Time management expert and productivity guru Tim Ferriss recently said something that resonated with a lot of people: “Procrastination is the new normal.”
You might think it’s just you or your team who struggles to get things done, but in reality, procrastination affects almost everyone, no matter their occupation or position. In fact, according to research from Stanford University, procrastination affects between 65 - 95% of people across all industries. It’s not an unusual thing to happen—in fact, it happens to the best of us.
However, what sets some people apart is how they deal with procrastination. If you want to be one of those people who overcome procrastination instead of succumbing to it, again and again, read on for some helpful tips.
Know your triggers
You may put tasks off because you are afraid of failure or think that you aren’t capable of completing them.
When you know what is triggering your procrastination, you can then take steps to avoid or eliminate those triggers.
Common reasons for procrastination include:
Fear of failure or criticism
Inability to prioritise leading to paralysis
Feeling overwhelmed by a task. or volume of tasks - ditto re paralysis
Disinterest in the task or project
Being unclear on the purpose/reason or benefit achieved from the end result
Perfectionism - Leonardo da Vinci spent 16 years working on the Mona Lisa and left many other works unfinished. Mozart was a procrastinator who worked best under pressure: He wrote the entire overture for Don Giovanni the night before the opera was set to debut
Challenges such as anxiety, depression, and ADHD
If you are procrastinating because you are afraid to fail, you need to understand that this fear is only limiting you. You may be afraid that you aren’t capable of completing a task or that you will make a mistake and look bad. Remember that failing is how you learn and grow, and that you can’t succeed if you don’t try.
If you procrastinate because you are lazy, the best thing that you can do is force yourself to start working on the task you are putting off. You may be so used to being lazy that you don’t know how to get started on a project, or you may have forgotten what it feels like to accomplish something.
But it's not all bad
Sometimes procrastination can buy you much-needed time to think strategically in order to reach the best long-term decision.
Also, think about if the task you are procrastinating over is really the best use of your time. Can it be outsourced or does it really even need to be done?
Some people also find that delaying a task can be motivating. An assignment that once felt dull can become exciting for people who like to work under pressure. You are also likely to work more efficiently.
Quick tips for overcoming procrastination
Try a Pomodoro Timer. A Pomodoro Timer is a simple productivity tool based on science that can help you stay on task and limit distractions. The basic concept behind it is that you work in timed intervals of 25 minutes followed by a 5-minute break. The timer can help you avoid procrastination by blocking out distractions and helping you focus on one task at a time. Read more about it here.
Find your anchor task. An anchor task is something small, yet important, that you can do each day that will help you reduce your procrastination. An anchor task can be anything, but it needs to be relevant to your larger goal. You should make a promise to yourself that you will complete your anchor task every day. This will help you avoid procrastination because you will feel like you have a task to finish. For example, if you want to write more, you could make a daily habit of writing 50 words. If you want to be more productive, you can make a daily to-do list. If you want to be more social and friendly, focus on saying “hello” to one person each day.
Block out your most productive times. If you’re a morning person, make sure you get your most important tasks done early in the day. Read more about your biological prime time here
Don’t rely on willpower alone. Instead, make sure you’re equipped for success by setting up systems and employing productivity tools. If you’re a team manager, you can set up a meeting schedule so that each person on your team has the opportunity to report their progress.
Acknowledge your achievements however small, along the way - this will help with motivation
Play it forward by thinking of the implications of not completing the task
Big projects are made up of many small tasks - start small and chip away
Promise yourself you only need to work for a very short time - say 15 minutes - usually, this turns into 50 minutes before you know it
Understand and accept that it does not have to be perfect but it will certainly be good enough
Set up your space in advance - don't lose valuable time by preparing what you need
Make your environment comfortable and enjoyable with things like music and a scented candle
Eliminate distractions including setting your electronics to do not disturb
When you feel the urge to do something else delay by counting to 20 first - you may change your mind in the meantime
Give yourself deadlines and set yourself clear consequences for missing them
Tell others of your challenge and share the difficulties you may be having - they can help with motivation and avoid distracting you
Have Plan B's so obstacles don't grind you to a halt - for example, if the computer rooms is already in use I will go to the cafe down the road instead to work
Maintain your energy levels by taking short breaks, eating nutritious food and staying hydrated
Visualise your goals or the outcomes you need by pinning them on the wall in your workspace or adding a photo to the home screen of your phone or computer.
Have a starting routine to mentally prepare your mind for a state of work such as putting your headphones on and turning your phone to do not disturb
Decide on which task you will start with ahead of time - this could be the easiest, hardest, quickest or longest
Don't be hard on yourself if you don't complete as much as expected or make mistakes - this will sap your enthusiasm and motivation
Treat underlying conditions (e.g., ADHD)
Don't force it. If you really cannot make progress after concerted effort and deadlines allow, do something else constructive with your time and return to your work later and without guilt
I recommend this great Ted Talk from Tim Urban 'Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator'.
After you have successfully completed a goal, don’t forget to celebrate!
This is an important part of the process because it will help motivate you to keep going. You don’t want to consistently push yourself and forget to enjoy the moment. This energy helps you stay motivated and inspired so that you can keep achieving your goals.
When you have a lot of things to get done, it can be easy to put off the most challenging tasks or the ones that require the most time. In those moments, it’s important to remember that procrastination is normal, but you can avoid letting it affect your productivity.
Think about why you are procrastinating. Remember that you can’t expect to magically overcome procrastination and get everything done perfectly on the first try — it’s a process made up of smaller incremental steps.