What's stopping you? How to beat procrastination

Written by Professional Academy Management and Leadership Tutor, Kathryn Knights

What’s stopping you from writing that report that been on your task list for the past three weeks? What’s stopping you from getting to the gym tonight? What’s stopping you from starting your exam revision?

Procrastination: the act of unnecessarily postponing decisions or actions. It’s something we all battle with at some point. There are some things in life that we just seem to struggle to take action with but procrastination is detrimental to people’s ability to successfully pursue their goals. It’s associated with receiving worse grades at school and earning a lower salary at work. It even contributes to increased stress and worse physical and mental health.

What causes us to procrastinate?

We procrastinate because our self-control and motivation are outweighed by negative factors. When we need to get something done, we rely primarily on our self-control in order to get that thing done. Our self-control often receives support from our motivation, which helps us get things done in a timely manner. But sometimes, rather than experiencing those motivating feelings we experience demotivating feelings. When demotivating factors outweigh our self-control and motivation, we end up procrastinating.

Thoughts and feelings that can stop us from moving forwards to reach our goals are:

  • Abstract goals
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Perfectionism
  • Rewards that are too far in the future
  • Fear of failure
  • Anxiety

Dealing with your procrastination

We all have different reasons why we procrastinate. So first of all you need to figure out what’s causing you to procrastinate. Hint: you’ll need to be super honest with yourself.

Then you can formulate a plan and use a tool that will help you overcome your procrastination. Again, we will all have preferred methods for overcoming our procrastination – there is no one size fits all.

Here are ten tools you can try in order to beat your procrastination:

1. Be goal focused

Sometimes are so focused on the moment that we forget the context of that moment. Whatever you’re trying to achieve think about it in the context of a bigger goal. This is especially useful if the goal is a long way off. Try to think about your goal and how you will feel when you have achieved that goal, rather than just thinking about tasks.

2. Chunking

Break tasks down into small chunks. This will make them easier to get started with. The hardest step is always the first so make that initial one as small as possible to reduce the likelihood of you procrastinating.

3. Pomodoro

Spend 25 minutes working on a task before taking a five-minute break. Knowing you only need to spend a short amount of time on something before getting the reward of a break is energising and motivating.

4. Relevance

Is the task on your list something that’s relevant anymore? If not, remove it. Clear out the clutter on your task list and only work on the things that are still important.

5. Positive thinking

Here is something to consider in relation to any ‘work’ you need to get done: ‘The difference between abject drudgery and noble, uplifting work is often no more than perspective. Treat your work as important, and the satisfaction that flows will work towards helping you unwind.’ The Little Book of Calm by Paul Wilson.

6. External accountability

If you keep your goals to yourself, it’s easy think they never existed in the first place. Share them with someone you trust. You’ll be amazed how much more likely you are to take action when you have told someone you are going to do something.

7. Timing

What time of day are you the most productive? If you’re a night owl you’re cheating yourself if you think you’re going to start work on a new and challenging task first thing in the morning. Be clear on your most productive times of the day and set time aside at those times to get to work.

8. Recognition

Rewarding yourself for your accomplishments is important and hugely motivating. Make sure you regularly reward successes.

9. Perfectionism

Don’t let perfection be the enemy of done. Life is full of imperfections. View them as a natural part of life rather than failure.

10. Distractions

Remove anything preventing you from working e.g. phones, emails, alerts and other people. This includes potentially moving yourself to a new location and sitting somewhere where there are fewer or no distractions.

If you need further advice, get in touch via LinkedIn.

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