Sometimes it feels good to put things off, to say, “I’ll get to that later.” Ah yes, procrastination: the feeling that we have everything under control and on schedule. But procrastination can have damaging effects on both your professional and personal life. Psychologists say that procrastination is a problem rooted deep within a person’s psychological makeup.
So how do you overcome procrastination, specifically in your professional life?
1.) Make a List or a Schedule
People love to make to-do lists. Why? Well, to put it simply, because they work. There is something incredibly satisfying about crossing an item off a list. Each item crossed off represents progress, which even in small doses makes the burden of a day’s or project’s tasks seem lighter than before.
Lists also give us structure, which can help reduce anxiety associated with a seemingly endless stream of tasks. One effective way to make a to-do list or a schedule is to prioritize tasks based on importance or relevance. Time sensitive tasks with deadlines should naturally be focused on in accordance to those deadlines. Larger tasks that require more of our attention and energy should be scheduled for when our energy levels are highest.
2.) Put Things Into Perspective
You’ll hear somebody say they procrastinate because “they work better under pressure.” I once wrote a 13 page research paper in college the day it was due, waking up at 4:30 in the morning to begin. The fact that I earned a good grade on the paper only fueled my belief that my procrastination was an effective method for getting things done.
In reality, all I did was cause myself unnecessary stress. Naturally, we feel the need to put more focus on the things that are immediate in our lives. This is why people claim to work better under pressure of imminent deadlines, because it is an immediate or finite finish line.
Being able to put that same pressure on yourself, in a healthy way, well before you need to get something done, is a great way to avoid the stress of procrastination.
3.) Just Start
Have you ever sat down to start a task at your job only to find yourself staring into space like a zombie, wondering how the heck you will ever get done what you need to get done? We’ve all most likely been there. Sometimes we focus on what the finished product needs to look like, not what steps we need to take to achieve it.
Now, that’s not to say that you need to eat the elephant one bite at a time. But having a detailed plan of the tasks you need to get done and taking the first step will help you build momentum. The ole’ “put one foot in front of the other strategy.”
4.) Stop Making Excuses
This one is simple. Stop telling yourself reasons why you can’t get something done and start telling yourself the reasons you absolutely have to get it done. It’s easier said than….done, but creating a sense of urgency for yourself can be effective.
Find out what motivates you and let it drive you. Just don’t let it be the fear of losing your job, as Peter Gibbons famously explains.
5.) Eliminate Distractions
It’s important to have a work space that is free of attention vampires. Yes, attention vampires. Those people, TVs, websites, social media apps, Netflixs and the like that suck our attention away from what we need to focus on. Everyone has different attention vampires. For me, it is TV. So when I work from home I try and completely eliminate it from my surroundings.
For some people, their attention vampire may be what others turn to as a focus aid. I need to have music playing while I am working, but some people may find that distracting. Find what helps you lock in and stick to it.
6.) Be Held Accountable
It’s okay if you have trouble holding yourself accountable, but it’s not okay to not have a solution for it. If you intend on completing a project or a task, have somebody periodically check in on your progress. Inform your superiors or your co-workers of deadline dates and have them hold you to them.
You can even ask somebody at home help you answer to your intended goals.
7.) Healthy Living
This is a bit broader in scope, but leading a healthy lifestyle will certainly help you be more productive. Eating a well balanced diet and making time for exercise and active hobbies are important for giving yourself the energy you need to accomplish your professional goals. Conversely, it’s also important to make sure you are getting enough rest. In fact, 40% of Americans get less than 7 hours of sleep per night.