Do you have a bad habit of constantly putting off tasks until tomorrow? Rest assured, you’re far from being the only one in this situation!
In fact, it’s a phenomenon of life that has a name: procrastination! What’s more, 20% of the Western population is chronically affected by it.
Lack of energy, fear of taking action, delay in the date of delivery of a project... Sometimes, it’s only a temporary block, a dreaded step in the planning, aiming to postpone a chore.
However, when procrastination becomes a lasting trend, it can quickly become a problem, especially when you have to manage a business!
Are you concerned by this urge to put everything off until tomorrow, by this loss of attention and pleasure in your tasks? Here are some valuable tips that’ll help you find a solution and an effective method to finally stop procrastinating...
What is procrastination?
Procrastination is a form of idleness and laziness. Let’s start by lifting the veil on its exact definition and its main symptoms.
Definition and “symptoms”
Procrastination is a term used in psychology. It refers to the habit that some people have of systematically postponing planned tasks until the next day.
When one procrastinates, it’s not uncommon to replace priority activities whose due date is soon to come to an end, by other steps of a project, a goal of less importance.
Need an example? You had planned to work on your product catalog update (which is a priority since it’s critical to the success of your business and your revenue), but instead of uploading the new version of your catalog, you prefer to loiter for hours on Facebook (which is not at all vital or beneficial).
Another example? You had to do your housework! However, the weather is nice and you just bought yourself a brand new book. The cleaning can wait until tomorrow! Time to enjoy a quiet moment of life... This is a symptom of procrastination.
Why do we like to put things off until tomorrow?
Although this phenomenon is widespread, it’s not necessarily linked to the same causes from one individual to another. Some people are simply looking for immediate pleasure.
In this situation, the lack of immediate reward can be a factor in procrastination. However, in other cases, the causes are much deeper.
Some studies show a possible link between procrastination and certain behavioral disorders such as anxiety, low self-esteem, perfectionism, apathy, or impulsivity.
Similarly, fear of failure, lack of motivation, lack of energy, or difficulty concentrating may be factors that contribute to procrastination.
Fears and anxieties
In order to better solve a problem, it’s important to know all the details. Let’s start by identifying the main causes of procrastination and the steps in the process to recognize this disorder.
Poor time management... on the surface!
People who suffer from procrastination often have a real problem with time management.
They have an annoying tendency to underestimate the minutes needed to complete a task and overestimate the time available to reach their goal before the deadline.
Is this an excess of optimism? In any case, in reality, people often start working on their project too late and then feel overwhelmed by the steps to be completed.
Another habit of procrastinators is to create “false emergencies,” a method of turning their attention to a minor project that isn’t a solution to help them. They have a hard time identifying the most important tasks.
Usually, rather than tackling the most important and urgent action to be done, they turn their attention to another, second-rate, but usually more enjoyable or less complex task. Thus, real emergencies are constantly postponed while second-order tasks are done immediately.
Anguish and anxiety: the top causes of procrastination
The other main cause of procrastination is fear and anxiety. Most people who suffer from this little flaw also have phobias or anxiety disorders that will impact their energy to achieve their goals.
Therefore, rather than confronting the problem, they prefer to cancel the task at hand, thus reducing the stress associated with it.
For example, when a person lacks confidence in their own abilities to create a website, they’d rather postpone the task until tomorrow than confront their lack of experience and training. This is how procrastination is born!
Numerous studies have highlighted the major obstacles to triggering action:
- lack of self-confidence,
- absence of a similar experience in one's life,
- not having the right knowledge of the problem faced, and
- not being able to estimate the time needed to complete a project.
People who procrastinate will generally prefer to choose a solution that they have control over, even if it’s less important, rather than another solution that’s more uncertain.
Perfectionism can be harmful
Procrastination can also arise from a double problem: when the individual has low self-esteem and is, at the same time, a perfectionist.
In this case, they really want all their actions to be done perfectly. However, they don’t think that they can live up to their ambitions.
In other words, they tend to set the bar too high for their main objective. This race for perfection then becomes an obstacle, which can lead to procrastination.
Rather than face failure, the individual prefers not to embark on a mission: they procrastinate!
7 tips to stop procrastinating
Rest assured, in life, nothing or almost nothing is irreversible. Even the most harmful habits can be changed. To get rid of procrastination, here are some valuable tips that could help you.
Pace yourself so you don't lose track
To avoid procrastination, organization is the key. You can establish a schedule for your day, including your work time, your breaks, and any distractions.
The idea is to list each task and commit to a time limit to ensure that you manage your work time well.
When you’re aware that you’re procrastinating, it’s imperative to set deadlines for yourself. This allows you to identify your priorities and not let yourself get overwhelmed. Don’t hesitate to establish a rather “broad” schedule, i.e., with a few extra moments to manage any unexpected events. This way, you’ll avoid additional stress...
It’s better to allow more time than not enough. So avoid committing yourself to deadlines that you cannot meet!
To do this, think carefully about each task, but also about the less important subtasks. These may seem trivial, but they also take time.
Also, think about scheduling breaks in your day. Working without ever stopping is often a bad thing that leads to burnout. Because you’re not superhuman, your brain can’t concentrate indefinitely. From time to time, it needs to regenerate to be able to better focus on work.
Without a few short breaks, you’ll inevitably be faced with a drop in productivity and an irrepressible desire to do something else. So manage your relaxation time intelligently, by including it directly in your planning schedule.
Furthermore, make sure that your planned break time is spent on an activity unrelated to the task you’re doing.
For example, if you’re writing a business report, go for a walk or play sports! Don’t plan to read a book related to your work activity... That’s not real relaxation time!
