Top 10 Tips to Beat Procrastination
I’ll be honest with you; I actually started writing this post whilst procrastinating. Yes, I’m a self-confessed procrastinator! It’s only in the last year or so that I’ve become really conscious of procrastination and the multitude of ‘valid’ excuses we come up with to justify that what we’re distracting ourselves with is actually really important.
Personally, I think everyone procrastinates to some degree. These different levels of procrastination vary from the “Ok, I suppose I’d better do it” all the way to the full-on professional procrastinator level (not really a title any of us are proud of having but I have been known to put the “pro” in procrastinate). Ultimately, procrastination is just delaying what you know you must do in order to progress, meet deadlines at work or school, apply for that dream job, reach your ideal weight or set up that business you’ve been dreaming about. And when you do slam on the procrastination brakes? You get stressed/ panicky/ sad/ a horrible combination of all of the aforementioned, none of which make you feel happy or fulfilled. What does make you feel good is that nice content feeling you get when you actually follow through with something you said you would do, when you said you would do it.
The topic of procrastination fascinates me and if you’re reading this then I’m guessing it interests you too. Any of these sound familiar?
- You have a deadline and have plenty of time to prepare/ revise. You plan to break it down into manageable chunks and chip away at it steadily over the course of your deadline. What actually happens is, you spend 75% of your time doing seemingly nothing, 10% of your time trying not to think about it, another 10% worrying about your looming deadline and only 5% of your time actually doing the thing that you set out to do but in such a way that it all feels rushed and put together at the last minute (which, let’s face it – it was).
- You settle down to get some work done but suddenly you’re hungry. “Well, I can’t work on an empty stomach now, can I? I’ll just make a snack. Oh, and a drink. But now I’ve eaten the snack whilst making my drink. Hmm… probably best to make another snack in case I get hungry. Come to think of it, it’s nearly lunch! I’ll start after I’ve made lunch.” Before you know it, you’re channelling your inner Delia Smith and have cooked the most amazing 3-course meal that “you’ve been meaning to cook for ages!”
- You check the clock and your internal dialogue goes something like this: “I want to monitor how long I’m working for so I’ll start when the big hand reaches the next multiple of 15 on the clock (anything else and it would be too hard to work out how long I’ve been working for, ‘cos time maths is hard.) In the meantime, I’ll just check my emails.” 1 hour later, you’re watching videos of cats shopping in miniature supermarkets and wondering where your day went.
- As you don’t have to be anywhere urgently, you decide to quickly sort the laundry. 5 minutes later you’re knee deep in clothes and have come up with a new and improved way to organise your socks. Or perhaps you make it to your desk and think, “I’ll just tidy my desk. After all, they say a tidy desk = a tidy mind, don’t they?” Before you know it, you’ve spent 30 minutes on Pinterest looking at workspace ideas that you can’t afford.
- You’ve put pressure on yourself to knuckle down and be productive but now you’re here and wondering if this is really what you should be doing. ”I know I said this was the number one job I had to do today but is it really that important? What if I do it and then realise it wasn’t the most important and wished I’d done something else? Perhaps I should just start with another little job first – that’s still something that needs to get done, right?”
Maybe you can relate to some (or all) of the procrastination types mentioned above – I know I can! Often, the activities you do when procrastinating are things that you can justify are actually productive in some way. “I’ve always wanted the time to do that” or “it needed to be done at some point anyway” are often excuses that come up for me. When really, you’re just distracting yourself from a task where you know the outcome will bring you a genuine sense of satisfaction. Now, I’m not saying that you should feel guilty if you do any of these things, but if you find yourself doing things like this at a time when you had previously told yourself you would be doing something that actually means something to you, maybe it’s time to stop and question why? Another key sign that you’re procrastinating is if you find yourself doing something you don’t enjoy doing because it seems more appealing than actually doing the thing you’re supposed to be doing (I always know I’m procrastinating when doing the recycling seems appealing). Personally, I often find that when I’m putting off doing something it’s because I haven’t got a plan for what I’m going to do/ don’t know where to start so it seems daunting (and much more interesting to google what happened to that plane that went missing and then read up on it for as long as I can get away with). Keep on reading below for some solutions to many of these procrastination based scenarios!
