You have something to do but you just don't want to do it, so you procrastinate. You put it off as long as possible and then, often suffer negative consequences. You experience last-minute stress and/or shoddy, incomplete work.
Procrastinating is a habit that many of us indulge in and the effects extend to both our personal and professional lives. Luckily, it's a habit that you can break. In this article, we look at some of the common reasons people procrastinate and provide effective tips to overcome them.
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What is procrastinating?
To procrastinate is to delay doing something until a future time. There are many reasons people procrastinate. Some of them are valid but more often than not, these reasons are nothing more than excuses. For example, you may be next in line for a promotion.
You deserve the promotion, you've put in the work, you're qualified for it, and yet, you continue to avoid asking for the promotion. Why? The most likely answer is fear. You fear that you'll get turned down, ridiculed or even jeopardize your current position.
Fear is present in almost all cases of procrastination, but it's not the only contributor. Here are four common reasons for procrastination:
Procrastinators typically don't manage their time well and get overwhelmed by tasks that they cannot handle which, in turn, makes them anxious. In their anxiety, they don't know where to start, so they simply don't, which makes them more stressed and so continues the cycle.
Sometimes, procrastination happens when the task is so dreaded that you'd rather be doing anything else instead. This may lead you to continually push the task to the bottom of the list, choosing instead to do fun things rather than that one stressful thing. The task gets pushed further and further back until the deadline is looming and you find that you have to rush through the task or project to finish on time.
Plenty of time
When given a longer-term lead time for completing a project, it's easy to fall into the trap of procrastinating. After all, you have plenty of time to get the project done before it's due. This is common among students who have a whole semester to complete their final project, due the last week of classes.
They have plenty of time...until they don't. Suddenly, the deadline is tomorrow and now the student struggles through a sleepless night to finish the project by morning. A similarly dangerous situation involves tasks that do not have set due dates. Clearly, these tasks are in danger of indefinite postponement.
Perfectionism can lead to procrastination out of fear that the result will never be perfect enough. Perfectionists procrastinate because they're afraid to produce work that is less than perfect. This type of situation can circle back and forth between anxiety, self-criticism and feelings of being overwhelmed. Opinions differ on what the best way to deal with this type of procrastination is but everyone can agree that the best solution depends on the individual.
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Why it is important to stop procrastinating
Everyone has resorted to procrastination at some point, most of them citing anxiety, time constraints or task difficulty as reasons to put off what they need to do. However, procrastination could be more detrimental than you may initially think. Some of the negative effects of procrastination include:
Missing the deadline
You know that putting off tasks causes you to risk missing the deadline. Bosses aren't usually generous with deadline extensions, and you want to make your boss look good to his or her bosses and clients. Procrastination is a huge risk for your company, carrying the potential to lose important or high-dollar accounts, and the personal risk to you, of course, is that you could lose your job.
Seizing opportunities while they're available to you should be a motivating factor that causes you to reassess your time management and work habits. After all, an opportunity you let pass by is surely going to be grabbed by the next person. Whether it's a promotion, pay raise or patent, putting off what could easily be done immediately could have severe consequences to your future.
Missing your goals
No matter how strong your desire to change, you won't meet your goals without taking the first step forward. This applies to short- and long-term goals, small goals and large ones. You may wonder why it's difficult to work toward something you wholeheartedly desire, such as that promotion or pay raise. You can begin by assessing your hesitations using the list above to determine which broad category you relate to the most.
Suffer negative impacts to your career
Procrastinating affects your performance and output and could have long-term negative effects on your career. Not only do you run the risk of losing your job, but your reputation can be tarnished, making it difficult to get a new job.
People who habitually procrastinate are at a higher risk for developing health problems caused by stress and anxiety. Long-term procrastination, especially when it has to do with scheduling health check-ups or exercise, can lead to depression and other highly-damaging illnesses.
Tips to stop procrastinating
Like any habit, your procrastination habit can be broken. With some effort and careful planning on your part, you'll be managing your time more wisely than ever. Try these tips to break your habit of procrastination:
- Get and stay organized.
- Scale tasks down.
- Write down your deadline.
- Get rid of distractions.
- Visualize your success.
- Face fear.
- Work backward.
- Take breaks.
- Hold yourself accountable.
- Reward yourself.
1. Get and stay organized
Use the tools that are the most likely to keep you on track. It could be a task app on your phone, or a physical calendar with dates written on it. You might choose to use cute or fun organizers to keep your materials handy and easy to find and have you looking forward to using them.
2. Scale tasks down
Challenge yourself to scale each task down to two-minute chunks. Devote two minutes to working on a specific task before moving on. When you've cycled through your task list, start over. Eventually, you'll have completed your tasks and be delighted to see that you likely have time to spare.
3. Write down your deadline
Put it on a sticky note or tape it to your computer monitor, or anywhere you're likely to encounter it multiple times per day. With a deadline constantly staring you in the face, it's harder to ignore, thus harder to put off.
4. Get rid of distractions
Put away anything likely to divert your attention away from the task at hand. If social media is your weakness, turn off all notifications and stash your phone in a spot that takes an inordinate amount of effort to reach. If it's your environment as a whole that's too distracting, try using noise-canceling headphones with white noise to block out sounds, or, if people are always interrupting you, find a place you can work like the local coffee shop or library.
5. Visualize your success
While you're writing things down, make a note of how you'll feel once your goal is met, what positive impacts your life will enjoy and how you'll celebrate your success.
6. Face fear
Fear is a powerful emotion, but a will to succeed can be much more powerful. Think about what you're afraid of and follow it in your mind to the eventual outcome. Ask yourself what about this outcome scares you.
The chances are that you'll find that your fears were much less intimidating than you thought. Imagine and focus on all possible outcomes of the situation. Ask yourself what will happen if you keep putting off that proposal your boss is looking for, then visualize what happens if you get it done early.
7. Work backward
Start with the hardest task. Once you've finished it, all the other tasks will seem incredibly easy to get through.
8. Take breaks
Every so often - say, every two hours - allow yourself a 10-15 minute break to get up, walk around, get some fresh air, chat with a coworker, whatever you consider to be relaxing. Time yourself so you don't get into the habit of turning short breaks into mini-vacations.
9. Hold yourself accountable
Set alarms to act as check-ins. Each alarm should represent a milestone you should be reaching by the time it goes off. If it helps, recruit a friend or two to help you stay on track. They'll be responsible for checking in with you to ensure that you're reaching your milestones and to provide support and accountability. If they're devoted to your cause, have them set alarms identical to yours so you'll always be on the same schedule.
10. Reward yourself
Celebrate the accomplishment of milestones by rewarding yourself in small ways. When your overarching goal is met, reward yourself in a bigger, more meaningful way. This should be based upon something you're very interested in but don't get to experience under normal circumstances.
You could even physically track your progress towards your goal with a poster you fill in each day or some sort of timeline that makes sense to you.
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