Procrastination happens. Whether conscious or subconscious, we all have certain activities which we put off, de-prioritize, and push away until they either fall off of our lists or we’re forced to complete them.
As a time management coach, I’ve seen that the most successful people recognize when this is happening and then problem-solve to mitigate the impact of their procrastination tendencies. Reality always wins. So the closer we can get to working with our reality, the better off we’ll be.
Here’s a four-step strategy to overcome procrastination in any area in which you’re struggling:
Step 1: Realize procrastination is an act, not an identity
You’ll have the most success in reducing procrastination when you relate to it as something you do instead of someone who you are. So instead of saying, “I’m such a procrastinator,” You might say, “I am procrastinating on this task.” When you stop making procrastination part of your identity, you free yourself up to behave differently.
You also release guilt around the fact that you feel like procrastinating sometimes—or a lot of times—and can then observe the situation more objectively. The goal is to not judge yourself for how you feel or don’t feel but instead to analyze what’s happening and how you can move forward and take action.
Step 2: Clarify why you’re avoiding action
Next, you want to figure out what stands in the way of you taking action. There may be one or more reasons, so brainstorm until you feel like you’ve identified all of the specific barriers to action. Here are a few examples:
- You find the task challenging.
- You don’t know how to do the project.
- The activity is boring.
- You think the task is stupid and unnecessary (though it’s required by someone else).
- You can’t find your password, paper, or other item needed to complete the assignment.
- You don’t have a clear block of time to work on the task.
- You need a quiet workspace and are surrounded by noise.
- You haven’t broken down the project into parts, so you don’t know where to start.
- You worry about people judging your work.
- You expect your work to be perfect—and fear it won’t be.
- You tell yourself that you always do your best work under pressure, so you wait until the deadline is urgent enough for the adrenaline to kick in.
- You prefer researching and learning over doing.
- You don’t have a deadline.
- You don’t have any outside support or accountability.
Get honest about anything causing friction in the process either in your external or internal world.
Step 3: Address the issues
Once you know what stands in your way of moving ahead, you can then address those specific issues. Removing the blocks can act as the first steps to build momentum and eventually get you into completing your projects.
For instance, you could take these initial steps:
- Schedule a meeting with a coworker to talk through your questions.
- Give yourself time to find your misplaced notes.
- Block out time in your schedule to do the work.
- Remind yourself that your first attempt is just “a draft” and doesn’t have to be perfect.
- Listen to an interesting podcast where you work on a boring, routine task.
- Ask a friend to hold you accountable to give a report on your progress by a specific date.
Keep attacking the issues one by one until all you have left to do is to complete the work. Then do that, too.
Step 4: Celebrate progress—no matter how ugly
When you struggle with procrastinating on a certain task, you may never get into a flow state. You may never really enjoy the work. You may never be the most efficient. But you can still get the work done.
In general, I don’t tend to procrastinate on tasks, but I still have my moments. Sometimes, it means I’ve had to make rules for myself such as “Just take one action on this project each week.” Or “Spend 20 minutes on this activity, and then decide on the next time you will spend 20 minutes.” Or “I have to report into this person by this time that I’ve done an activity so that I have positive peer pressure.”
It’s not pretty. It’s not fast. It’s not always very efficient. But over time, the items I don’t enjoy doing but that need to get completed do get checked off the list. Don’t judge yourself for certain tasks being hard or your process being imperfect. Just keep starting and restarting again. In time, the tasks that once loomed over you will be distant images in your rearview mirror.