In college I had a friend, George, who would wait until the night before his paper was due to begin writing it. Most of the time he would even begin reading the required books the same night. He would stay up all night, write the paper and turn it in around 9 a.m. the next morning. If you happened to come upon George during that particular 12-hour period, you would have witnessed an intensely focused college student furiously typing away on his laptop. Brandishing headphones, amidst a sea of abandoned coffee cups, open books and paper, George somehow always pulled it off. His ability to procrastinate and still meet the deadline was truly amazing.
Apparently, George was not alone in his procrastination—but probably fairly alone in succeeding at it. Depending on the study, researchers have found that somewhere between 80 to 95 percent of college students (and to some extent, we can be sure, the entire population) procrastinate on their work. So whether it’s college assignments, work deliverables or home projects the odds are most of us have procrastinated on something in our lives.
Other studies have shown that those who report procrastinating on a chronic basis have more health problems, higher stress levels and more relationship problems than those who do not procrastinate on a regular basis. So chronic procrastination can be a real problem. But you don’t have to let procrastination win when it comes to getting things done in your life. Here are eight ways you can beat procrastination:
1. Admit Delaying
If you read any material about changing your behavior, the first part always involves admitting the problem. In this case your problem happens to be procrastination. How do you know when you’re not admitting your procrastination? Well, all of a sudden, your bedroom needs to be cleaned. No, actually, disinfected. Or better yet, perhaps a roach bomb is what the doctor ordered. You get the picture. When all of a sudden you find yourself easily distracted and typically avoidable tasks become your obsessive priority, you know you’re procrastinating. As soon as you take the plunge and acknowledge your procrastination, you are now in control. You are in control of whether or not you choose to toothbrush-scrub your kitchen floor, start that school application or outline your work presentation.
2. Schedule a Meeting … With Yourself
If you find you are continually procrastinating and not making any progress on your task at hand, you need to schedule a meeting with yourself. Put it on your calendar and don’t be late. If you have a deliverable at work that is due in two weeks, the first step is to guess how long it’s going to take you to complete it. Then schedule meetings on your calendar that will give you the appropriate amount of time to focus on that deliverable. An added bonus is when your co-workers interrupt you during the day and ask if you “have a second,” you can tell them you’re not available. You’re in a meeting. You don’t have to tell them who it’s with. By setting a date and time to work on your deliverable, you will be more likely to actually do it. Who knows, you might even complete it ahead of schedule.
3. Work at Your Best Time
We all have certain times of the day when we feel at our best. When do you feel like you are firing on all cylinders? That is the time you want to work on your task. (This is also a great time to schedule that meeting with yourself, if you are able.) If 8 a.m. is your best time, it’s probably not a good idea to start working on your taxes at 9 p.m. If you’re a night owl and 10 p.m. is your best time of the day, feel free to bust out your W-2 after the kids go to sleep. Whether your best time is 8 a.m. or 10 p.m., be sure to work on the thing you’ve been procrastinating on during that time.
4. Break It Down
Take what you need to do and break it down into smaller more digestible parts. If you need to clean out your garage, don’t feel like you have to do it all at once. Pick a Saturday and just focus on removing things you haven’t used in a year. Then pick another day to sweep it out. Then choose a different day to organize what you want to keep. The key is to do only one part of the task or project at a time. If you get started on something small, you’ll find it’s much easier to keep working on it. You’ll feel like you’ve made some good progress so you might as well finish the job.
Is there someone else who can do the work for you? Perhaps you can ask a friend or co-worker to take on that task you’ve been dreading. Or is it something you can pay to have done? You always want to evaluate if someone else can appropriately take care of it for you (as long as it’s not something that truly falls within your responsibility as a spouse, parent, student or employee.) If you’ve been procrastinating on getting something done, it may be because you simply don’t enjoy what you have to do. Maybe you volunteered to organize the “holiday” party at work this year to get in good with the boss, and it turns out you hate event planning. Find the people in your office who love event planning. (Trust me, they are there.) Get them involved and give them specific action items to be responsible for. Fortunately, there are always others who will enjoy something you don’t like doing. Think of it this way: by delegating it, you have given them an opportunity to enjoy themselves.
6. Reward Yourself
We’re designed to respond to rewards and punishments. It’s no different when it comes to motivating yourself. Go ahead and give yourself a reward for working through your procrastination. You can give yourself small rewards for milestones on the way to your final goal. Or perhaps you wait and really reward yourself when all is said and done. Have you been holding off on buying that new phone? Maybe that’s your reward for losing 10 pounds. Do you want a new outfit? Reward yourself with a shopping trip after you send in that grad school application. The key is finding something that will truly motivate you to do the thing you don’t want to do.
7. Make Yourself Accountable
Make your goal public. Tell other people what you intend to do and when you want to do it. It’s not for the faint of heart, but the possibility of public embarrassment is always a surefire way to guarantee you’ll get it done. Perhaps you have a goal to write a book by a certain date. Go ahead and post it on your Facebook page. If you’re really brave, you can even ask your friends to check in on your progress. The upside is that you’ll most likely reach your goal. The downside is your ego is on the line, and if you drop the ball, the humiliation factor is high. However, this is a great way to make sure you accomplish something really important.
8. Just Do It
There’s a reason why this tag line works so well. (If you don’t know whose tag line this is, you may be one of the 3.5 million people who still subscribe to dial-up Internet.) Sometimes in life you have to just do it. Just do it when you don’t feel like doing it. Just do it when every fiber of your being wants to do something else. Sometimes you just have to get it over with and move on. So if none of the other tips work for you, go ahead; just do it and get it over with. You’ll feel so much better.
You don’t have to be like my friend George, waiting until the last minute and risking the chance of success. You can beat procrastination. So unless you really do enjoy a good toothbrush-scrubbing of your kitchen floor, go ahead and try one of these tips. Besides a few large boxes on your to-do list, what have you got to lose?
Adam Rico is a corporate recruiter and career coach. He is procrastinating on writing the next post for his blog WorkYouEnjoy.com. You can follow him on Twitter and Google+. For a free download of his career guide, "5 Essential Steps to Landing Your Dream Job," go here.