Have you ever sat down to work on a business pitch… or your resume… or an important speech you’ve been ask to give… and then realized it would be much less stressful to check the sports scores… or play solitaire… or check Facebook? If so, join the crowd. 80% of college students are procrastinators and 20% of the adult population as well – though of course many of them may have just never been motivated to actually complete the surveys. The point is that lots of people procrastinate, and, for the most part, to their detriment.
But there is hope for those of us who, like Herman Melville when writing Moby Dick, need to be chained to our desks to actually complete a piece of work. Here are my top 5 tips to overcome procrastination.
Tip 1: Start your day with the hardest task – that is, if you’re up for it. This is the old Mark Twain advice to Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day. And translated to modern times – do the most challenging and difficult to-do item on your list before anything else, and you will have checked it off. Good advice, but only if you’re actually up for it. Some of us might not be at our best selves first thing in the morning – and in fact, might be better off eating our frogs in the afternoon – when we’re at our peak performance level – or at night. So, the advice here is to realize when you’re going to be at your best self – and at that point, eat your frog.
Tip 2: Do quick to-do’s super quickly. I remember getting advice early in my career to keep all sorts of email folders to manage inflow into my inbox – folders telling me to respond tomorrow… or respond on Friday… or respond early next week. And at the time, I remember how overwhelming – and inefficient this all sounded (and no wonder it actually was advice from someone who himself was quite inefficient). My best practice now is to make a super quick assessment of an incoming message, think about if I can realistically respond immediately, and then just do it. I can report that with this strategy, I currently have only 12 total messages in my inbox as I write.
Tip 3: Make your intentions public (and be accountable to someone): If overcoming procrastination is outside your comfort zone – as it is for many of us – make a pledge to take the leap and, ideally, have that pledge be public. You don’t necessarily have to announce it to the world – especially if you’re a private person and don’t really want to share what you’re working on. But find someone supportive you can be accountable to and tell them. It might be a close friend, or a colleague, or a group you belong to. The more you’re accountable, the more likely you’ll be to follow through.
Tip 4: Reward yourself for small wins. Procrastination and “perfectionism” often go hand in hand. And those of us who are perfectionists and high achievers might not necessarily feel it’s worth celebrating that we started to respond to a few more emails or were able to accomplish our most difficult task first thing in the morning. But in actuality these are achievements worth noting and celebrating. It’s not easy to take the plunge and do something outside your comfort zone. So, celebrate your small win and move onto the next one.
Tip 5: Remember that not all procrastination is bad. Adam Grant, for example, suggests that procrastination can actually serve a useful purpose, by allowing yourself to consider different ideas, think in original ways, and then come back to the task at hand. Though of course, there is a really important caveat here: that you actually return to the task at end – because if not, then basking in the worthiness of procrastination becomes itself yet another tricky procrastination technique.
In the end, procrastination can be challenging to overcome; But with a plan in place and the courage to take it forward, you can make great strides in your time management and productivity. Are you a chronic procrastinator? What are your go-to strategies?