We know what you’re doing. Right now there’s an item (or two or three) on your to-do list that you’ve been pushing off. These are projects that probably should have your attention at this very moment instead of this article. Don’t get us wrong. We appreciate that you’ve chosen to spend your procrastination time with us and we hope you’ll stick around now to the end of the article because we think it’ll help you in the long run.
Why We Procrastinate
Before we can make a plan to limit our procrastination habit, we need to understand why we procrastinate. Tim Pychyl, who may or may not have procrastinated writing his book Solving the Procrastination Puzzle, says that we tend to put off things we don’t want to do. According to Pychyl, the tasks we keep punting down the field are those we find boring, frustrating, difficult, or ambiguous, among other things. Sure, we know logically that we’re simply delaying the inevitable, but we’d rather deal with all that later than face it now.
One Foot in Front of the Other
Think about that project you’re putting off, the one you feel a little insecure about. Are you imagining what it needs to look like at completion? Often we feel overwhelmed by a project because we get tied up looking at the whole instead of at the individual parts. Think about what it took to earn your degree. You didn’t receive it the day after you were accepted to college. It took years. Those years were divided into semesters. You took a few courses each of those semesters and those courses were divided up into individual class sessions. You had assignments and tests. Your degree is the culmination of a bunch of smaller parts. This project you are procrastinating isn’t all that different. Start small. Make some calls and get a few quotes. Hold a brainstorming session. Begin fleshing out an outline. Focus on increments vs. the whole.
Sometimes we put a lot of undue pressure on ourselves. This task that we’re putting off is make or break! Except the reality is, in most cases at least, it’s really not. Deep breath. Take a moment to regain perspective. This isn’t the most boring task in the world and it’s probably not even the hardest. But even if it is, you’re going to survive it. Promise.
Gamification of Your Goals
Fine. This particular task you’re putting off may be only slightly more thrilling than watching paint dry. We get it. Pushing off the task to avoid boredom doesn’t mean you get to skip the task. It just means you get to be bored by it later. Or not. Filling out your monthly expense report? Why not see how many lines you can accurately fill in 5 minutes. Would you rather be ordering a latte at the coffee bar downstairs instead of drafting your elevator pitch? Commit to drafting four lines of something that looks at least vaguely like a pitch before you place your order. If it’s not fun on its own, find ways to create a little entertainment around the task.
Your project may already have a deadline. Set more. Take a look at the task and create a list of small checkpoints along the way to completion. Give those tasks hard deadlines. Commit to writing the first page of your business plan by the end of the day today. Write it down in your calendar as a task with a due date. Similarly, dedicate small bite-sized chunks of time to a task. “I’m going to spend 5 minutes going through these resumes and sort what I read into piles of yes, no, and maybe.” Don’t feel like you need to stop when 5 minutes is up. If you’ve gotten on a roll, keep going.
Turn off the Screen
Social media, text, and email are some of the biggest enablers when it comes to procrastination. Turn off your phone. Shut down the tab with your social media pages. Open only the programs and pages you need to get the task at hand complete. If you’re sitting here now researching the demographics of a potential new market opportunity, your browser should only have tabs open for pages that have information related to the topic.
Close out the tabs with Facebook and your favorite ecommerce site. Now that you’re done reading this article, you can close this one out too – just make sure you bookmark it so you can read more great articles later when you do have time. Here’s another on the topic of procrastination that you can read later after you meet today’s checkpoints.