It’s Monday morning and the clock is ticking. You’re frantically working to finish a project that you should have finished before the weekend, and you’re cursing yourself for leaving early on Friday.
Why did you do this to yourself again?
Why did you wait so long to get started on this?
How can you prevent it from happening next time?
If this sounds even remotely familiar to you, you are not alone. Procrastination is more common than you might think, and as many as 20 % of American adults think of themselves as chronic procrastinators.
While you may not be a chronic procrastinator, I bet that you at least occasionally delay getting started or avoid taking action until you get dangerously close to critical deadlines.
Procrastination can destroy your happiness, cause unnecessary stress, and in extreme cases cause sickness and disease.
What is Procrastination?
Procrastination is sometimes referred to as laziness, but it is not the same thing.
Wikipedia defines procrastination as:
“the avoidance of doing a task that needs to be accomplished.”
Laziness is doing nothing, while procrastination is doing the wrong thing. Procrastination is avoiding a task that needs to accomplished by checking your email, watching YouTube videos, and surfing social media.
It’s an active process where you are choosing to do almost anything except the thing that you should be doing.
What you are doing is ignoring important and unpleasant tasks by doing more interesting and fun tasks instead. Unfortunately, this leads to increased stress, decreased productivity, and failure to reach your goals.
Why You Procrastinate
Your procrastinate because your brain wants to avoid pain and seek pleasure. In Freudian psychoanalysis, this is referred to as the pleasure principle.
According to Neil Carlson,
“It is the instinctive seeking of pleasure and avoiding of pain in order to satisfy biological and psychological needs.”
Specifically, the pleasure principle is the driving force guiding the “id”
In case you don’t know, your id is the source of all of your bodily needs, wants, desires, and impulses. Your “id” acts according to seek immediate gratification and to avoid pain.
Because of this, you tend to avoid the tasks that cause you physical and emotional pain. It doesn’t matter if it is a difficult phone call or a major project, you chose to avoid the pain of not doing it now by telling yourself that you can do it later.
But the clock is still ticking and the longer you put it off, the more painful it is to get started.
How to Overcome Procrastination
1. Identify The Source Of Your Procrastination
Before you can overcome procrastination, you need to recognize why you are procrastinating. Are you just putting off a task for a few minutes because you need a break, or are you actually trying to avoid starting an unpleasant task?
If you are just taking a break that is great.
You deserve to take breaks — you earned them.
But, if you are avoiding a task, you need to stop and ask yourself why you are procrastinating.
Do you find the task unpleasant? Is it boring? Will you have to deal with an unpleasant person? Are you missing some vital information that you need to complete the task?
Identify and eliminate the source of your procrastination.
2. Harness Your Fear
Fear is a powerful emotion, but it is just an emotion.
“Of all the liars in the world, sometimes the worst are our own fears.” — Rudyard Kipling
Fear is a lie.
It’s not real.
It can prevent you from getting started, and it can prevent you from reaching your goals.
Ask yourself what you are afraid of? Is it the fear of failure? The fear that your results will not be good enough. Or is it something else?
Whatever it is, the key is to overcoming procrastination is to understand and acknowledge your fears.
3. Focus on your “why.”
When I find myself procrastinating it is usually because I am focused on the short-term pain rather than my long-term results.
When I realize that I am doing this, I stop and ask myself, “What are the benefits of completing this project?” For example, when I don’t feel like going to the gym, I focus on the benefits of getting in better shape and having a more healthy body.
Try to focus on the benefits that you will achieve from completing the project. Will completing the task help you have a healthier body? Get a promotion or raise? Organize your home?
Use your “why” to overcome procrastination and to move forward.
4. Just Get Started
Sometimes that hardest thing to do is to just get started. A lot of times just taking that first step is enough to get the ball rolling.
If this is the case, focus on starting on one simple task. Forget about completing your entire project and just focus on the first task.
This can be a lot less overwhelming for you because it will shift your focus from all of the tasks you need to accomplish to the one you are doing right now.
So, do one thing to get yourself moving forward and create the momentum that you need to get your project done.
