Want to change one thing in the New Year? For many of us, the most valuable would be to stop procrastinating. Whether you are a student struggling with the conflict between school work and video gaming, a mom who has a list that never ends, a woman who still has not put her winter clothes in the closet, or a manager who cannot seem to complete those deliverables until the last minute, conquering procrastination can help all of us in many areas of life.
People procrastinate for a lot of reasons. Several that I see often include:
Distractions – You just can’t resist the pull of the cell phone, the lunch with a friend, or doing more research than necessary for that paper! Commit to working in a quiet place with no distractions. Clean off that desk, close the door and tell the kids you are busy, put all the unnecessary electronics away, and create an environment that is conducive to getting things done. If you have to, get up at 3 AM to get some quiet things done such as writing, doing computer work, and making complex plans.
Mushy Goal Setting – Many people make lists of things to do without fully understanding what is entailed in completing those tasks and as a result, they try to pack more things into a day or week than are possible to do. Break your task(s) into small steps so that you know exactly what you have committed to. And when you write those steps down, you will have more things to check off as you complete them, as well as a good idea of what remains to be done.
Fear of Making Mistakes – In the world of psychology, fear of making mistakes is often caused by perfectionism or fear of being ridiculed or embarrassed if you do something wrong. Almost all highly successful people have stories about mistakes that have lead them to great ideas or to learning new things. Accept that even if your mistake feels earth-shattering, you will still feel better for having gotten some things done. Also, recognize that we develop resilience by learning to overcome and cope with the errors we make.
Do the Least Likely Task First – Parents do not usually tell their kids, go out and play and then do your homework. It is the other way around, do the homework first (the least likely task) and then playing is the reward for completing the homework. We can use this same principle to motivate ourselves. (This is called the Premack Principle which states that “preferred behaviors, or behaviors with a higher level of intrinsic reinforcement, can be used as rewards for completing less preferred behaviors” (Google Search Page).) When I have to write a report, my least favorite professional task, I give myself time to read a chapter in a novel as a reward for finishing the first draft, since time to read is rarely possible when I am super-busy at work. What would your reward be for finishing the task least likely to get done? Also remember that if you do the hardest task first, the rest of the job(s) will seem like an easy downhill ride to completion.
With every step you take to overcome procrastination, you will feel lighter as if a load has been lifted off of your shoulders. Because even when you think you are having fun, if there are things waiting to be done or incomplete commitments in the wings, that fun is never truly carefree. As you become more adept in conquering procrastination, make sure to note how much better you feel when those responsibilities are no longer hanging over your head.