While all of us procrastinate at various points throughout our lives, some people are more prone to putting off tasks and activities than others. Chronic procrastinators are notorious for leaving things to the very last minute, resulting in feelings of intense panic and anxiety as they scramble to meet important deadlines. But no matter how many times they vow they will never (ever!) slack off again, they seem to be stuck in a vicious cycle they simply cannot get themselves out of.
The good news is that it IS possible to learn how to stop procrastinating, and we’re sharing 8 tips below to help you get started.
What Causes Procrastination?
Before we get into the various tips and strategies that can help you learn how to stop procrastinating, it’s important to take some time to consider why you procrastinate in the first place. Knowing your specific struggles and self-limiting beliefs can be extremely helpful in breaking bad habits and forming new ones.
Perfectionists have a habit of setting unrealistic standards for themselves, and often engage in procrastination and/or avoidance due to fear of failure. Perfectionism can lead to several other challenges, so it’s important to nip this way of thinking in the bud.
Fear is another cause of procrastination. Whether you have an impossible-to-please parent or boss, or you suffer from full-blown Imposter Syndrome and worry others will discover you’re a fake and a fraud (spoiler alert: you aren’t), you probably put off tasks as a form of self-preservation.
3. Lack of motivation
While procrastination can be chronic in some people, others may only experience specific periods of time during which they find themselves putting off tasks for know obvious reason. Fatigue, stress, illness, and feelings of distraction can all cause your motivation to go out the window.
4. Lack of direction and/or confidence
If you find yourself facing a task or activity you perceive to be difficult and/or that is outside your area of expertise, don’t be surprised if you find yourself engaging in avoidance behaviour. While some people welcome challenges and prefer to tackle them immediately, others are hard-wired to do the exact opposite!
5. Easily distracted
While it may sound like an excuse to you, some people really are distracted more easily than others, causing them to procrastinate and put things off. Whether it’s due to a general lack of interest in a particular task or activity, or the result of a more challenging condition like ADHD, we all have different thresholds when it comes to focusing and concentrating on tasks for long periods of time.
6. Too much/too little time pressure
Some people not only work well under pressure, but need to feel a sense of urgency in order to focus, whereas others completely shut down when tight timelines are enforced on them. Figuring out where you fall on this spectrum can be helpful in allowing you to keep the pressure as comfortable as possible so you can get the job done.
How to Stop Procrastinating
1. Ditch perfectionism
While there’s nothing wrong with striving to be your best self in every single thing you do, the need to be PERFECT can lead to excessive worry and anxiety. As I mentioned earlier, perfectionists have a habit of setting unrealistic standards for themselves, and often engage in procrastination and/or avoidance due to fear of failure. Someone who strives for perfection will never feel as though they measure up, which can cause a whole host of challenges, including depression, anxiety disorders, and low self-esteem.
If this sounds like you and your goal is to figure out how to stop procrastinating, remember that perfectionism is a form of self-hatred. Create more realistic goals for yourself and aim for progress over perfection.
2. Manage your energy effectively
While most of us are good at managing our TIME effectively, very few of us manage our ENERGY effectively. Once you pinpoint when you are at your most productive – for me, it’s first thing in the morning after I drop my daughter off at school – you must organize your schedule such that you can take advantage of that time to tackle your most important tasks. When done correctly, you will be amazed at how much extra time you will have at the end of the day to engage in the things you enjoy.
3. Set short and long term goals
Lack of direction can often cause people to procrastinate, particularly when it comes to long-term goals that take more dedication and discipline to achieve. These types of goals can be particularly challenging to those who thrive under pressure as the lack of urgency causes them to lose interest. If this sounds like you and you’re trying to figure out how to stop procrastinating, a great tip to try is to create smaller goals to help you reach a big over-arching dream, and to assign time limits to each.
For example, if your big dream is to run a full marathon but you’ve never run a day in your life, a great first goal would be to to sign up for a 5K race and complete a Couch to 5K training program to prepare you. Next, you’d sign-up for a 10K, then a half marathon, and finally a full marathon, and you’d complete all of the necessary training plans along the way to meet each goal. Breaking your big dream into smaller, more manageable goals not only keeps you accountable, but it also keeps you engaged and motivated.
4. Break tasks down
If you have a tendency to put off tasks that feel too difficult or overwhelming, it can be extremely helpful to break them down into smaller, more manageable chunks and then tackle them one at a time. Of course, this sounds great in theory, but when we’re faced with something ambiguous or outside of our immediate area of expertise, it can be quite difficult to do, causing us to procrastinate more. Don’t be afraid to enlist the help of others!
5. Work in batches
‘Batching’ involves grouping relevant tasks together and tackling them in one go, rather than splitting them up over the course of a few days, and it’s another one of my favorite tips for those who are chronic procrastinators! Many people already work in batches in their working life, but what few people realize is how effective it can be in our personal lives as well. Set aside an evening each week to take care of mindless tasks – cleaning, laundry, organizing doctor’s appointments, grocery shopping – so you aren’t constantly feeling pulled in a million different directions and borrowing time needed for more important tasks several times throughout the week.
6. Give yourself a deadline (or don’t)
If you’re more productive when working under pressure, set deadlines for important tasks to keep yourself accountable and moving forward. But if you have a tendency to crumble under pressure (like me!), it’s important to be cognizant of this and to communicate your working style to your coworkers and boss to ensure they respect your need for extra time.
7. Invest in the tools you need
If you’re trying to figure out how to stop procrastinating, an often overlooked but important tip to consider is whether you have the right tools and equipment needed for the task(s) at hand. A slow computer, spotty wifi connection, and noisy workspace can all have negative impacts on your productivity and cause you to become easily distracted, and if you have to drive to Office Depot every time you need to print or scan something, it can lead to some serious avoidance behaviors. Make a list of all of the tools that would improve your performance, and invest where you can.
8. Never touch anything twice
I read a productivity hack last year called the ‘Touch It Once’ technique, and it completely changed my life. The idea is that once you ‘touch’ a task, you deal with it then and there so it’s taken off your plate, rather than ‘touching’ it multiple times and allowing it to take up extra energy and mental space. Of course, you can’t always complete a task through to completion the moment you ‘touch’ it, in which case you should make a firm decision on next steps and act on them to keep things moving forward.
If you’re trying to figure out how to stop procrastinating, this is a great tip to try as it will make you realize just how many times you look at and ruminate over the same things without actually taking action. You’ll knock things off your never-ending list of things to do much faster, which will make you feel more accomplished and (hopefully) less likely to procrastinate.
If you’re trying to figure out how to stop procrastinating, I hope these tips and ideas prove useful to you! Remember to identify the reasons why you procrastinate in the first place so you can understand your specific challenges and self-limiting beliefs to help you break bad habits and create new ones.