Your break time should be able to “switch off” your brain and be seen as a small reward for your work.
This way, you’ll get back to work with a clearer mind, with a boost of energy and a new vision of things.
Make lists of your tasks and objectives
As you can see, to avoid procrastination, it’s highly recommended to list all the tasks to be accomplished. This allows you not to forget anything and to see things more clearly. Listing is an excellent way to remove stress from your daily life.
So take a sheet of paper and write down all those things you plan to do during the day, whether they’re more or less productive tasks.
As new tasks come up, add them to your schedule. Conversely, when a task is done, cross it off! This is a real source of satisfaction...
To avoid wasting too much time before taking action, be clear when describing each task to be done. The more vague the description, the harder it is to get started.
In addition, be sure to rank the tasks by importance: put the most urgent tasks at the top of your list and the minor tasks at the bottom.
When a task seems too difficult or complex, don’t hesitate to divide it into several parts in your listing. For example, instead of writing “write my report (about 50 pages),” use the following wording:
- Monday: write the introduction and outline of the report.
- Tuesday: write part 1 of the report.
- Wednesday: write part 2 of the report.
- Thursday: write the conclusion.
- Friday: attach the appendices to the report and proofread it.
A divided task makes it seem less complex, which prevents procrastination. Also, you’ll cross off completed parts of your list more often, which is much more motivating!
Focus on one task at a time
Procrastinators have a very bad habit: they have the annoying tendency to launch themselves into several actions at the same time. As a result, they quickly become overwhelmed and lose track of their mission.
Doing many actions at once tends to make us counterproductive. Performing tons of actions is the best way to never finish what you have started.
Remember that it’s better to work 30 minutes on a specific task than to spend 2 hours on several subjects at the same time. As much as possible, always try to finish one task before starting a new one.
To encourage you to complete one task at a time, be sure to list your assignments in order of priority. As mentioned earlier, start with the most important and urgent things first, before moving on to another item on your list.
If you’re the type of person who has trouble staying focused on one task for long, try to determine your maximum concentration time beforehand. Then set up periods of activity equal to that time. Nothing prevents you from using a stopwatch!
Next, it’s been shown that the most difficult phase is starting a new activity. To encourage you to get to work, plan all the elements necessary to accomplish a task.
Not only will you save precious time, but it’ll also be a source of additional encouragement...
Let’s take an example: you made good resolutions and you decided to start cycling every Saturday morning. But you haven’t checked the condition of your tires! Worse yet, you have absolutely no idea where your bike pump is stored. So you spend Saturday morning looking for it and decide to give up your bike ride... This is called procrastination!
Anticipation and organization are two key ways to avoid it. Always make sure, beforehand, that you have the necessary equipment and that it works.
Keep distractions at bay
Distractions are one of the worst enemies of concentration. To stay motivated, it’s imperative to be in a calm and healthy work environment. It’s best to avoid temptation and any potential source of distraction.
If you tend to procrastinate, it’s best not to have your phone nearby, or even your email, a TV, or access to Facebook.
Usually, procrastinators start by watching a simple video on social networks... Then another one, and another one, etc. until they lose hours of work time!
To stay productive, isolate yourself in a quiet place and try not to be disturbed. Avoid music, talkative co-workers, or hallway gossip.
When you get distracted, a task that takes only a few dozen minutes can quickly stretch into several hours.
Nothing is more discouraging than an assignment that drags on for hours. It’s best to stay productive and not break your rhythm. Once the mission is completed, you’ll have plenty of time to take a break!
Be easy on yourself
Let's take a look at one of the main causes of procrastination: demands and perfectionism. No, you’re not a machine! So stop setting your goals too high, at the risk of demoralizing yourself. Aim for achievable goals and trust yourself!
Striving for perfection is a real barrier to advancement. There is no point in striving for excellence. It’s better to be indulgent with yourself and accept your small defects... We all have them!
On the other hand, congratulate yourself when you succeed in doing a good job. Many people only point out their shortcomings but never reward themselves when they achieve their goals.
Free yourself from perfectionism and stop burdening your mind with details or instructions that are not necessarily required. The pressure in the workplace is often great enough, so you don’t need to add an unnecessary dose.
Believe in yourself
To avoid procrastination, self-confidence is essential. To find motivation, try to relax and inspire yourself with positive thoughts. There are books dedicated to this subject. Don’t hesitate to get them. They can be a very helpful source of motivation.
In addition, avoid comparing yourself to others. Comparisons can be used to evaluate your level and reassure yourself. However, they shouldn’t be destructive and shouldn’t lead to an inferiority complex. Never stop yourself from acting because you’re afraid of how others will look at you. And remember that it’s by making mistakes that we learn the most...
Because each individual is different, don’t put yourself in a position of competition with others. Everyone has their qualities and faults, and this is probably where the charm of humanity lies.
Logically, if you’re just starting to learn the piano, you won’t be able to reach the same level as a pianist who’s been playing for 10 years! Be kind to yourself.
Coaching, therapy: get help to move forward
Finally, because there’s no harm in turning to professionals or to others for help, don’t hesitate to get coaching. There are many therapies available today to help you stop procrastinating and gain self-esteem.
Banishing anxiety disorders from one’s daily life or finding more serene work methods are sometimes complex tasks. In this case, the help of a professional can be a precious ally.
Because each person is different, these specialists will undoubtedly better understand your problem, drawing on their many different experiences. Don’t hesitate to turn to their expertise to learn faster and progress more quickly.
Before you apply these many tips, know that there’s actually a procrastination holiday. Now that you know everything, make sure we don't have to wish you “Happy International Procrastination Day” on March 25th!