Procrastination is something that affects all of us at some point or another. For some of us, procrastination hits us when we are trying to complete our biggest, most important projects. For others, it impacts all areas of our lives.
Whatever your relationship with procrastination, the good news is that there are steps you can take to overcome it.
Here are five hacks you can start using today to trade procrastination for productivity:
1. Figure out what’s behind the procrastination (and therefore, understand how to overcome it)
Although procrastination might seem like a mysterious phenomenon, usually there’s a good reason for it. Some of the most common causes of procrastination are fear, self-doubt and a perfectionist mindset.
If we fear judgement from other people, or if we fear the changes that might come as a result of success, we’re likely to delay getting started. Equally, if we approach a task or project with the mindset that it either has to go exactly as planned or it’s a failure, that kind of pressure is likely to lead to procrastination and avoidance.
If you’re struggling to understand your procrastination, take some time to reflect and ask yourself, “What’s the payoff for staying stuck? How am I actually trying to help or protect myself?” With a better understanding of what’s behind your procrastination, you can take steps to build support structures and accountability that will help you take action— whatever your fears, doubts, or worries.
This hack is important, but make sure this kind of introspection doesn’t become a method of procrastination in itself!
Pairing this step with one of the following hacks will help you turn internal understanding into external action.
2. Set a timer for 5 minutes and start
One of the hardest parts of any project or task is getting started. Most of us find that, once we’re past that first hurdle, the rest is smooth sailing. You can overcome this hurdle by giving yourself permission to work on the object of your procrastination for just five minutes.
Agree with yourself that you’ll focus on that particular task—and that task only—for the next five minutes. If you want to stop at the end of the five minutes, you’re allowed to. If you want to continue, that’s allowed too. Be careful not to “should” yourself into continuing after the timer goes off. Tomorrow, you can try another five minutes and see how you feel then.
This hack works because many people find they get into the groove and want to continue beyond the five minutes. Even if you don’t, however, that’s fine. Even five minutes each day will amount to significant progress in the long-term.
3. Focus on how good it will feel when you’re done
I ask a lot of my clients to do a specific visualisation exercise. The first part involves creating a detailed picture of how their lives will be if they take a specific course of action we’ve been discussing. The second part involves creating a detailed picture of how their lives will be if they don’t take that course of action. For each picture, I ask them to think about how they’ll feel, and how taking or not taking action will affect other areas of their lives too.
If you’d like a dose of intrinsic motivation, you can do a similar exercise yourself. Imagine you’re looking at your life a year from now. Create the two pictures above, allowing yourself to feel the feelings associated with taking action (such as satisfaction, fulfillment, accomplishment, excitement, and confidence) and then the feelings associated with not taking action (such as disappointment, fatigue, dread, and negative self-judgement).
Now, you know the consequences of your action (or inaction) and you have a choice which reality you choose to create.
4. Find a way to make the task fun
With any big project, there will be tasks or actions that just aren’t fun or interesting. These can stall otherwise speedy progress and lead to a period of avoidance and procrastination.
If you’re in this situation now, you can help yourself by finding ways to make a particular task more interesting. Put on some good music, take your computer to a coffee shop and work there, or invite friends to take part with you. The fun-making method you choose will depend on the task at hand, but there will be a way to turn your procrastination into passion.
5. Set up public accountability
Public accountability is one of the most effective ways of overcoming procrastination. It’s effective for a simple reason: we don’t like to look bad in front of other people. Public accountability doesn’t even have to be that public to be helpful. Just being accountable to one person is often enough to kick us into gear.
To make the most out of public accountability, enlist the help of a coach, a friend or a dedicated accountability buddy. Tell them exactly what action you’re going to take and when you’re going to do it.
Featured photo credit: Britt Selvitelle via flickr.com