Prefer to listen rather than read? Press play below.
#1 – Making the decision to overcome procrastination
One of the most important elements to beat procrastination is making a rational choice.
Identifying your procrastination problem is the first step. Once you have admitted that procrastination is a problem for you, the next step is to create a goal. Your goal should be specific, attainable, and meaningful enough for you to make progress. Don’t tell yourself you’ll never procrastinate again. That’s not realistic, nor is it specific (since you don’t have a plan to not do it). Start smaller. Choose one specific thing you won’t procrastinate on.
Next, identify the triggers. The triggers of your procrastination can be emotions. If you're afraid of giving a presentation, you might be experiencing anxiety, resentment, or boredom. By identifying and addressing these feelings, you can overcome procrastination and avoid other negative consequences. Understanding your triggers will help you combat them so you don’t procrastinate. Develop some coping mechanisms for your negative feelings.
A logical way to beat procrastination is to visualize the end result. The goal of visualizing the end result is to motivate yourself. Try to envision a future self in which you've already achieved everything you want to do. This way, you'll be more likely to do it. If you can see the success, you’re more likely to take the steps needed to achieve it.
#2 – Break large tasks into small, actionable steps
Big projects are overwhelming. If you don’t have a place to start, it looks like one giant thing. But it rarely is. To avoid procrastination, break large tasks into smaller, manageable components. Breaking a task into multiple mini-tasks will make it more manageable and motivate you to finish it.
This strategy will help you achieve your goals one step at a time, instead of spending endless time on the largest task possible. To make this method more effective, you should set a deadline for the entire task, and break each mini-task into smaller components. For each small step, estimate how long it will take, and set a deadline for those. It will help keep you on track.
Breaking large tasks into small, manageable pieces makes them less daunting. By dividing large tasks into smaller, actionable components, you can begin the work with less anxiety and a sense of accomplishment. The more actionable pieces you complete, the more motivated you will become to complete the rest of the project. If you're struggling with procrastination, this strategy may be your best bet.
When faced with large tasks, it can be easy to get overwhelmed and forget to complete them. However, even if the large task is overwhelming, a small step isn’t. You can convince yourself to do a job that will take only 5 or 10 minutes. Once that is done, you will feel a sense of accomplishment. It’s not the whole project, but it’s a start. All of those little pieces will begin to add up. Simply by breaking projects into smaller manageable steps, you can finish it in less time than you think. If you're like most people, this method will help you to get things done. It’s an effective way to stop procrastination.
One side note: Often, the work you put off is laborious and repetitive, and putting off completion until a later date only increases your stress levels and reduces your energy level. If possible, try to remove as much of this type of work as you can. Delegate it to someone, hire someone, or find software or a program to do it. Handing off some of these tasks will reduce your stress and overwhelm and allow you to focus on more productive things.
#3 – Taking control of your mood
Taking control of your mood is a key component to beat procrastination. Once you understand what triggers procrastination, you can use different strategies to get yourself in the right mindset to tackle the job.
One of the most common causes of procrastination is a lack of motivation. When you're unable to get motivated, you put yourself in a vicious cycle that only makes things worse. First, you put off the task you're supposed to do, then you feel bad that it’s not done. But the guilt causes you to procrastinate more because how will you ever catch up? Which, of course, leads to more guilt and more procrastination, and then the panic sets in, triggering a ton more stress.
If you lack motivation, there are strategies you can use. One is breaking the task down into smaller steps, as mentioned above. Even if it’s something you hate to do, you can convince yourself to do it for 5-10 minutes. It’s a short enough period of time that knowing it’s okay to quit makes it doable. But often, once you start, and see the progress, it’s not so hard to keep going.
Having an arsenal of motivation strategies is something you need to build over time. It would be wonderful if we could just do the thing, but for some, motivation is a key factor.
If an emotion is triggering your procrastination (other than lack of motivation, boredom, etc.), you need to recognize what it is. When we recognize the emotions that cause us to procrastinate, we can take action to overcome them.
Tracking your moods and emotions might be a way to figure out what it triggering the procrastination. If you’re hungry, lonely, tired, or sad, focusing on a task you don’t like will be even harder. Deal with the emotion so you can get back on track.
