Procrastination kills productivity and inhibits success. We’ve all been there. There are days when you just can’t seem to get anything done, no matter how organised you usually are. You know you’ve got a hugely important task to do, but you never seem to get around to it. Why does this happen and what can you do about it so you have more successful and productive days?
Let’s face it, some of us just can’t help it – procrastination is how our brains are wired. An article from the Association for Psychological Science (APS) says there are two types of procrastinators: chronic procrastinators and situational procrastinators. Chronic procrastinators procrastinate in almost every situation – that’s the norm for them. In contrast, situational procrastinators may procrastinate because of how they feel about a particular task.
If you’re a situational procrastinator and you don’t like or enjoy the task you have to do, you will find it easy to spend (or waste) time on less important tasks, resulting in a day that’s significantly less productive. Tim Pychyl adds that if a task is boring, frustrating and unstructured and you don’t feel any sense of personal reward you won’t want to do it.
The APS article lists a few other reasons why people just don’t get things done. According to Joseph Ferrari, some people procrastinate because:
We’ve talked before about the importance of eating those frogs, of getting the biggest and most challenging task out of the way first. But that doesn’t work for everyone, and if you’re wedded to that system you may not achieve anything at all. How many times has a task taken up so much space in your brain that you can’t see or do anything else?
There’s another way.
Remember, if tasks you don’t like demotivate you, then doing tasks you DO like can increase motivation, productivity and success. If you’re not quite ready to start that big project, why not cross off some of your other to-dos? Pick some tasks you enjoy – that have to be done – and get them out of the way. It will put you in a better frame of mind for handling the big task.
Eventually, that task has to be done. Here are some ways to reduce procrastination.
Maybe you can psych yourself into being more productive, as Marty Nemko suggests. Decide whether your core principle is being as productive as possible or doing as little as you can get away with. Here’s a hint from Jim Collins, author of Good to Great. The most successful people achieve “sustained excellence”, producing and delivering day in, day out.
Tim Pychyl suggests another approach: reducing the boredom by turning challenging tasks into a game. For example, you can make a private bet on how many words of that report you can write in the next 30 minutes or on how many sales calls you can make. The point is to achieve something before you become so bored that you can’t do anything.
If the carrot doesn’t work, try the stick. Ask yourself about the consequences of failing to complete that project or task. Not only will you feel like an underachiever, but it can have an impact on career development. Sometimes knowing that is enough of an incentive to get started.
And getting started is important. As with building habits, the key to success to take the first step. That’s true, whichever technique you use to beat procrastination.
Speaking of habits, don’t let procrastination become your default mode. And don’t let a day of procrastination stop you from succeeding. Tim Ferriss, author of the 4 Hour Work Week says we should “budget for human nature instead of trying to conquer it”. That means allowing for some procrastination but then getting started again.
If you have tried everything and still can’t get that big project out of the way, maybe it’s not right for you. In that case, delegate the project to someone who will have the passion and motivation to succeed, and move onto something that you find more exciting.
Use these seven approaches and you will procrastinate less and achieve more. How do you stop yourself from procrastinating?
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