We all do it. We procrastinate. We put off doing a task on our to-do list that is unpleasant, or that seems overwhelming, or that makes us uncomfortable. The task may be big – writing a report or creating a presentation for work. Or it may be a small to-do list item, such as making a phone call to a client about an unpaid invoice or scheduling a dentist appointment. Recognizing procrastination is vital because whatever the task and whatever the reason, procrastinating takes a toll. We can end up feeling frustrated or anxious. We miss deadlines. At its worst, procrastination can affect our work, our health, our relationships. One study even found that 40% of people have experienced financial loss due to procrastination. (Gura, 2008)
Recognizing signs of procrastination:
- You tackle low priority tasks from your to-do list, thinking that if you can get them out of the way, you’ll have time to focus on the big stuff.
- You leave an important item on your to-do list for a long time. Do you ever get those Outlook reminders that a task is 17 weeks overdue? You’re procrastinating.
- You sit down to start on a high-priority task, but immediately do something else – make a phone call, check your email, start a load of laundry.
- You agree to do things others ask you to do (even tasks you’d usually avoid) rather than tackling your own priorities.
- You check your phone messages, texts, Facebook, Twitter repeatedly, hoping something more important will come up.
If this sounds like you, you’re recognizing the signs of procrastination and clearly need to get started on whatever it is you’re putting off. But how? Here are a few suggestions to help you break through the procrastination barrier and accomplish tasks on your to-do list:
- Identify those tasks that you tend to put off and then do them (as often as necessary) for 21 days. This will help to make these tasks a habit and you may begin to do them as part of your routine, rather than skipping over them.
- Address the dreaded task first thing in the morning – before starting anything else. Just get it done and enjoy the satisfaction of crossing it off your to-do list.
- Or, plan to complete the task (and schedule time for it) during the period when your energy is at its peak. If you hit a slump mid-afternoon, you’re not likely to tackle a big or dreaded project then,
- Start the task. Mark Twain said, “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” Once you get started on a task, the momentum may simply keep you going until it’s completed.
- Break the task into smaller steps. As you complete each sub-task, you’ll be that much closer to achieving the big picture.
- Set a realistic deadline (or, if someone has assigned the task to you, ask them for a deadline) and plan backward to establish a start date. Stick to your start date to be sure you meet your deadline.
- Reward yourself for completing the task. Treat yourself to lunch, go for a walk, tell a colleague who will appreciate and celebrate your accomplishment.