Procrastination can really impact our lives. For example, not getting that irritating symptom checked out leaves an unknown disease untreated. Avoiding a dreaded conversation only prolongs the conflict. Delaying an important life decision, like breaking up, making a commitment, changing career paths or going back to school, can lead to you being stuck in the same place for years. To get you jumpstarted, Linda Prescott shares Effective Ways to Stop Procrastinating.
Your Challenge: The task isn’t urgent.
Naturally, we tend to pay attention to what’s right in front of us because it’s harder to prioritise things that aren’t exactly urgent. From planning for our retirement, to things like fixing that one squeaky door, we all have things that we never get around to. So how to stop procrastinating?
Do this: Think of the big picture.
Okay, so you can’t blame everything on yourself because in case you didn’t know, humans are actually wired to prioritise the needs of the present rather than the needs of the future. It’s called temporal discounting and this makes perfect sense: The present is in our face, so naturally we pay more attention to it. According to a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the solution is to look at the bigger picture rather than nit-picking the details. For example, you’ve been wanting to buy your own property but have never made an effort to plan your finances. What you need to do is take a step back and really consider, what would this mean for your life? What’s the big picture? Taking on a new perspective can motivate you and jump-start the process of taking action.
Your Challenge: Not sure where to start.
Okay, you’ve decided to take action, great! Once you’ve reached this stage, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed, confused, or disorganised. Many people actually put off getting started, because they’re not sure what the first step is.
Do This: Build a checklist that you can check off.
Instead of the regular checklist, try including things that will really get things moving. For example, instead of “oil the deck”, you can add “Watch YouTube video on how to oil the deck” and then add “start sanding the deck” or “go to hardware store to get oil and brushes”. The more items you are able to check off the list, the more you will feel like you are getting somewhere and this will motivate you to finish the job.
Your Challenge: You just don’t want to do it.
You’re supposed to finish that report or roast that chicken, but honestly, you’d rather be doing anything else. It’s normal to feel this way. Most people would rather do something relaxing than do something that requires a lot more effort and energy.
Do This: Plan ahead.
You should know yourself well by now. If you know you always end up not doing what you’re supposed to do because a) there are other things that are more interesting out there and b) you get distracted easily, plan for that. Start the task well ahead of time so you won’t end up rushing, and that you’ll have time for breaks in between or to tend to present issues. Once you’ve started something, it’s easier to finish it compared to starting from scratch.
Your Challenge: Afraid of failure.
I am talking to the perfectionists here. Look, it’s not a bad thing to be a perfectionist. In fact, high standards lead to high-level work. Bruno Mars, Serena Williams, and Beyonce are all self-proclaimed perfectionists. According to Ellen Hendriksen, Ph.D., a psychologist at Boston University’s Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders, sometimes high standards have the opposite effect. We blow off our projects, convinced there’s no way we can meet the standards we set for ourselves. Dr Hendriksen says, “Perfectionism and procrastination are linked, but it’s not necessarily the sky-high standards that slow you down, but the sky-high standards mixed with a belief that your performance is tied to your self-worth. That combination can grind you to a halt.
Do This: Untangle performance and self-worth.
Dr Hendrickson advises, “Always remember the crucial difference between who you are and what you achieve. There’s so much more to your worth than your accomplishments—your identity, family, passions, experiences, travels, friends, politics, taste, knowledge, challenges you’ve overcome, and, most importantly, how you treat other people.”