The problem is that when you choose a “productive” procrastination activity to occupy you, when you’ve finished, that sense of achievement isn’t really achievement. It’s a small win shrouded in guilt and leaves you feeling like you’ve wasted your time when really you could have done the thing you actually wanted to do. Don’t get me wrong; sometimes priorities change and you no longer want what you used to want when you set your intention, and that’s fine. But it can be tricky to differentiate between what’s giving up because of fear/ laziness/ not knowing where to start and if it’s something that really doesn’t align with your end goal anymore. If it fills you with a little bit of dread and you catch yourself doing the avoidance dance, that’s generally your mind playing tricks and it is actually something you want to do. If in doubt, do it anyway! After all, life begins outside of your comfort zone 🙂
On the flipside, listen to your instinct. Allow for flexibility where possible. Sometimes you might plan to do something but when the time comes you’re genuinely not feeling it. Maybe you’ve finally made it to sit down and the task you were hoping to complete isn’t as straightforward as you thought. If it’s frustrating you, move onto something else and come back to it another time. If you’re unsure, you could apply the “try it and see” method, but if you just aren’t feeling it, honour your intuition and go and do something else. And of course sometimes life gets in the way, things come up unexpectedly, spontaneous plans happen and things get put on the back burner. But be honest and ask yourself, “Am I really too busy or am I just trying to distract myself?”
Here are my top ten tips to beat procrastination:
- Try it for 15 minutes. If I’m not sold on doing something, I adopt this method with the promise that if I hate it, I can stop after 15 minutes. I almost always realise that I actually do want to do it and it’s nowhere near as bad as I thought it would be!
- Make a plan. But don’t spend too long on it! Sometimes writing a list can become the procrastinating activity when actually it’s best to just get started. Educating yourself on whatever it is you’re doing can be helpful if you feel overwhelmed or underprepared.
- Visualise the process. Take a few minutes to go through your plan in your mind, “rehearsing” what you’re going to do. Many sporting professionals are well known for using visualisation to help them achieve their goals. Mental rehearsal can do wonders for beating procrastination and making a task seem less daunting.
- Set a timer. Personally, I love to work using the Pomodoro method. Essentially, you set a timer for a set period of work time, followed by a set period for break time. In the work time, you focus solidly on what you’re doing – no phones, emails, social media or any other distractions. Then in your break you can do whatever you like, but do not work (I promise this is part of the trick as to why this works!). Working in short stints followed by regular breaks ensures you stay focused and motivated at the same time. I use this method myself as I find that even if I have slipped and have got distracted, the timer will go off and bring me back to what I should be doing. I use an app called ‘Brain Focus’ which is free and easy to customise. There is also a beautiful planner called the Productivity Planner which uses the Pomodoro method. It’s available to buy here – (this is not a sponsored post, I just think this is a great product).
- Take regular breaks. It may seem counter-intuitive when you have lots to get done but even a 5 minute break, especially if you’re working in front of a screen, can do wonders for your creativity. Make a cuppa, go for a brisk walk or just sit and feel proud that you’re getting stuff done! This also goes for general day to day life too. Schedule in down time for yourself. If you’ve spent time relaxing (and I’m talking the proper kind of guilt free relaxing) you’ll be in a much better place to work, both mentally & energetically. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you need to be a productive machine but this is where you actually become less efficient, less creative and more stressed. Not a great combination!
- Think positive. I don’t think it takes a genius to realise that repeating ‘I’m doomed, I’m doomed, I’m doomed!’ probably isn’t the most helpful tactic in overcoming the task at hand. It might sound cliché, but think positively and you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish.
- Strive for progress, not perfection. Often, we chase after the illusion of perfection and spend hours researching how to go about it without actually getting anything done. This is not me saying research is bad. In fact, I love to research and this is probably the procrastinator category I fall into most myself. All I’m saying is there has to be a limit. Trust yourself and the knowledge you’ve gained and know that the outcome will be great because you’ve worked hard at it.
- Don’t question yourself. If it’s something that you’re doing for yourself like getting fit or writing that book you’ve always wanted to write, remember why you wanted to do it in the first place. Think about how good you’d feel if you achieved that goal and then take action. There’s nothing wrong with giving yourself a little pep talk every once in a while.
- Incentivise and reward yourself. Even if it’s just a snack, acknowledge what you’ve achieved. Celebrating when you achieve something helps you to register all of the hard work that you’ve put in and releases happy chemicals in the brain so you’ll want to do it again. It’s one of the reasons that footballers celebrate when they score a goal!
- Don’t wait. The perfect time doesn’t exist. Like with any behavioural trait, it will take time to make long-term changes but the best way to beat procrastination is to START NOW. Not tomorrow, not on Monday, not on the 1st of the month – because life is happening now!
This stuff takes practice and I’m certainly not proclaiming to be perfect at avoiding procrastination! But the more aware you are of when procrastination strikes, the easier it is to “catch” yourself doing it and put a stop to it. In the words of Nike, just do it!
Can you relate? Perhaps you have some great tips of your own for how to beat procrastination. I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!
P.S. I also highly recommend that you watch Tim Urban’s TED talk on procrastination. You can watch it here (14 mins)