You, me, and everyone you know procrastinates on something at least some of the time. Yet, for some reason, we tend to believe people who procrastinate are lazy, bad at time management, unambitious, or some other negative character flaw.
Fortunately, none of those things are true — at least not according to behavioral psychology! Because when you look at the science, you’ll see that procrastination is really just a symptom of how you’re thinking about the tasks you’re avoiding.
That’s why, to be effective, learning how to stop procrastination must start with figuring out the root of why we procrastinate. So, before we dive into my 10 tips to stop procrastination, let’s find out the real reason you and so many others can’t stop procrastinating!
Why Do We Procrastinate?
In a recent study, researchers found that undergraduate students were more likely to procrastinate if they had irrational beliefs that led to negative emotions. For example, if students tied their self-worth to doing well in a class or on an assignment, they were more likely to procrastinate.
Similarly, researchers have also found that we procrastinate because we value feeling good now even if that means we suffer in the future. In other words, we procrastinate by putting off a boring or complicated task because working on it doesn’t feel good in the moment.
You know what that means? Procrastination has nothing to do with laziness or lack of ambition! It’s a way to feel good by avoiding difficult emotions like frustration, confusion, overwhelm, boredom, and self-doubt.
And, surprisingly, that’s good news. Because it means you can stop procrastination now and get back to being productive by learning more effective ways to manage those emotions.
10 Effective Ways to Stop Procrastination
Ready to stop procrastinating once and for all? Try out these 10 ways that get to the root of the problem!
#1: Figure out the negative emotion procrastination is helping you avoid
Before you can stop procrastination, you need to know what it stems from. Are you anxious or bored at work? Overwhelmed by the task or confused about what needs to be done to do it well? Experiencing self-doubt before starting a new project or just frustrated that it’s another thing added to your plate?
You may feel more than one of these emotions. But taking a moment to figure out which emotion sits at the core will help you figure out which of the remaining 9 tips can best help you return to feeling productive and motivated at work!
#2: Break down big tasks into smaller tasks
Even if you’re an expert in your field, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed by large, time-consuming tasks. So, trick your brain! Break your work down into small, manageable tasks that you can then tackle one by one. If you do, you’ll feel more in control — even if that means you get the task done 1% at a time.
#3: Work in shorter periods of time
Working in shorter periods of time can also make your work more manageable. Now, I’m not telling you to shorten your workday! What I mean is work for 25 minutes, take a 5-minute break, and repeat.
This is the foundation of the Pomodoro Technique, one of the most popular methods for effectively managing your time. Not only does this make tasks seem less overwhelming, but it also makes boring tasks a lot easier to start and, consequently, finish!
#4: Connect boring tasks to your long-term goals
There are aspects of all work that are just plain boring. When that happens, it may help to look at the bigger picture. What goal will you be closer to achieving when you finish that boring task? Write your answer down!
For example, you might say something like, “I’m not doing [boring task] because it is enjoyable. I’m doing [boring task] because it brings me closer to achieving [long-term goal].”
#5: Keep a visual record of your long-term goals
Building on the last tip, creating a visual record of your long-term goals can also help effectively manage boredom or frustration. For example, you could create a 30-60-90 day plan that lists a few of your professional goals for the next three months. Then, really think about what things, both small and big, you need to do to achieve those goals.
You’ll likely find there are a lot of tasks you don’t want to do in the short-term yet will happily do for the potential trade-off of meeting your long-term goal. Print this plan out and keep it somewhere you can see it whenever procrastination starts to creep up on you!
#6: Start with a rough draft of your work
Thinking your work needs to be perfect on the first try is a procrastination trap. That’s why people who think of themselves as perfectionists are usually procrastinators too! If that’s you, think of your first attempt at things like reports, follow-up emails, presentations, etc. as rough drafts. The first draft doesn’t need to be perfect! It just needs to be done.
#7: Get help or clarification on confusing tasks
Sometimes we procrastinate because we think asking for help is a weakness. But, really, it’s a strength! By getting help or clarification on confusing tasks, you may realize that the task you’re procrastinating on is simpler than you thought. You may also find you can get help from a colleague on the part that has you stuck the most.
#8: Change your workspace
If you’re bored, a change of scenery could help get you feeling more focused and motivated. Try working at a coffee shop, an empty meeting room in your office, or at your kitchen table instead of your desk. Not only will the change give your brain some new stimulation, but it may also help you avoid common distractions (e.g. chatty co-workers).
#9: Hide your phone until you take a break
When you’re bored, it’s easy to procrastinate spending too much time on your phone. Why? Because your phone and many apps are designed to be addictive! So, you need to be proactive to resist the temptation. You can start by turning off some or all of the app notifications. But it’s an even better idea to put your phone somewhere you can’t see it while you work. For example, leave it in another room, your bag, or a desk drawer. And then don’t look at it again until it’s time for a break!
#10: Find an accountability buddy
It’s harder to procrastinate on something if you know that someone else is going to be checking in on your progress. That’s why finding a friend or colleague who is also trying to beat procrastination can be one of the most important steps to staying committed. This person could also be a source of encouragement when you’re procrastinating because of self-doubt.
If you procrastinate, remember this: science shows it’s probably not because you’re a lazy person, bad at managing your time, or someone that’s easily distracted. What’s more likely is that you procrastinate because you’re attempting to avoid negative emotions (e.g. confusion, boredom, or self-doubt).
So, before procrastination makes you feel you’re not capable of getting things done, causes your boss to give you a performance improvement plan, or negatively affects your mental health – take action!
To start, put your attention toward identifying the underlying negative emotion that’s causing you to procrastinate. Then, use one or more of the tips I’ve shared in this post to get back on track!