Overcoming your procrastinating self starts with managing your procrastinating habits.
Most of us want to get a lot done—and fast. There are deadlines to meet and other tasks to get to, so time is obviously of the essence. But most of us also struggle with the notorious issue of putting things off until another day. We just don’t feel like doing it at the moment.
Whether you’re a student, manager, or parent, life can throw all kinds of cannonballs your way. You don’t need me to tell you that. Yet, oddly enough, most of the time it’s because we don’t move when we’re supposed to.
And the thing is, we already know it.
Jokes about delaying projects or other major assignments are common. Some are even used as conversation-starters. In some circles, you can be viewed as the oddball because you actually want to work ahead.
The desire to beat the clock before stress levels rise remains a reality in the working hours of every adult.
As much as we talk about procrastination, there has to be a way of actually doing something to get rid of it. And there is; because managing your procrastination is the first step to overcoming it.
First Thing’s First: Relax
We overload our brains when we add on more than we should. Part of that is due to a society that is addicted to the idea that being productive means having a laundry list of to-do’s sitting in front of you.
If your day isn’t packed full of things to do, well, you just aren’t producing enough. That’s the thought that ruins our drive to get the important tasks done. Our eyes catch the many obligations we have and they paralyze us.
For some, the opposite is true. The huge obligation-pie looks so good to the eyes. It causes their hearts to race with excitement because they crave the rush that the extra load gives them.
Then moments in, they realize they’ve bitten off more than they can chew. Their eyes had gotten bigger than their stomachs. And now, they were stuck with brain constipation.
Not surprisingly, the burden of completing them also causes us to panic. We try to go into overdrive, but that just makes it worse.
Begin by taking a moment to settle down. I do this whenever I catch myself getting frustrated with any workload. Trust me, trying to complete a task is much easier when you’re calm and focused on that one (important) thing.
Then there’s the idea that everything has to be perfect in order to be completed. This crippling thought of perfectionism takes up most of our time.
Before you know it, you’re hours before the deadline regretting every aspect of your life.
Allow yourself to be imperfect because you are.
Besides, you can always come back and revise your work later. Do the best you can now and move on. Chances are, it’ll be better than you think anyway.
You’ll improve over time with consistency and acceptance of your imperfections.
Take as Many (Timed) Breaks As You Need
To a fault, I don’t often put this into practice as much as I should. The idea of finishing becomes more important in the process of working that I sometimes forget about taking a break. This isn’t always a bad thing, though.
If you’re in a “zone” and everything is flowing, your creativity is on cloud nine, and you’re loving the work, by all means, continue. Those moments aren’t easy to come by.
However, forcing something to happen for hours on end will do more harm than good. There’s a difference between showing up and assuming you’re going to create a perfect work of art every time.
We need breaks.
Our brains need breaks. Pushing them too far for the wrong reasons adds stress and other symptoms none of us want. We don’t do that enough. And sometimes we confuse reward with laziness.
Start by Taking Smaller Bites
The popularization of multitasking is ruining our abilities to create and generate ideas. As we struggle to stay connected with what we really need (which is to cultivate our creativity), the desire to seem “busy” takes over.
Pretty soon, our minds are consumed with the finish line instead of taking one step at a time. The pressure becomes unnecessary when you think about productivity like that.
Not that there won’t be any pressure, just not as much as we place on ourselves most of the time.
Pick one thing that stands out to you. It can be anything. What was it that you woke up and thought about immediately? What was it that made you say, “I want to do this today”?
Focus on that, and just build momentum by getting started. Chip away at it until it’s no longer there to bother you.
Too often we think of our productivity as running a sprint instead of a marathon. Working with the “sprint” mentality will cause you to burn out before you know what to do next. There’s no room for focus that way.
When I fall into a state of procrastination, it’s usually because I’ve sat for hours thinking about how much work I had to do. Nothing became more apparent to me besides the workload I was about to carry.
But when I broke the big project down to its bare essence, things were getting checked off of my list. It wasn’t because I was rushing them, like some of us are tempted to do so often. It was because I started with one small task.
Even this piece started with one line of words, one idea, that became a paragraph. Then another. And another. Eventually, there was a page sitting in front of me that was somewhat readable.
Modify Your Perception of the Work
Much of what holds us back is the mentality that we’re going to fail before we even start. Past experiences and the overview of someone else’s work can cause us to look down on our abilities to produce quality output.
Then the work becomes a pile of useless material that isn’t going to mean much in the end. But in order to get anything done, you have to change the way you perceive the work itself (along with its outcome).
Give yourself a realistic and positive outlook that focuses on chipping away at that long list while celebrating the small wins.
By “realistic” I mean making a checklist that you know you can accomplish today.
From my experience, those two things either allow you to have fun with your work or see it as a hassle. One encourages more productivity, the other discourages it.
That’s not to say that a task won’t seem burdensome or difficult. You’ll always have those moments. But your perception will still determine whether you choose to give up on it or see it through to the end.
We’ll always have the temptation to put what needs to be done off till another day. There will be moments when that seems like the best thing to do. When tomorrow comes, however, you’ll be wishing you’d done something sooner.