While there are common causes and reasons for procrastination, there are even more “cures”. Pick through these ten ideas to find strategies that work for you.
If you’ve been a procrastinator since childhood, it may have been made worse by overly-authoritarian parents or teachers. Procrastination can also be a type of avoidance behavior, where those who feel habitually feel powerless take back personal power in the only way known to them — procrastination on tasks they are ordered to do.
Along with avoidance-based procrastination unfortunately goes its offshoots—guilt and shame. We hear the voices of those authority figures telling us that we “blew it again”, “can’t be depended on”; even all-or-nothing statements like “you’re a complete failure” (usually accompanied by comparisons to a perfect sibling or neighborhood example)—long after we’ve grown up and supposedly left all childhood voices behind.
Guilt and shame have no place in working on becoming the person we were born to be. One good dose of shaming (especially from yourself) and you’re likely to revert to the one defense you’ve truly mastered—the mental equivalent of curling up in a fetal ball in a darkened room—procrastinate.
Learn to banish guilt by using cognitive reframing. Replace those excoriating self-lashes with phrases based in reality. For example, instead of saying to yourself, “I did it again. I’m a complete screw-up!” try stating just the facts. (“I spent an hour of `me’ time. Now it’s time to put that aside and go to work.”)
It feels much better when you take the blame-and-shame out of your procrastination habits, and focus on realistic solutions.
Tame the Time Stealers
Keep an eye out for “time stealers”—small tasks that nibble away minutes and eventually hours from our days. These usually turn out to be tasks such as checking email, checking Facebook, answering the telephone while you’re working, answering the door, getting up to make a cup of coffee… It doesn’t matter what you stop working to do: Record it!
Keep a log for a few days, and see where you are spending too much time on one particular distraction (for example, you may discover you actually get up to make six or seven cups of tea or coffee during the day, when you were sure it was only three or four).
Repetitive behaviors can become procrastination habits. Tame them by setting a limit to how many times per day you can indulge in that particular activity; or set a time limit—for example, “ten minutes only for checking email”.
Put your Mobile Away!
If you’re compulsive message-checker or mobile message sender, don’t even leave your mobile in the same room.
Unless you’re waiting for news of earth-shattering importance (a grandchild about to be born any second or a status update on a critically ill relative), the world won’t end without you checking your messages.
And you’ll be training people who don’t respect your work hours that you really do have boundaries.
Next time you feel overwhelmed enough to take a break, don’t fall into one of your habitual procrastination behaviors: Take a brisk, twenty-minute walk or go sit on the deck for ten minutes.
Fresh air helps both psychologically and by boosting oxygen production to clear the cobwebs from our brains. Tell yourself you’re taking a break—not procrastinating (which you would have been doing, had you got sucked into your traditional game of Candy Crush).
Besides, a brisk twenty-minute walk per day will give you your daily exercise!
Break it Down
If a task seems overwhelming, break it down into its smallest steps. Then focus on only performing “the next step”.
You’ll find you are more easily able to start even the most overwhelming task if you can identify and take that all-important first step.
Recognize that Excuses are not Reasons
Next time you tell yourself you can’t do something yet, listen to your reasons.
Realize that ninety-five per cent of these are actually going to be excuses. For example, “I work better under pressure” really means “I’m in the habit of waiting till the last moment and using the pressure of a deadline as a motivator”.
It’s just a habit that puts stress on you—not a justification for waiting.
Do It Every Day
If you constantly “forget” to do tasks or actions you’re “trying” to do, it may be because you haven’t yet created a habit.
Popular psychology says it takes twenty-one days to create a habit. A NASA study found it took their test participants a little longer—at least thirty days—and they also discovered that if you break your new “habit” for even one day before the thirty-day period is up, you’ll be right back at square one. (Read about it on Deb Cheslow’s blog.)
Keep your Lists Short
Focus on no more than three top priorities—and congratulate yourself if you get one done.
(If you have perfectionist tendencies, put the sub-title “Optional” over priorities #2 and # 3—that way, you won’t feel you’ve “failed”.)
Only when you’ve cleared the priorities should you add more tasks or actions to your list.
Focus on Your Success!
Sometimes the simplest strategies are the best strategies of all. Gretchen Ruben, best-selling author of The Happiness Project, shares this tip:
“On the top of a piece of paper, write, “By the end of today, I will have __________.” This also gives you the thrill of crossing a task off your list.”
The urge to procrastinate can never totally be eliminated—it does serve a purpose. It’s usually a sign something isn’t right with us. But know what that purpose or reason is, when you procrastinate: And know that it’s your right to develop effective strategies to totally bust it, every time.
Hire a Virtual Assistant
Hire out, eliminate or delegate 80-90% of all tasks that lead you to procrastinate to a Virtual Assistant. Keep only the few tasks that you and only you can be responsible for.
Life will become lighter and more liberated as you align your life with more joy-filled and inspiring tasks and release the rest! There are resources for getting your dreaded-but-important tasks complete. You can hire a virtual assistant a few hours each week.