We all do it. We put off that dreaded task for two minutes, then for thirty minutes, then for another hour, until it doesn’t get done at all. And the bad thing is we still weren’t able to enjoy our day. We spend so much time stressing over that impending task that it deprives us from actually being able to focus on other tasks.
We get so caught up in the cycle of procrastination that we almost forget how to effectively tackle hard tasks.
Here are nine tips for handling procrastination and taking back control over your daily life.
- Get motivated.
There’s lots of advice on how to get motivated; whatever it takes you to be motivated, do that thing. Here’s one idea: play the best case/worst case game. What’s the best possible outcome of whatever it is you’re “not” working on? Visualize it. Daydream about it. Ok, put that aside for a minute. Now, what’s the worst possible outcome? Don’t be afraid spill it. You finish your project and—what? Now ask yourself how likely is that? Really? Be honest here — chances are you haven’t undertaken something that you’re wholly unsuited for. OK, that’s better. Now, ask yourself if the best-case scenario makes the worst-case worth the risk? I’ll bet it does
Note: if there’ a chance that successfully completing your project might well kill you, please, try un-motivating yourself.
- Tackle the most difficult task first
You’re probably thinking “ I already knew that.” But you may not have realized that there’s scientific backing for this suggestion. We only have a limited supply of willpower. Once it’s been used up for the day, chances of us tackling hard tasks are pretty slim. Dive into your hardest task when your energy level is at its highest. This will ensure the best results.
When we push the hard tasks to the end of the day, it takes a toll on our energy all day long. In the end, stressing for hours over the task we’re procrastinating negatively affects all the other tasks on our list.
So next time you’re scheduling the items on your list, make sure to start out with worst one. It may not necessarily be the largest, but it should be the one you’re dreading the most. By accomplishing it so early in the day, you will feel energized and productive. You’ll know the rest of the day is all downhill and cruise through the list with remarkable speed.
- Make lists.
Lists are good — they’re fun to make, and even funner to throw out when you’re done. And they help us deal with at least two of the three factors that cause procrastination risk-aversion and rewards. Here’s how:
- Making a list feels like you’re doing something. Bing! You’ve got your reward.
- Crossing something done off your list feels ood. Bing! Another reward.
- Making a list reduces the risk that you’ll forget to do something — and therefore that you’ll screw up and fail. Bing! Your brain likes that, a lot.
You can’t make just any list, though. lists should be concrete, granular, doable — the first item on your list should be something you can glance at and immediately do. Don’t know how? Then it shouldn’t be the first thing on your list; figuring out how to do it should be the first thing on your list. Or, rather, “Use Google to find out how to do x” or “Go to library to get books on x” or “Take class on x” should be first on your list.
Then the next thing on your list should be something you can glance at and immediately do, and the third thing, and the fourth. If you can’t start doing something within two minutes of reading it on your list, it’s not concrete enough.
- Remind yourself of how terrible you feel when you procrastinate.
You know those panicked moments when you’re half-convinced this will be the time you don’t pull off a last-minute assignment like a pro? And then you envision your entire future, marked forever by this moment when you totally dropped the ball? Write all of those feelings down on a notepad, stash it somewhere easily accessible, and glance at it next time you’re considering ignoring assignments.
- Do it for three minutes.
Aside from, say, breathing poison gas or watching reality television, you can do anything for just three minutes, right? Get a kitchen timer (I don’t actually advocate stealing from your grandmother, but you do what it takes), set it for three minutes, and work. Since you aren’t likely to be procrastinating something you could do in less than three minutes, you have no reason to fear the successful completion of your project. And you can promise yourself whatever you want when the timer goes off — a cup of coffee, a game of Minesweep, a half hour of porn surfing, whatever. BIng! You get your reward — and guess what? Having gotten three minutes of work done will feel pretty good, too. Bing bing!
- Accept that you just have to do it.
In addition to fear, there’s a less profound reason behind procrastination: sometimes you just don’t feel like doing stuff. But part of being an adult is ponying up and making it happen anyway. There are also awesome parts of being a grownup, like sex and getting to eat breakfast for dinner. You have to take the good with the bad. Make peace with that so it’s way less likely a deadline will ever sneak up on you again.
- Confront the fact that you probably don’t work better under pressure.
OK, so some people actually do, like ER surgeons, lawyers, and Captain America. If you are any of those, I salute you, keep up the good work. But if you silence nagging feelings about procrastination by telling yourself you work better under pressure, chances are you’re wrong. That “thrill” you get when sprinting to the finish might actually be a crippling fear of disappointing others—and yourself—by underperforming. That’s exactly what’s likely to happen if you have to rush through a project because you waited.
- Stop believing you can multitask effectively.
Multitasking is a lie that makes you feel OK about juggling things that may deserve your full concentration. Unless you’re a rare case, your brain likely does not appreciate trying to split its efforts and acts out its displeasure by slacking in ways you might not realize. Instead of attempting to do a bunch of things at once, which can lead to distractions or slow you down, try purposefully switching between tasks. Devote your attention to one thing at a time, power through it, and move on.
- Divide the task into smaller tasks
We tend to get overwhelmed when a giant project looms ahead of us. We don’t know where to start or what to do first. Keep in mind that forests are made up of individual trees. Though you may not be able to take down a whole forest at once, you could certainly start with one tree (or even a branch).
If you need to organize your entire kitchen, start by working on just one cupboard. Organizing one cupboard is much more feasible than trying to get everything done in one swoop. Make a commitment to complete a small step each day, and you’ll find the task becoming less and less daunting with each new task that you accomplish.
Though it feels impossible, you have it in you to accomplish everything that you need to every single day. With a fresh perspective, a little prodding, and a detailed plan, you’ll be well on your way to ending the procrastination cycle once and for all.
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