You have two weeks to finish that big project. “That’s plenty of time!” you think to yourself while glancing at your to-do list and you push that task to the backburner.
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And, you continue to do that very same thing for the next week or so—until you’re staring that looming deadline straight in the face, left feeling stressed and frazzled by the meager amount of time left to actually tackle that work.
Sound familiar? We all fall victim to the trap of procrastination—likely even more than we’d like to admit. Even though we know better, the siren song of pushing work off until “tomorrow” can often be too strong to resist.
Unfortunately, science tells us that procrastination can have some pretty negative effects. From depression and low self-esteem to anxiety and stress, there are plenty of consequences of procrastination that you’d ideally like to avoid.
Easier said than done, right? But, luckily, you have more control than you think you do. Here are five tips you can implement to finally stop procrastinating once and for all.
1. Find a motivator outside of deadlines.
Of course, there are tons of problems with accepting procrastination as your normal work approach. But, this is perhaps the most detrimental of all: When you allow delaying your work to become a habit, you—perhaps subconsciously—switch your motivator to be just a deadline.
You condition yourself to only feel inspired and focused when you find yourself in a time crunch. You can only get moving when there’s a mean deadline breathing down your neck.
Needless to say, this results in self-motivation and willpower always being low—unless you have a deadline quickly sneaking up on the calendar. And, that only means you’ll continue to procrastinate time and time again.
Find something non-deadline related that motivates you, and stay focused on that.
So, instead of allowing approaching end dates to be the only thing that gets you up and moving, find some other things that motivate you. Whether it’s a specific piece of a project that excites you, a desire to impress your boss, or just the idea of getting your work wrapped up with much less stress involved, zone in on something non-deadline related that gets you out of your chair, and stay focused on that.
2. Enlist a partner.
Sometimes we just don’t have the inner wherewithal to get started on our own. In this case, it can be helpful to involve someone else—someone who will hold you accountable when you’re not making progress and reaching the milestones you set for yourself.
Whether it’s a colleague, a friend, or even your own boss, looping someone else in on your work and your plan to get it accomplished can help to inspire you to get going—even in those moments when you’re tempted to push it off for “tomorrow” yet again.
In fact, in a study conducted by Dr. Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at Dominican University in California, participants were an average of 33% more likely to achieve their goals when they wrote them down, shared them with an accountability partner, and then sent weekly progress updates.
3. Work in intervals.
Most of us have no trouble getting smaller tasks accomplished. We can answer emails and clean off our desks without an issue. But, when we know we have a huge project to get started on? Well, that feeling of standing at the bottom of a mountain looking up is usually enough to inspire us to procrastinate as much as possible.
Working in time intervals can help to combat this overwhelming feeling. After all, isn’t it much easier to think about parking yourself in front of your computer for a mere hour, rather than for the entire day? Science suggests that working for 52 minutes before breaking for 17 minutes is the perfect recipe.
Not only will this method get you out of that desk chair every once in awhile, but it’s also been proven to increase your productivity and focus—meaning you’ll actually make some real progress on that seemingly daunting project.
4. Set smaller milestones.
Even if you work in smaller time blocks, getting started on a huge project can still feel unmanageable and stressful—unless you break it down into smaller goals that you can tackle one by one.
For example, if your to-do list says something like “do quarterly sales report”, that can feel pretty daunting. But, if that’s broken down into sub-tasks like “create sales graphs” and “write summary copy”? Well, suddenly it doesn’t seem so bad.
Research supports this very idea with something called the “progress principle.” Out of all of the things that can boost your mood and perception of your work life, making real progress on meaningful work is the most crucial.
Break a daunting project into more manageable pieces, and take a little bit of time to celebrate each small win.
So, break that daunting project into more manageable pieces and take a little bit of time to celebrate each small win. It’ll keep you that much more motivated.
5. Implement a “rollover” to-do list.
We can all be a little overly ambitious with our to-do lists, can’t we? We list out dozens of tasks, only to end up frustrated at the end of the day when half of our list remains unchecked.
And, those undone items? Chances are, they’re the things you continuously push to the bottom of your list and hold for tomorrow, and then the next day, and then the next day—meaning they never actually get done.
Implementing a “rollover” to-do list method can be helpful. When making your to-do list for your workday, reference yesterday’s list. Those items you didn’t manage to wrap up? They should go at the top of your list today, and be the very first thing that you start with in the morning.
This way, rather than sticking with your usual work routine of checking emails, answering phone calls, and then cherry-picking from your to-do list, you’ll be sure to start each day with the tasks that most need to get accomplished—even if you’re dreading them.
Procrastination is fun—until it’s not.
Here’s one thing we all know about procrastination: It’s fun—until it’s not. The period of coasting is great, but the mad dash to get to the finish line is always stressful.
So, in those moments when you’re facing that internal struggle of whether or not to push off a project in favor of watching just one more show in your Netflix queue, remember that frazzled and hectic feeling of needing to tackle a task in the eleventh hour. This alone should help get you moving.