#4 – Accepting that perfection isn't possible
Perfectionism is something that I see in many of my clients and it can cause serious paralysis in their ability to get things done. The fear of judgment is a common source of procrastination. It causes stress because you're unable to do something perfectly.
As a result, you freeze up because you’re behind in getting things done and you won’t finish on time. The shame associated with procrastination reinforces the vicious cycle. You freak out over worrying about not getting it right. Then you realize you wasted a bunch of time. Then you beat yourself up for wasting that time. Then the panic sets in because there’s no way to get it right now…And round and round you go.
The good news is that overcoming perfectionism is possible and easier than you might think (or maybe not easy, but still possible with practice).
Perfectionism is often the result of imposter syndrome, which causes feelings of self-doubt and fear of failure. Procrastination is the result of these feelings and results in wasted mental energy and time. But you can overcome these feelings and make positive changes in your life.
Perfectionism can lead to paralysis if you allow it to. People who are perfectionists often avoid taking risks, which inhibits creativity and innovation. Despite these behaviors, many successful people are perfectionist-procrastinators.
By accepting that perfection isn't possible, you can embrace the joy and satisfaction of doing something you love. You can even learn to enjoy life without perfectionism. While you might know logically that no one is perfect, you need to practice believing it. You need to allow yourself to fail in small, low-stakes ways, just to prove to yourself that it’s not a big deal.
Procrastination is often a result of a failure to reach an ideal level of quality. You have an image in your head of how something is supposed to be or to look. For example, let’s say you’re taking an art class and you have to draw a person. In your head, you have a vision of what that drawing should look like, but no matter what you do, your paper never quite matches what’s in your head.
You convince yourself that because it doesn’t match, it’s bad. But that’s not necessarily true. What you come up with might even be better than what you imagine if you give yourself the chance. But perfectionists rarely do.
To beat perfectionism (and therefore the procrastination it causes), you need to practice failing. This is the hard part. No one likes to fail. But if you embrace that from failure comes experience and knowledge worth having, it gets easier. Start small. Choose something that you don’t really care about. Go sing karaoke in a bar if you’re a bad singer. Go bowling and throw some gutter balls.
If you’re stuck for inspiration for how to fail and accept it, watch some small kids. Unless someone has already taught them to seek perfection, most kids will try something different ways until they get it right. They will screw up repeatedly and keep going.
Let yourself screw up. Remember that ultimately done is better than perfect. If you don’t do a project in school, you get a zero. If you turn it in and only get a 70% (which might sound horrific if you’re a straight-A student), keep in mind that a 70 is better than a 0.
#5 – Organizing your desk or space
This is a relatively small thing, but can often have a big impact. Organizing your desk to beat procrastination is an easy way to boost your productivity. Most people tend to accumulate too much clutter on their desks, and they feel like it is a hindrance to their ability to concentrate. By cleaning up your workspace, you can feel better about yourself and concentrate better.
However, don’t use it as an excuse to put off work. I like to call this procrasti-cleaning. You’re not procrastinating because you’re doing something productive: cleaning (lie!). While cleaning can be productive, you’re using it as a method of procrastination so you won’t feel guilty about it.
Organize your desk when you have time, and come up with a plan to keep it organized. Maybe put the organization in your weekly or monthly routine and schedule it in your planner.
The organization method is what works for you. You just need to be able to find the things you need and use. It doesn’t matter if your method makes sense to anyone else. That means that if you need piles of things on your desk, go for it, as long as you know what’s in those piles.
For many people with ADHD, putting things “away” means they get forgotten about. In order to know what’s there, you need to be able to see it. The important thing is that you can see these things in a way that is not distracting or overwhelming.
Breaking the cycle of procrastination and guilt is hard to do, but it is possible. It’s a process and it won’t happen overnight—especially if you’ve been procrastinating for most of your life. This is a habit that needs to change. Just like it takes time to build a habit, it will take time to change it. Don’t give up just because it’s hard or because you don’t have immediate success. Trust the process.
What small change can you make this week to break the procrastination cycle?