If you’ve found yourself putting off important tasks over and over again, you’re not alone. In fact, many people procrastinate to some degree—but some are so chronically affected by procrastination that it stops them fulfilling their potential and disrupts their careers.
The key to controlling this destructive habit is to recognise when you start procrastinating, understand why it happens (even to the best of us), and take active steps to manage your time and outcomes better. The following steps will help you overcome and control procrastination:
Step 1: Recognise that you’re procrastinating
If you’re honest with yourself, you probably know when you’re procrastinating. Putting off an important task for a short period because you’re feeling particularly tired isn’t necessarily procrastination either, so long as you don’t delay starting the task for more than a day or so, and this is only an occasional event. If you have a genuine good reason for rescheduling something important, then you’re not necessarily procrastinating. But if you’re simply “making an excuse” because you really just don’t want to do it, then you are.
Step 2: Work out why you’re procrastinating
Why you procrastinate can depend on both you and the task. But it’s important to understand which of the two is relevant in a given situation, so that you can select the best approach for overcoming your reluctance to get going. One reason for procrastination is that people find a particular job unpleasant, and try to avoid it because of that. Most jobs have unpleasant or boring aspects to them, and often the best way of dealing with these is to get them over and done with quickly, so that you can focus on the more enjoyable aspects of the job.
Another cause is that people are disorganised. Organised people manage to fend off the temptation to procrastinate, because they will have things like prioritised to-do lists and schedules which emphasise how important the piece of work is, and identify precisely when it’s due. They’ll also have planned how long a task will take to do, and will have worked back from that point to identify when they need to get started in order to avoid it being late. Organised people are also better placed to avoid procrastination, because they know how to break the work down into manageable “next steps.”
Even if you’re organised, you can feel overwhelmed by the task. You may doubt that you have the skills or resources you think you need, so you seek comfort in doing tasks you know you’re capable of completing. Unfortunately, the big task isn’t going to go away—truly important tasks rarely do. You may also fear success as much as failure. For example, you may think that success will lead to you being swamped with more requests to do this type of task, or that you’ll be pushed to take on things that you feel are beyond you. One final major cause of procrastination is having underdeveloped decision-making skills. If you simply can’t decide what to do, you’re likely to put off taking action in case you do the wrong thing.
Step 3: Adopt anti-procrastination strategies
Procrastination is a habit—a deeply ingrained pattern of behaviour. That means that you won’t just break it overnight. Habits only stop being habits when you have persistently stopped practising them, so use as many approaches as possible to maximise your chances of beating procrastination. Some tips will work better for some people than for others, and for some tasks than others. And, sometimes, you may simply need to try a fresh approach to beat the “procrastination peril!” Remember:
The longer you can spend without procrastinating, the greater your chances of breaking this destructive habit for good!
Published: Sunday Guardian – Sunday December 2, 2012