“Lost time is never found again.” Benjamin Franklin
If you are a chronic procrastinator, you’ve probably wondered how to stop procrastinating and why you can’t just get things done before the last minute.
No one really *wants* to procrastinate; instead, it’s this thing that just happens. And it keeps happening, no matter how many times you tell yourself it will be different next time.
Procrastination is a passive habit, which is partially why it is so hard to break. You have to be really creative and clever to outsmart your brain’s desire to avoid a project in front of you. It took me years to learn how to stop pushing everything to the last minute.
You want to be successful. And I want that for you too. So today I wanted to share with you some strategies that really do work. These tips work because they help you get around your urge to procrastinate. You don’t have to try to change who you are. Instead, you just need to change the way you set yourself up to be successful.
Here is how you do it.
Plan your days in advance
For me, the worst procrastination happens when I finish something and I’m wondering what I should do next. Big projects on my to-do list can start to seem like such a big commitment that I don’t even know where to start. So I don’t start, and the day gets away from me.
This won’t happen to you if you are prepared.
Every night, look at your to-do list. What tasks should you work on tomorrow that will move your closer to your biggest goals? What work will be the most meaningful?
Put 5 tasks on your to-do list, so that when you get to work tomorrow, you have 5 choices for where to start. When you finish one, now you have 4 choices of what to do.
You can even get more specific and rank them in order of importance. Start with the most important thing, and work from there. Don’t give yourself any option to deviate from the list — this is your plan, and this is what you will do.
Create super specific to-do tasks
When you have a big project to do, it can be daunting. It’s easy to go days without making progress because when you look at a task that’s too large, you know there’s no way you’ll be able to complete it today — so there’s little motivation to start chipping away at it.
You can fix this by turning every big project into a series of really small steps.
Spend time once a week (or even daily) turning your to-do’s into really specific actions. So instead of “edit blog post”, you might write:
- read blog post
- make changes in the doc
- send feedback/notes to the writer
- create title
- add blog post to the content calendar
Just like the last tip, this one is about leaving yourself no choice but to make progress. You want to make everything so ridiculously simple that you can’t be unclear about whether you’ve made progress or not. Every task should be so small that you can clearly answer yes or no if you did it.
Plus, getting tasks done feels good. Your brain gets a hit of dopamine when you cross something off your to-do list, and the more often you can do that, the better you will feel (and you’ll want to do it again!).
Change your environment
Places hold meaning for all of us. If a place that you “work” frequently has become more of a place that you procrastinate frequently, you are more likely to fall into procrastination mode out of a kind of muscle memory. If you can, leave that place and go somewhere new like the library, a coffee shop, or another office in your building.
If you’re in an office where you can’t leave your desk, there are small ways to change your environment and make it easier to start working.
Instead of typing on your computer, see if there are steps you can do with on paper first. For example, outline a report you need to write using a pen and paper before typing it up on the computer. This accomplishes two things:
- it gives you an easy task to start with (outline the report, rather than simply starting to write it)
- it changes what you’re looking at, so you approach the project with fresh eyes
You can also change your environment by blocking certain distractions. For example, download apps like RescueTime to block social media sites and other places where you waste time.
See the value in certain kinds of procrastination
Procrastinators usually hate that they procrastinate. Do you ever use negative self-talk when you’re procrastinating? Do you think about how you’re lazy or stupid or how you always leave things to the last minute?
That perspective is not motivating. The worse you feel about yourself, the less likely you are to feel ready to do the work you need to do.
Instead, consider this: sometimes procrastination is actually part of the process of doing amazing work.
When you sit filing your nails at your desk or washing dishes before tackling a big project, you are not necessarily just being lazy. Often, these kinds of mindless tasks are actually helping our brains to get our thoughts in order and prepare to tackle a big assignment.
When our minds are clear (like they are when we do things like taking a shower), our brains literally start using that free space to make connections. Information starts to fall into place. This free space is where great ideas come from.
So the next time you’re choosing to do a little task before starting on your big to-do, don’t get down on yourself. Acknowledge that this is part of the process. It is just one of many steps you will take in completing this project. Know that when you are done with this task, you’ll move on to the next step of your project.
Your confidence and new perspective will help that to actually come true.
Think about why you procrastinate – and work with it
Some people procrastinate because they really need the pressure of a deadline to get them to do their work. Is this you? If so, there are ways to work around this need without always leaving everything to the last minute.
For example, you can set deadlines for yourself over the course of a project. If a proposal you’re working on isn’t due until May 1, break the project down into steps that you can complete in the weeks leading up to that date. Write each deadline down in your calendar and plot out time on your weekly schedule to work on each part.
Treat these deadlines like you would any other – even if that means working up to the last minute. The idea here is that by getting things done along the way, you have more overall time to do a better job than you would trying to do everything under the gun.
If you procrastinate because you struggle with motivation or accountability when you’re working on your own, try involving other people. Often, the pressure to not let other people down is far more motivating than the desire just to get the work done.
Ask a peer to help you put together an outline for your proposal, and set a date where you will have all of the necessarily materials ready for them to meet with you and help you. This way, you have the added incentive of not wanting to waste this person’s time, which will help you actually want to get the research done.
If you procrastinate on big project because you are afraid to start or afraid to fail, try turning the project into as many tiny steps as you possibly can. Maybe you don’t feel confident that you can give a huge proposal to your company’s executive team. But I know you have the ability to google examples of good executive proposals. I know you can open a Word doc and write a paragraph about your idea.
Small steps are easy to do. They aren’t scary. And once you do one, the next one seems even easier.
Without you realizing it, you can make slow and steady progress towards a huge goal by taking just one tiny step at a time. Forget about the big picture, and focus only on the next step in front of you.