Almost everyone procrastinates from time to time, but Psychology Today has stated that an alarming 20 percent of people are chronic procrastinators. Worse, with the ever-increasing barrage of distractions, the percentage of people suffering from serious procrastination issues is on the rise.
And that’s a problem: After all, as entrepreneurs, we understand the challenges of trying to find time to get all of the work done. But, if we waste time on trivial tasks as a way to avoid important work and responsibilities, we need to find ways to break these success-killing habits.
While it’s not easy for a procrastinator to change — just getting started is often a challenge — it is possible. Here are the top reasons people tend to procrastinate and some tips and techniques for addressing the problem:
1. You feel overwhelmed.
Sometimes, when you feel consumed by the number of tasks on your to-do list, it’s easy to shut down. This can be particularly true when you face large or complicated tasks. Instead of digging in, you put them off. You tell yourself that you don’t have the hours needed to work on the task. Therefore, you should wait for the requisite extended period of uninterrupted time. As you can imagine, though, this luxury does not materialize.
Solution: Break the task into smaller pieces. As the old saying goes — “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” Break large tasks into smaller pieces, ones that will take no more than 15, 30 or 45 minutes to complete. Put these more manageable tasks on your to-do list and start the feast!
2. You’ve had bad timing.
Often, people procrastinate because they are trying to work against their body’s natural rhythms. Circadian rhythms regulate our sleep/wake cycles. When you are tired, it becomes easy to play the role of Scarlett O’Hara and put things off. After all, tomorrow is another day.
Solution: Play to your best times. Determine when you are at your peak. Are you a morning person? Do you feel most alive in the late afternoon? Do you get a second wind after dinner? It is critical to schedule and perform difficult, complicated or distasteful tasks at these peak times. You will be less likely to delay.
3. You hate the task.
Everyone has tasks he or she detests. Perhaps it’s invoicing, collection calls to customers or work on the budget. Whatever the dreaded task, if you truly hate it, it becomes easy to postpone. The problem compounds when you become embarrassed by your procrastination. That response only makes the task harder to face, and the procrastination becomes a negative spiral.
Solution: Reward yourself. Combining a distasteful task with a reward can help. A spoonful of sugar does help the medicine go down. Promise yourself time later that evening to enjoy that book you’ve been longing to start, or that glass of wine on the porch or that Netflix series you’ve been wanting to watch. First, however, complete your task.
Polly used this technique when studying for her college exams. She would put a novel she wanted to read in a brown paper lunch bag on the top corner of her desk. She did not allow herself to touch it until after her last final. It was her reward for the hard work she completed.
4. You need a greater sense of “urgency.”
Do you need critical deadlines to get a task started? Some people report that they work better when they are under extreme pressure. While there is not one study to support this belief, this belief continues; it’s even self-perpetuating. People want to believe that they function better under pressure, so they put themselves in those situations, continuing the procrastination cycle. If you find yourself waiting until the last minute to start on things, this misperception be your issue.
Solution: Create false deadlines. If you set your watch or clock five or ten minutes early, you’re already using false deadlines. Be truthful. Every time you look at your watch, do the math. It isn’t 9:00 a.m., it is only 8:50 a.m. You aren’t fooling yourself into thinking it is later than it really is. Instead, remember that the incorrect time reminds us to try to be on time. It increases our self-awareness.
You can do the same thing with deadlines. Tell yourself that that report is due on Friday morning instead of Friday afternoon. Tell yourself that you have only 30 minutes to complete the task. Then, hold yourself to these new deadlines.
One last solution: If nothing else works, remind yourself of other times when procrastination caused you stress, regrets or humiliation or even cost your business money. When you find yourself procrastinating, try picturing those unpleasant outcomes.Those images may jumpstart you into action.
Learning to conquer procrastination is a form of self-discipline. Like other behavioral changes, it doesn’t happen immediately. You will have setbacks. However, if you use the techniques listed above, you can begin to make progress and get your to-do list done and start a more positive cycle.