Everyone is guilty of putting off something at one point or another. Chances are, just like everybody else, you’ve done this too. In fact, studies show that about 95% of people confess to procrastinating. Although nobody likes the psychological distress and impractical consequences that come from unnecessarily delaying a necessary task, why do people still do it?
Contrary to popular belief, procrastination is not caused by laziness. According to studies, procrastination is an instinctive and emotional response to a task that we do not want to do. It is an unhealthy habit that people develop when faced with a task or object associated with negative emotions. The good news is, just like any bad habit, it can be reversed with consistency and active effort. Achieving your desired productivity level is possible with the right motivation and mindset. Here are six things to keep in mind when overcoming procrastination:
Identify the reason why you procrastinate.
As much as you would like to put a task off, you need to ask the hard question: Why do you procrastinate? This is important because, as with any challenge, the first step is achieving awareness to properly reverse your procrastination trigger. In fact, according to Tim Pychyl, the author of Solving the Procrastination Puzzle, there are seven triggers that cause people to procrastinate: boredom, frustration, difficulty, ambiguity, lack of structure, lack of intrinsic reward, and lack of personal meaning. The reason why we procrastinate can be caused by one or a combination of these triggers.
It is important to keep in mind that although you can apply various strategies on how to overcome procrastination, the right solution to your problem will be elusive if you don’t really know your real trigger in the first place. You can develop awareness by observing your procrastination behaviors and patterns. Do you have difficulty in starting a task, staying focused, or both? What thoughts cross your mind when the temptation to procrastinate start to appear? Pausing to identify the real reason why you procrastinate will help you actively resist your triggers when you start to fall back into the pattern of procrastination.
Make it a point to start no matter what.
Lack of motivation is one of the most common reasons for procrastination. But the reality is, action begets motivation. One of the critical steps to breaking procrastination is getting started. Once you’ve gotten over the initial hurdle of starting, continuing on your work becomes easier. The task that you’ve been trying to put off may not be as bad as it was initially perceived, and starting on it forces your subconscious to recalibrate. As you go through it, you might find that it produces fewer negative triggers than you initially expected.
On top of this, making it a point to start on your task may be beneficial as you are most likely to remember incomplete tasks compared to tasks you haven’t started on yet. This is called the Zeigarnik Effect, where unfinished work continuously pop back into your mind even though you’ve already moved on to other things. It’s like hearing a good song that abruptly ended or seeing a puzzle midway; your mind has the urge to fill in the rest of the pieces that are missing. Those very thoughts push you to go back to your unfinished business and complete it. Considering this in the context of procrastination, the stress induced by the lingering thought of an incomplete task may just be the healthy push that you need to get things done.
Break it down into manageable subtasks and set defined deadlines.
The idea of a big task can be daunting, boring, or intimidating to many when considering the amount of work that needs to be accomplished. Moreover, the pressure from an impending unmet deadline can produce incredible amounts of stress that can trigger frustrations. To avoid procrastinating, one practical step you can take is to break down the main task into smaller tasks and assign a target completion date per item. Studies show that small steps decrease the perception of difficulty that acts as a trigger to procrastination. By taking a “one step at a time” approach, the task is perceived as doable because the target is measurable, and milestones are easily achievable. If you can’t make yourself complete the task in one go, completing it in steps can be an effective alternative that will help you slowly build motivation and pace the completion of your task without feeling overwhelmed.
Another important benefit to consider is the increased number of times you feel a sense of accomplishment with every subtask completed. Because smaller tasks are faster to complete, looking forward to completing another task then becomes a highly effective motivator to keep going.
Be intentional in avoiding distractions.
It will be challenging to get things done if you keep getting sidetracked by non-essential things. Most of the time, these distractions are preventable and well within our sphere of control, like frequently checking your social media or email. Other times, especially for remote workers, these may be caused by uncontrolled factors like excessive noise from a neighbor or interruption from a family member. Either way, these distractions can easily break your concentration. So, when it comes to improving your focus, intentionality is key.
Avoid distractions by consciously eliminating anything that might divert your attention. Before you start working on a task, disconnect from your device ahead of time by placing it in a separate room, blocking problematic websites, or turning off notifications. If you’re dealing with uncontrolled factors, opting for noise-canceling headphones can help block out unnecessary noise, while communicating boundaries can help inform family members about your task’s urgency. Placing yourself in an environment that allows maximum focus and minimum distractions will decrease procrastination and boost your productivity significantly long-term.
Reward yourself for each progress.
The brain is designed to avert pain and pursue pleasure, and like everyone else’s, your brain loves getting rewards, too. Keeping in mind that procrastination has more to do with emotions rather than reason, presenting yourself with rewards will help train your mind that positive behavior equates to positive emotions. This is a smart strategy for overcoming procrastination since the act of delaying an unwanted task feels like a reward when you get to avoid the negative emotions by turning your back on it. But this couldn’t be farther from the truth because entertaining this mindset only sets you up with the potential psychological distress that comes from delaying the inevitable.
For every completed task or subtask, reinforce positive behavior by indulging yourself in something that you find enjoyable. This may be a physical reward like food or an activity like watching an episode of your favorite television show. Ultimately, implementing a rewards-based approach gives you a little extra dose of motivation to tackle what’s in front of you, knowing that you have something exciting to look forward to once it’s all done.
Be consistently accountable.
Overcoming procrastination takes continued behavioral conditioning and effort, and sometimes you would need the help of a friend to help you stay on track. Finding someone who can be your accountability partner will help give you the extra nudge you need to push yourself toward accomplishing your goals, especially when your triggers increase or motivation is extra elusive. Accountability can also work to help promote positive emotions every time you accomplish a task since you will feel proud to report back to your partner and, at the same time, receive affirmation for your progress.
Be transparent to your accountability partner about your goals and tasks and be consistent in reporting progress. In the same way, your partner should be firm in holding you accountable and making sure you stay true to your goals. One option you can implore is finding a partner who has already succeeded in the goals you’re trying to accomplish. They can provide valuable encouragements and corrections that you will need to succeed.
Take the first step to achieve your goals today.
At Infinity Consulting Solutions, we have a dedicated team of experts who are ready to provide the support and guidance you need to make sure you take timely steps toward the future you want. Contact us today and get started on making your career goals happen.