Are you a victim of procrastination? Do you put off important things—decisions, tasks, assignments—until the very last minute, or simply not do them at all? If so, you’re not alone. According to DePaul University psychology professor, Joseph Ferrari, 20 percent of the population is affected by procrastination, and some studies reveal that procrastination has more than quadrupled in the last 30 years. And a Fidelity Investments study found that 41 percent of people reported that procrastination makes them feel “stressed out,” while 24 percent said procrastination makes them feel “ashamed.”
There are plenty of different reasons why we put things off. According to the Fidelity study, some of the most common include being over-optimistic about the amount of time we have available to do a task—and then losing track—anxiety that we won’t succeed at a task, thinking we’ll have plenty of time later to get the task done, and a desire to complete a task to perfection.
While long-ingrained habits aren’t easy to break, there are a lot of ways we can overcome the ill effects of procrastination and complete tasks on time, once and for all. Here are some powerful tips from some very successful business people for how they conquer the procrastination habit.
Yes, that’s right. You can avoid procrastinating by giving your mind a workout—using meditation as your gym. Says Tony Stubblebine, founder and CEO of Coach.me, “You can either cry about procrastination or do mental pushups. The actual mechanism is that meditation teaches awareness and control.” And ultimately, stopping the procrastination habit is all about first becoming aware that you’ve got a bad habit of putting things off and then taking control of the situation. Meditation provides you with the mindfulness to do both.
- Break big projects down into small tasks
One reason why procrastinators procrastinate is because they often try to take on far more than they should. According to the Fidelity Investments study, 38 percent of men tend to put off big, overwhelming tasks while 47 percent of women tend to do the same. Unfortunately, this often means that the most important things often get delayed or never get done at all. According to Jonathan Goodman, founder of the Personal Trainer Development Center, “Procrastinators fill their time with menial tasks because they provide immediate rewards. So, the secret to beating procrastination is devising a system to reward you whenever you act on the important things.” Goodman suggests breaking large projects into bite-sized chunks. Says Goodman, “For example, if you’re writing a book, break it into 500-word sections. Keep a stack of cue cards with notes on each section on one side of your computer. Every time you complete 500 words, flip that card face down on the other side.” When you flip over one of your cards, you give your brain a biochemical reward—a surge of the feel-good hormone dopamine—that keeps you moving forward.
- Focus on how you feel after accomplishing a goal
We all know that when we accomplish a goal—especially one that is particularly difficult or important to the organization, our team, or ourselves—we feel good. We may even take some time to celebrate the occasion with the team. As you’re thinking about taking on a task, think about all those good feelings you’re going to enjoy when you successfully complete it. Says Katrina Ruth, founder and CEO of Katrina Ruth Companies, “Whenever I’m unmotivated, I think about how I’m going to feel afterwards rather than how I feel in the moment. I ask myself: looking back from that place, what is the choice I know I must make?”
- Put yourself on a procrastination diet
Stopping bad habits can be extremely difficult when they have become part of our daily routine. Sometimes, the best way to stop engaging in a habit that has become a part of who we are is not to go cold turkey and stop all at once. A better approach is to put yourself on a procrastination diet. Suggests Dottie Herman, CEO of Douglas Elliman, “Whenever you feel resistance, give yourself one task and then do it. Do two the next time, then three. The first few days of a diet can be hard, but it gets easier if you stick with it. Set aside an hour each day solely to be productive.”
- Think about how your procrastination affects others
Ultimately, your procrastination affects the people around you—your boss, your coworkers, the people who work for you, your customers, and perhaps even your family and community. Whenever you’re tempted to put off an important task, think for a moment about how it will affect others—then get started. Whenever Guy Kawasaki, Chief Evangelist at Canva, is tempted to procrastinate, he has a surefire cure: “I look at the total of my kids’ four tuitions.”
So, starting right now, instead of rearranging things on your to-do list and putting off the most important things on it, commit to getting things done. Prioritize your tasks and set firm deadlines for their completion. Take time at the beginning and end of each workday to check your progress against these deadlines. If you’re falling behind on a particular task, instead of putting it off, focus all your effort on it—even if that means just getting started. When you take the first step, chances are you’ll realize that the task you’ve been putting off wasn’t as hard to do as you thought it would be.
The less you procrastinate, and the more you achieve, the better you’ll feel. And that’s definitely worth not putting off.
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