Think Tank Thursday: Procrastinate Later! Ten Ways to Get Yourself Moving

Source: Baker Communications, a Houston-based business management, leadership and sales training firm.

“Procrastination makes easy things hard, hard things harder.” — Mason Cooley

There may be no bigger time management hurdle than the habit of procrastination. It’s a common scenario—you have a job to do, but for some reason you put it off. It weighs on your mind, but you still don’t do it. The longer you put it off, the more daunting it gets—and finally, you find yourself in a last-minute panic, trying desperately to get at least the bare minimum done before your inertia results in disaster.

Sound familiar? It probably does. Almost everyone procrastinates on occasion. For some people, procrastination is almost a way of life.

People may procrastinate for many reasons. Maybe you’re:

  • Feeling overwhelmed, and just can’t focus on doing what it takes to get out from under the pressure.
  • Uncertain about exactly what you’re supposed to be doing.
  • A perfectionist, paralyzed by the potential for failure or falling short of expectations.
  • Just not motivated or feeling any sense of urgency.
  • Facing a task that’s too challenging or that you simply don’t enjoy, so you keep putting it off until you feel “up to it.”

In any case, you have the sense that you aren’t equipped to handle the task at present, so you push it forward in time for your Future Self to deal with—as if that future self is going to be more motivated, more confident, and better equipped than you are currently.

The fact is, your future self is still just you, and eventually, you end up dealing with the fallout from your procrastination in the form of extra stress, rushed work, lower quality results—and sometimes even missed deadlines. It’s a recipe for self-defeat, even for those who claim they “work better under pressure.”

Breaking the Habit

So how can you get moving when you’re feeling pinned down by procrastination? Here are 10 tips for achieving forward momentum in the face of inertia:

  1. Examine your state of mind and identify just what about the task you’re facing is making you reluctant to tackle it. There’s probably something in particular that you perceive as potentially difficult or uncomfortable; our brains readily come up with excuses to put off unpleasant experiences. If you can identify specifically what’s bugging you, though, it can put the problem into better perspective, and may even suggest an action plan.
  2. Are you the problem, or is someone else the problem? If you’re procrastinating to avoid contact with someone who needs to be involved, you need to set it aside—or possibly address that issue in a more direct way. Conflict and relationship issues can’t be your excuse for not getting your work done.
  3. If you’re hesitating because you’re confused or unclear about the process or expectations involved in the assignment, ask for clarification or assistance. It’s hard to get motivated to do something if you don’t have a clear vision. However, stewing in your own juices isn’t going to lead to progress—if you need help, admit it.
  4. Being overwhelmed with too many tasks can lead to a lockdown, as your brain juggles multiple obligations. Get a handle on what you’ve got on your plate by writing a list, breaking larger projects into smaller pieces, and prioritizing them.
  5. Don’t be a hero! If you’re already working at capacity, you need to set and maintain boundaries. Nobody can do everything; work within your own capabilities, and don’t be afraid to say NO if others are trying to load too much onto your shoulders. Other people will always assume you have the bandwidth to handle their requests unless you tell them otherwise.
  6. Get over the idea that you have to be perfect. It’s been said that procrastination is often the sign of a perfectionist; that’s because the fear of making mistakes can paralyze you. The trouble is that this fear of failure leads to a scenario where failure is actually more likely. Accept that mistakes might happen—it’s still better to get something accomplished than nothing at all!
  7. Take the first small step. Rather than getting bogged down thinking about all of the moving parts and smaller tasks that may be involved in a big project, just get started on something! Remember, the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. Any movement forward will tend to lead to more movement—the key is to get things rolling.
  8. Break your project into smaller goals, and put them on a schedule with clear deadlines. Block out time on your calendar to work towards specific goals. Aim for a time during the day or week that is usually highly productive for you—when you have enough energy to get the job done.
  9. If you need to take a break or stop in the middle of a task or project, do it strategically by stopping at a point where the next step is obvious and easy to take. This will help you get the ball rolling again when you come back to it.
  10. Find an effective way to deal with your stress. Stress and burnout are among the most debilitating causes of procrastination. Exploring options for stress relief can help you prevent the mental lockdown that can result from overwhelm and exhaustion.

“You don’t have to see the whole staircase. Just take the first step.”—Martin Luther King, Jr.

—Houston-based Baker Communications offers business management, leadership and sales training. Founded in 1979, the company has trained more than 1.5 million individuals.