5. Optimize your environment.
“You are a product of your environment. So choose the environment that will best develop you toward your objective. Analyze your life in terms of its environment. Are the things around you helping you toward success — or are they holding you back?” — W. Clement Stone
Your environment can either help you move forward or it can hold you back.
Is your environment comfortable? Can you actually find the things that you need to get complete your tasks? Are you being distracted by email, social media, or your TV?
If your environment is the leading cause of your procrastination, change it.
Maybe you need to organize your current environment. Maybe you will be more successful working in a different location.
Do whatever it takes to optimize your environment and eliminate your procrastination.
6. Eliminate Perfectionism
Perfectionism is the enemy of success.
If you believe that something has to either be perfect or it is a failure — you are a perfectionist.
This all-or-nothing thinking is a leading cause of procrastination and you need to eliminate it. Your work will never be perfect.
There, I said it.
Your work will never be perfect!
Leonardo da Vinci said it too,
“Art is never finished, only abandoned.”
This does not mean that you shouldn’t strive for excellence. Strive to do the best job you can in the time that you have available — but get the job done.
Remember that done is better than perfect.
7. Eliminate Excuses
Do you find yourself making excuses about why you can’t get started right now?
Maybe you tell yourself, “I need to have X before I can get started.” Or, “I will get started when I am in the mood.” Or maybe even, “I work better under pressure.”
Eliminate these excuses, or you will never get your projects done.
8. Surround yourself with motivated people
“Nothing succeeds like success” — anonymous
If you are surrounded by other procrastinators you may never get anything done. But, if the people who you surround yourself with are successful and motivated it is more likely that you will be successful too.
One way to do this is to join a mastermind group. This type of group usually meets on a regular basis, and members support, motivate, and encourage each other to reach their individual goals.
If you want to successfully overcome your procrastination, find a group of successful people who will motivate and inspire you to quit procrastinating and actually get something done.
9. Find An Accountability Partner
“Accountability breeds response-ability.” — Stephen R. Covey
Another way to overcome procrastination is to find someone who will hold you accountable. This works best when it is someone who you respect and trust that you can meet with on a daily, or weekly basis.
This relationship is similar to a mastermind group, but it is a one-on-one relationship instead of a group. The key is to share your plan for the day or the week with your accountability partner and have them commit to holding you accountable for accomplishing it.
When you accomplish your plan on time, you’ll be excited to share your results with your partner. But, if you procrastinate and fail to accomplish what you committed to, you’ll likely be embarrassed to admit to it when the time comes to fess up.
“Accountability is the glue that ties commitment to results.”- Bob Proctor
Daily or weekly meetings with your accountability partner can help you set an achieve clear goals, accomplish your tasks, and eliminate procrastination.
10. The Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique is a productivity management system developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s.
He noticed that people can only focus for short a period of time before they becoming distracted. So, he created a system to help you focus for a short period of time and then reward yourself with a break before the next period of focus.
His system uses a timer to break down tasks into 25-minute intervals separated by 5-minute breaks. These intervals are named pomodoros, after a tomato-shaped kitchen timer that Cirillo used when he was a university student.
This is one of the best ways that I have found to overcome procrastination because it allows me to focus in short 25-minute bursts followed by 5-minute breaks.
Doing this keeps me fresh and alert, and no matter how painful the task, I only have to work on it for 25-minutes before I get a break.
Bringing It All Together
We all procrastinate from time to time, and as many as 20% of us are chronic procrastinators. If you have read this far, I am willing to bet that you procrastinate at least some of the time.
You do this because you want to avoid the tasks that are causing you physical and emotional discomfort. It doesn’t matter if it is a difficult phone call or a major project, you chose to avoid the discomfort of not doing it now by telling yourself that you can do it later.
Unfortunately, it is never easier or more comfortable to do it later. It will be just as painful then as it is now, and putting it off is just going to cause your more emotional distress.
So, the best thing that you can do for yourself is to overcome your procrastination by implementing one of more or these tips.
Over time, they will help you to replace your procrastination habit with the ability to complete your projects and accomplish your goals.