Procrastination 3 – How Can We Change?

Now that you’ve read a little bit about just why you procrastinate … wait, you DID read that post right?  You didn’t put it off until later, did you?  What do you mean you didn’t think it was important?  How are you going to stop procrastinating of you don’t understand WHY you do it in the first place?   Taking a good hard look at why you don’t start a project until the deadline is looming, or why you put off cleaning those rain gutters is the first step in learning how to change that behaviour.

Below are a few strategies to help you stop procrastinating.  Not every tip will work for every person, so take what you can from this list and see what works for you.

Take an Inventory

Do you hear a little nagging voice in your head telling you that you need to do something?  Can you see a visual in your head about the task you’re avoiding and are you feeling the physical and emotional consequences of what will happen if you don’t complete this task?  Look at the clues that tell you just when and how you’re procrastinating and you’ll be able to see that you are indeed putting something off.  Sometimes it’s difficult to tell when you’re procrastinating because you’re attempting to avoid thinking about it but if you piece together the clues you’ll be able to pinpoint your behaviour in order to get a handle on it.

Learn How You Procrastinate
Do you think if you ignore the job at hand it will eventually go away and not bother you?  I tried that once with a speeding ticket and nearly lost my license due to procrastination.  Trust me when I say that ignoring the problem/job won’t cause it to disappear in a puff of smoke.

Do you over-estimate or under-estimate the degree of difficulty in completing the task?  Do you scoff at the impact not finishing the task will have on your future?  Perhaps you substitute something important for something REALLY important, like putting the dishes away instead of working on that client proposal that’s due in two hours.

Maybe you take a short break, but let that ‘’short’ break turn into an all night event, and therefore put off getting to that task you need to finish.

You might focus on one part of the job to the exclusion of the remaining task and thereby never finish the entire thing.

Once you recognize how you procrastinate, you’ll better be able to put a stop to it.  Often we don’t even realize that we are procrastinating until it’s too late and we’ve missed a deadline.

Make Yourself a Productive Environment
For example, if you work from home, create a home office where there’s no TV to distract you from your work.  If the TV is there, you’ll be tempted to turn it on and then full-blown procrastination occurs.  If you are addicted to the Internet, but need to use your laptop or computer to do your work, then try to go somewhere where you won’t be able to receive a signal and get online.  Removing temptation to do something other than what you NEED to do will help you put a stop to procrastination.

Throw Out Those Procrastination Myths

“I work best under pressure”   That’s the myth that nearly kept me from passing a critical exam.  Once you believe that you can only  work under pressure, you’re giving yourself permission to procrastinate. This can snowball and create serious problems for you if you have several deadlines looming

“I can’t do this unless I have five uninterrupted hours”.   This is simply another stalling technique that master procrastinators use for telling themselves it’s ok to not start the project because they won’t have time to finish it.  Hello?  If you don’t start the task you’ll never finish it.  It’s ok to start something and then stop so you can finish it later.  Sometimes the simple act of beginning a task will break the cycle of procrastination and allow you to finish your job.

I can’t do this unless it’s perfect. The problem that most procrastinators have is that we are too hard on ourselves, demanding perfection where perfection is impossible.  If you think you can’t start your article or blog post until you have THE perfect opening sentence, then you have once again given yourself permission to put it off.

Break Down the Job
You have a job to do and it looks enormous. You could never, ever complete a job that big, so why even start?  If that’s your mindset, then you probably won’t finish the job.  In order to combat this kind of thinking, break the job or task down into small, manageable chunks.  Your kitchen is a disaster, it’s too much for you to handle.  Start on one end and clean off one area.  Voila! You’ve started.  Take baby steps and soon you’ll see that the entire task has been completed.

Change Your Attitude
Often times we don’t begin something we have to do because we tell ourselves how difficult it’s going to be, or how disgusting the job is and how much we’re going to hate doing it.  By giving ourselves reverse-pep talks we give ourselves permission to avoid beginning the task at hand. When you hear yourself doing this, change your attitude.  Be like the Little Engine that Could and tell yourself that you CAN do this, it’s not that difficult or disgusting.  If you tell yourself that you don’t know how to do a particular task, change that around to tell yourself that you can learn as you go.  It’s all a matter of mind over matter.  If you think you can, you can.

Ask Someone for Help
It’s true that you may not be able to do everything on your own.  You’re not Superman, though you do think you’d look pretty cool in those red tights.  It’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help when you know that you can’t do it on your own.  If you don’t understand a project at work, rather than putting it on the back burner (procrastinating), ask someone to clarify it for you.  Once you understand it better, the fear of tackling it will be gone and you can proceed.

If you have a big job to do, then ask a friend or a coach to help you be accountable for working on it.  Let them check up on you every so often to see that you’re making progress and soon you’ll find that the job is completed.  The Buddy System isn’t just for deep sea divers anymore!

Keep What Needs to be Accomplished in Plain Sight
If you put away the project specs where you can’t see them, it’s much easier to not think about what needs to be done.  Leave your work where you can see it, as a visual reminder of what you have to do.  If it’s hidden, it’s forgotten.

Learn How to Tell Time
Yeah, yeah, yeah, you already know how to tell time and you can even do it on a clock without a digital readout.  But did you know that world class procrastinators have unrealistic views of the time it takes to accomplish something?  It’s true. You’ll tell yourself that a certain task will only take three hours to complete, so you really don’t have to start it right this minute.  You can wait till later and then you’ll finish it up in three hours.  What you fail to realize is that other things can happen along the way to distract you and stretch that three hours into six and pretty soon you’ve missed that deadline.  Starting now is a good best option.

Keep Yourself on a Schedule
Take a calendar and write down all the things that you have to do, the blocks of time that are taken up with things already scheduled.  The blank spaces in between those times are the times when you can work on your task.  Make sure you don’t over-schedule your time and under-estimate the time you’ll need finish a project.

Set a Time Limit
Maybe the task at hand is something you really don’t want to do. That happens to all of us and there’s no shame in admitting that you would simply rather not do it.  However, if it’s a job that you must do, here’s a good tip on how to not procrastinate.  Tell yourself that you’re going to work on it for one hour.  Devote that one hour to the project or task and then stop.  Set another time limit the following day, depending upon when the job needs to be accomplished.  Knowing that you don’t have to do something unpleasant ALL right now will go a long way towards helping you avoid not doing it at all.

Make a List
If your mum was anything like mine, then she had a list for everything.  She had a list for the things she was going to accomplish each day, a grocery list for what needed to be purchased and a list of what she’d eaten that day in order to track her caloric intake.  Making a list can also be a useful tool in helping you avoid procrastinating.

Write down a list of what you need to accomplish.  Put it in order of importance, highest to lowest.  Next, start with number one and work your way down the list, checking off items as you go.  Not only will this help you be organized, but crossing off the items you’ve finished will give you a mental boost and help you feel successful.  And who doesn’t like to feel successful?

Conclusion
Basic human nature will always play a role in procrastination.  Pleasurable activities are infinitely more enticing than painful or dull ones.  We seek out what makes us feel good and attempt to avoid the things that annoy or bother us.

Some people procrastinate more than others, just as some people are more chipper in the morning (don’t you hate those people?) than others.  You’re either a night person, or a morning person.  You’re either a procrastinator or you’re not.

Consciously determining why you procrastinate will go a long way in helping you change your behaviour.  Don’t expect to transform your habits over night, but do take small steps in the right direction and you’ll eventually get there. If you reward yourself for your little successes in this area, you just might make non-procrastination more pleasurable than full-blown-avoidance-procrastination.

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