Task avoidance? Check. Task that wasn’t so urgent, all done? Check. Facebook? Checked one hundred times. Procrastination is, for many, a daily challenge to overcome.
Research shows that more than 20% of us suffer from it (My Time Management); which seems a pretty conservative estimate to us, if we’re honest. Perhaps the remaining 80% are still thinking about it.
A stat that sounds more realistic, is that 46% of us who procrastinate report that it negatively impacts our life “very much” (46%) or “extremely” (18%) (Brandon Gaille). Whatever the facts of the matter, it’s clear that many of us waste our times on tasks that don’t matter.
So how can we stop ourselves from giving in to procrastination?
Stop mulling it over and just do it
Small deeds done are better than great deeds planned.
Procrastination is often a tool of avoidance – something to block out our thoughts or need to address that painful task, intimidating challenge or mind-numbing chore. You already understand what you need to do and why, now is the time to do it.
There’s a well-known method of getting imposing, unappealing tasks done – and that’s to “eat a slimy frog every day, first thing”. This turn of phrase (coined by Mark Twain) simply requires you to take a task that you’re dreading, and do it; making it the very first thing that you do at the start of a working day.
The perfect plan doesn’t exist
There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.
Apart from discovering unimportant things to do that sidetrack you from the task at hand, another form of avoidance is to procrastinate over the task itself: overthinking, overcomplicating and over planning what needs doing.
Ultimately there are few tasks that need hours and hours of planning. Break the immediate steps down into simple tasks; a study by Penn State found that taking small steps toward a goal is psychologically rewarding enough to keep a person on track.
Adopt the Pomodoro Technique
Leading on from the last point, is the ‘Pomodoro Technique’ – an approach that breaks down tasks into 25 minute blocks, with a short break that follows (typically five minutes).
Keep a notepad by your side for anything else that pops up, and then re-focus at the task in hand. After every four 25 minute sections, take a longer break (usually between 15 and 30 minutes).
Avoid the technological tools that enable procrastination
Whether it’s Angry Birds, Farmville, Twitter, WhatsApp or Facebook, technology provides us with endless hours of task avoidance.
However, there are apps out there that can help, such as AppDetox (which can temporarily block apps like Facebook or Twitter); Procraster (a motivating app that splits your tasks down and pits you against a clock) and Beat Procrastination (a type of meditation app to help you break the negative thought patterns associated with procrastination).
There is also a wide selection of apps dedicated to the Pomodoro Technique – here are just 12 of them.
Realise that it’s perfectly fine to make a mistake
We begin to work only when the fear of doing nothing at all exceeds the fear of not doing it very well … And that can take time.
Author and philosopher Alain de Botton argues that the underlying cause of procrastination is a fear of making a mistake or underperforming. Well-regarded researchers into this area are Drs. Hendrie Weisinger and J.P. Pawliw-Fry, who based an entire book around the issue of pressure, performance and procrastination; Performing Under Pressure: The Science of Doing Your Best When It Matters Most.
If you can accept that you, and everyone else, will make mistakes and that it’s perfectly normal to do so, you can begin to face the fear of making a mistake that is stopping you from beginning the task in the first place.
Begin the process, make the task more manageable by dividing it into smaller steps, and feel a sense of accomplishment when you complete each stage.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.