Stop Procrastinating Now!

John Tabita
Tweet

The spreadsheet is 9,287 lines long and it’s laughing at me. I hesitate on line 1 as I prepare to scroll through it, top to bottom, looking for duplicate phone numbers to eliminate. Even though I’ve used an Excel function to highlight the duplicates and make them easier to spot, I know I’m still going to spend the next two or three hours on a mind-numbing search and destroy mission. (Did I mention it’s a balmy 78 degrees outside without a cloud in the sky?) Maybe I’ll just check my email first …

In my past two articles, I’ve written about conquering your “to-do” list and managing projects. Yet all the list-tackling, project-handling advice or software in the world won’t help a bit if you can’t even get started. I’m sure there are many reasons why we procrastinate, but “someone-please-take-a-gun-to-my-head-and-put-me-out-of-my-misery” type of boring tops my list. Here are some others. Feel free to check all that apply.

  • I’m not good at the task and I know it will be an exercise in frustration (home repairs come to mind).
  • I’d rather fail from lack of trying than have others see me fail and think I’m incompetent.
  • I’ll avoiding making a decision because it absolves me of responsibility for the outcome.
  • I know I can’t do it perfectly, so I avoid doing it at all.
  • I’m passive-aggressive and it’s my way of pissing you off.

Then there’s “re-crastinating” (yeah, I just made that one up), where you procrastinate even more as a result of someone else’s anger or displeasure at the procrastinating you did in the first place:

  • I’m already behind schedule, so I procrastinate further to avoid dealing with the stress (which, of course, produces more stress, so I procrastinate more to keep avoiding it …).
  • Someone’s mad at me because it’s not done, so rather than springing into action, I become paralyzed with fear.
  • There’s no longer a reward or payoff for getting it done. Completing the task won’t even make the other person happy—just relieved. Instead of  “Thanks, good job,” the highest praise I’ll ever hear is, “Thank God. It’s about time.”

Regardless of why we procrastinate, the end result is always the same—a broken commitment. With so much at stake in our jobs and our relationships, it ought to be something we strive to overcome. If you’re someone who has never struggled with procrastination, let me suggest a different article of mine to read instead … or perhaps a career as a personal life coach. But if you do struggle, here are a few tips from a still-trying-to-recover, self-professed procrastinator.

Clean Off Your Desk

It’s amazing what a clean desk can do for your frame of mind. If you’re already stressed because you’ve been procrastinating, then sitting down at a desk overflowing with clutter certainly won’t make you feel any better.

Notice I said, “clean off your desk,” not “clean your desk.” That’s because, if your desk looks anything like mine, cleaning it is a project in itself. You need to get some work done ASAP, and the last thing you need is to start cleaning your desk as an excuse to procrastinate even more. I suggest you temporarily remove the clutter from your workspace, even if it means shoving it into a desk drawer or cardboard box (or cargo container) for the time being. Just be sure “clean desk” makes it to your to-do list.

Commit to 25 Minutes

You can do anything for 25 minutes. Sometimes the first step is simply getting started. If the task is so frustrating, overwhelming, or boring that even 25 minutes is more than you can take, then start with 15 minutes, or 5 minutes. Just start, already!

Use a Timer

Regardless of which time block you choose, use a timer to keep on task. Don’t rush—the idea is to work at a normal but focused pace. I start off with a 25 minute time block and take a short break after each.

The first time I tried this, I found myself rushing to get done before the timer sounded. If you find yourself doing the same, take a breath and slow down. The objective is not beat the clock but to defeat the temptation to jump to something else when the task gets tedious. The timer should be something in the back of your mind, keeping you on task, but it also reminds you there’s a 5 or 10 minute break just around the corner …

Start Today, not Tomorrow …

Have a project you loathe hanging over your head? A few unpaid bills that need attention? A hundred images to resize for that client’s photo gallery? Try these three things right now to jump start yourself and get out of procrastination mode.

Image credit

Free book: Jump Start HTML5 Basics

Grab a free copy of one our latest ebooks! Packed with hints and tips on HTML5's most powerful new features.

  • Tom Bradly

    I’ll read this later.

    • Anonymous

      LOL!

  • Corinna Rake

    Once again, you’ve described my day to a ‘T’! I’m definitely going to try these things, tomorrow… :-) I actually did one last week – cleared my desk – onto the floor and now I have to walk around the mess of papers every time I try to sit down…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000320598799 Evangelos Evangelou

    I use to procrastinate, but I guess I don’t have much time for that nowadays.

    The problem is, if you’re a freelancing or self-employed then procrastinating becomes a serious issue as you’re in charge, and the project solely lies on your hands. Nobody is going to boost your confidence. All stakes hang on you. I would imagine in most cases clients almost nearly get frustrated with us. I think I’ve sensed it a couple of times.

  • http://www.itmitica.com/en IT Mitică

    Good advice.

    Common sense often works if I have the right mind set.

  • http://twitter.com/vekta Robert Bremner

    Great advice! It’s so easy to get in this situation as a freelancer. I group all similar tasks and set aside time to do these each day or week so they don’t stress me out. Cleaning my desk at the end of every day for 5 minutes really helps.

  • http://twitter.com/malleckdesign Malleck Design Co.

    Very timely article! I’m currently procrastinating on some things while reading this. Love the 25min commitment strategy.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_M7WG32ITI532T2M5TRK522NPCQ Ruben Dorsey

    ……….I just got a $829.99 iPad2 for only $103.37 and my mom got a $1499.99 HDTV for only $251.92, they are both coming with USPS tomorrow. I would be an idiot to ever pay full retail prices at places like Walmart or Bestbuy. I sold a 37″ HDTV to my boss for $600 that I only paid $78.24 for. I use (Bidsget) . (com)

  • http://twitter.com/intercommSA InterComm SAfrica

    I procrastinate by “clearing my desk”. Getting small, not urgent maintenance jobs out the way – so that I can start “fresh” on a new design, or implementing an approved design. I answer email, make phone calls, anything to not start. But oddly, that is the part of my work I enjoy most – but only once I’ve started.

    I am adding this comment at 06h35 in the morning, because I couldn’t lie in bed any longer because there was so much to be done. I’ll start that design now – I promise. I just need a fresh cup of tea :-)

  • http://twitter.com/georgedude George Doubinski

    John, shame on you for blunt copying of Pomodoro technique without attribution…

    • http://www.sitepoint.com/author/john-tabita/ John Tabita

      I honestly meant to, but I kept procrastinating…

  • http://www.sitepoint.com/author/john-tabita/ John Tabita

    I’m glad you both mentioned it, because I intended to link to it, but I forgot to do so.

    The first 2 points, working in 25 minute blocks and using a timer, are both advocated in Pomodoro (although Pomodoro doesn’t have the monopoly on the timer concept). I found the Pomodoro technique a bit overwhelming in its entirety, however.