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How to Beat Procrastination Once and For All

By Alyssa Gregory

hourglassProcrastination gets the best of all of us, even if it’s infrequently. Sometimes, there are simply things we don’t want to do, have built unrealistic expectations around, or overwhelm us to the point of immobility. And when it hits, procrastination can develop into a cycle that preys on emotional insecurities and lack of motivation.

If you’re able to anticipate procrastination, its possible to use it to your advantage and increase your productivity by applying strategies like structured procrastination. But while procrastination isn’t always negative and can actually help us get more done, its undeniable that some of us manage it better than others.

Not only can unconstructive procrastination diminish your ability to meet deadlines and fulfill responsibilities, but it can also create stress, reduce confidence and cause disappointment. If you’re one who has an adversarial relationship with procrastination, here are some ways you can battle and conquer it for good.

Use Time to Your Advantage

Time and procrastination go hand-in-hand, and there are ways to manipulate time to your advantage when it comes to succumbing to procrastination. If you find that you’re procrastinating on minor everyday activities (like getting up on time and being punctual for meetings), try setting your clock 10 minutes ahead.

When it comes to work, you can get time on your side by building extra time into deadlines. Allowing yourself a little flexibility by padding your scheduled time can reduce stress and make it easier to meet deadlines. You can also reduce the time pressure of your work by overestimating time needed to complete a project and creating a more relaxed work environment.

Make It Urgent

When it comes to getting things done, some of us need a sense of urgency in order to avoid procrastination. If you prioritize your to-do’s, your most important tasks should remain in your view until they are completed. And when you assign a specific timeline to your top priorities, the urgency you create can push you to completion.

Focus on the Challenge

Do you thrive on a challenge? If so, focusing on the difficulty of the task and making it a competition with yourself can encourage your success. In many ways, fear can play a role in this situation as well. Consider the consequences of not completing the task on time…sometimes the fear of failure or of letting someone down can help you avoid procrastination.

Plan a Reward

Think about what completion of the dreaded task will look and feel like, including the sense of relief and accomplishment you expect to experience. If you make a promise to yourself that you will enjoy some type of reward once your to-do is complete, you can increase your focus and desire to get it done.

Take a Break

It may seem counterproductive, but one way to beat procrastination is by walking away. Taking a short break from the pressure to complete something can be enough to restore your perspective and motivate you to get it done. If you find that you frequently need this downtime in order to be productive, you can schedule it into your daily activities to help you throughout the day.

What do you do to beat procrastination when it starts to hurt your productivity?

Image credit: gsilva

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  • Ryvon Designs

    Great Post! And perfect timing with the holiday crunch upon us. One other thing I’ve found works great, is breaking each large job into small tasks. It doesn’t seem so overwhelming then, and I find I just plug along happily until the whole list is covered with crossed-out squiggles. Plus, I can get to my rewards or breaks so much quicker that I don’t mind starting the next item, and then the next.

    So many good pointers :)

    Pam – Ryvon Designs

  • http://brianswebdesign.com skunkbad

    I think I might read this tomorrow :P

  • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

    Great post Alyssa. I’ll add some comments tomorrow…

  • Gerep

    I agree to Ryvon, making a list is much better and if we work with small tasks the job seems to flow.

    Sorry for any typos =)

  • http://www.davidclick.com Zygoma

    I think in the game of web design / eCommerce you can find your self working alone without the traditional line manager pilling the pressure on. I have found in my current role you really have to be your own boss which means setting your tasks to reach goals. But yes you do have to put a time limit on tasks else you feel your free floating which can feel de- motivating.

    I think alot of project management books focus on the gannt charts etc but dont talk about the psychology of keeping task motivated.

    Its good to open a discussion on how we all need to keep the gas on the pedal and how we kind of have to find ways to do that ourselves.

  • incitegraphics

    I actually had to register an account just so that I could leave a comment (which I rarely do). Your article was very inspiring. It applies to both work projects and my “honey do lists.” I always feel that there is never enough time in the day to complete a project. I get home from work (my day job), work on a more websites (my side job) and then still have house work to get done. I guess I’ll suck it up and go clean up the garage now! I’ve been saying that for about 3 months now. Wish me luck!

  • Andy Cairns

    This is a nice article. I’ve struggled with procrastination for most of my adult life. I’m hoping that 2010 will be the year for getting things done and I’m trying out a few tricks.

    One of these tricks that pretty much combines all the points in your article is The Pomodoro Technique. This basically involves, setting a timer for 25 minutes and racing the clock to get your task completed. This is then rewarded with a 5 minute break before moving on the next task.

    I’m also keeping a log of all my tasks and whether or not I was successful at keeping procrastination at bay. I’m hoping that the data gathered after a few weeks (and a few hundred tasks) will give me a better idea of why I procrastinate so that I might have a chance of stopping it before it starts.

    -Andy andycairns.com

  • alankay

    Alyssa,

    This is a really refreshing post.

    Here’s my 2 cents to each of your 5 excellently made points.

    1. Use time to your advantage
    Setting a clock 10 minutes ahead is great, but personally I just forget about that after a while.

    I love using timers. I use a kitchen timer. I may set it to 30 minutes or even 5 minutes and work on 1 task for that set amount of time. I find this helps make me pressurized and forces me to race against the clock so I am using my time efficiently.

    I also think using a timer is good because if you think about it, when we are working we are just like athletes. Athletes train. They rest. And they sprint.

    When we work shouldn’t we always be sprinting against the clock?

    That’s what a timer does doe me. It allows me to sprint against the clock so I can things done and get work out of the way so I can do what I really want to do which is have FUN. Play golf, go for a walk, workout, watch great movies etc …

    2. Make it urgent
    Prioritizing, right.

    But what I find works to really make me get my ass in get is to PRETEND important but not urgent tasks are URGENT.

    If you need a new logo but it doesn’t need to be done for a week pretend it is needed this morning.

    The result will be that your first reaction will be to get the logo done fast.

    And really all work is urgent because when your work is done, you can be free to do what you really want to do in life … have fun doing what you want not what you “have” to do …

    3. Focus on the challenge
    Sure thinking about the consequences can work because the think that motivates us the most is PAIN and not gain which so many people get wrong.

    But what I find works even better is to put yourself in a position where you really can’t fail to get something done. You can do this by making a pubic commitment.

    So you could phone up a friend or even better someone who you have a difficult relationship with and often shows a lack of believe in your abilities and say “I am going to get this project done by X time”.

    By doing this the option of not getting to work and completing your work stinks. Who the heck wants to make a public commitment to people then fail?

    You could even take this further by making a wager with a friend if they don’t believe you will get such and such done and you do.

    4. Plan a reward
    Think of one. Increase desire and focus to get work done.

    Yes Yes yes. Why are we working in the first place?

    Yes some people love work and well it’s great to love work. But we should all love things that are NOT work.

    So I just wanted to add some examples here. If you LOVE chocolate then get an unopened bar of the finest chocolate you can buy and put it right next to your monitor at work. Or if you really want to go to the Beach tomorrow, put a picture of your local beach next to your monitor and use that to fuel you to get your work done from start to finish … and spend tomorrow on that beach!

    5. Take a break
    Right, simply walking away is golden.

    But as well as taking a break what I find works really well is to think about resetting your brain.

    The best way I have found is to something like washing the dishes.

    It takes you away from your working environment and then somewhere else. And getting dishes done has a certain satisfaction to it …

    You could also consider taking a walk. It doesn’t have to be an expedition. Simply a 10 minute stroll can help refresh and vitally reset your brain.

    Best regards,

    Alan Kay » Bye! Bye! Procrastination

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