes it easier to start.
6. Do it NOW!
“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.”
-Lao Tzu, founder of Taoism (~200 BC)
Having done steps 1-5, what remains is simple: START. Do it now. As is the case with many things we fear, once underway, it’s not all that bad. And if you stay focused, you’ll get a lot done quickly. Getting started is the tough part; simply do it now.
Other tactics & issues
A few other tactics which should help you banish procrastination:
- Make your goals public. Tell your spouse, your boss, your coworkers – whoever’s relevant & appropriate – of your goal(s). Doing so will help make you a bit more accountable for following through on your commitment.
- Know your “tells.” In poker, a tell is a nervous tic or habit that signals your intentions. Know your tells when it comes to procrastination. Perhaps your mouse mysteriously begins to approach your email icon. Perhaps you begin thinking about getting a soda or cup of coffee. When you catch yourself in a tell, resist the temptation to walk away from the task. Keep going!
- Finally, realize that you can get a great deal done in 15 minutes. As you start, commit to work away for 15 minutes without stopping. Use a timer if you have to. You’ll be amazed at how much you can accomplish in just 15 minutes of focused activity.
I hope you’ve found this article helpful. If there are strategies you’ve employed to beat procrastination, please share them with other readers by commenting. Thanks for stopping by!
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