We’re all familiar with having a looming deadline, but instead of working on finishing the task, we’re on social media, checking our email for the fifth time, or getting distracted by funny cat videos. Before you know it, the deadline is tomorrow, and you’re up all night trying to get it done.
Procrastination can be a bad habit that we’ve all experienced at least once in our lives. It can have negative consequences on your personal and professional life. Additionally, if you fall into this habit, you’re at a higher risk of it affecting your physical health as well. Before finding out how to stop procrastinating, it’s helpful to understand why it happens.
Procrastination is often confused with laziness but in fact, both things are different. Procrastination is willingly choosing not to do a task and convincing yourself that you have the time to do it later. You can still do other tasks, just not what you need to do. For example, you have a deadline for a project coming up but you choose to re-organize your closet or even do the dishes. This is called productive procrastination, where you’re being productive just with unnecessary tasks at the time. But being lazy is the unwillingness to do any tasks at all.
In short, procrastination is putting off something once and then again, and continuing to do so until it is too late. This can be related to work, like postponing a presentation, or it can be in your personal life, like avoiding a doctor’s appointment.
Procrastination can be caused by many reasons. Sometimes it’s wanting to do something more pleasurable over the task at hand, or other times it’s feeling overwhelmed with tasks. The most common reasons are:
Being afraid of failing at something is the biggest contributor to procrastination. This is mostly rooted in self-doubt and believing you won’t be able to get a task done efficiently. Failure can take many forms, it can be thinking you can’t get that promotion at work or expecting bad news from the doctor. When the task is tied to negative emotions, we tend to postpone it as much as possible.
Sometimes the reason for not starting a task could be that you have too many tasks. This reason is usually associated with people that are bad at time management or have poor organization skills. If you have a task that needs tackling but you don’t know how to start, this makes you anxious. However, you don’t do anything until it is too late and another task gets added to the pile. As a result, this increases your stress levels and anxiety - and the cycle goes on.
By procrastinating most of the day, all of your to-dos get shifted to the next day. Needless to say, you’re in for a sleepless, stressful night. Having a lot on your mind and being stressed can keep you from falling asleep at night. You’ll find yourself awake at 3 am turning and tossing with a hundred tasks in your mind. And so in the morning, you’ll be groggy and have a lack of energy, which will slow down any progress you could’ve made during the day.
If there isn’t a glaring deadline to a task, it’s usually put on the back burner under “I’ll do it later”. This is usually the case with chores at home, like unpacking after a trip or washing the car. If the task isn’t a priority, we find ourselves pushing it to an indefinite time. This is also applicable if you do have a deadline, but it isn’t close yet. For example, if students have a test at the end of the year. Instead of studying throughout the year, they’ll wait until the last few days to crack a book.
However, some people have a type of procrastination called active procrastination, where they work better under pressure within a limited time frame. Research has shown that these procrastinators get better results than passive procrastinators.
Perfectionism is a double-sided sword. It can be useful because high standards will help you accomplish a lot in life, but it can also negatively impact your productivity. Perfectionists can easily become procrastinators if they feel like the results of a task won’t be good enough. They’d either not start the task at all, or they would continuously work on it, even if it means missing specific deadlines. This all-or-nothing mindset can be harmful to your job.
Sometimes the answer is as simple as you just don’t want to do this task. If the task isn’t fun or you know it’ll take a lot of time, you’ll most likely postpone starting it as much as possible. This reason is common when you’re burned out, feeling depressed, or suffering from anxiety.
We’ve put together a list of tips based on extensive research and life coach recommendations on how to stop procrastinating and be productive.
Usually, when we’re overwhelmed with tasks and have a lot on our plate, it gets confusing to decide where to start. It is recommended to split your tasks into smaller chunks so that you start working on them one chunk at a time.
Don’t think of it as a whole, break it down and methodically do things step by step. This can be applied to any task, at home or at work. Some people prefer to work in a cycle and set a time frame per step. For example, you spend five minutes on this step before moving on to the next step. Then when you’ve reached the last step, you go back to the first one, and so on. It’s always useful to have a plan in place and know what you’re going to do next.
Being organized is vital if you want to overcome procrastination. Things as small as having a clean desk and organizing your paperwork can increase your productivity. Create a to-do list at the start of the day with all the tasks you need to finish and check them off as you go. You can also use sticky notes with your deadline in front of you to remind yourself to stay focused.
It also helps to set reminders on your phone so you don’t spend too much time on one important task and forget about the others. Alternatively, you can ask a friend to track your progress or follow up with you when there’s a lot to do.
Whether it is noise in the next room or checking your phone every few minutes, you need to take active steps to eliminate any distractions keeping you from getting the job done. To overcome procrastination, get rid of anything that is taking your attention from an important task. This can either be silencing your phone and keeping it away from you, wearing noise-canceling headphones, or changing your work spot if you keep getting interrupted.
This was especially hard to do during the pandemic when people were working from home, but isolating yourself can be very helpful. In short, when you have nothing to do, that’s when you start doing what matters!
If you’re feeling tired and are low on energy all day, it makes sense that you wouldn’t want to or won’t be able to get any work done. As a result, it is really important to get a good night’s sleep every night to feel re-energized in the morning.
Better sleep can sharpen your concentration and focus as well as improve your memory, which can all assist in getting tasks done faster. Adults are recommended to get 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night - if you sleep less than that, it will affect your productivity the next day.
Setting long-term goals isn’t enough to guarantee you’ll achieve them, without putting in the proper work. Start setting short-term goals for yourself, like milestones, and treat yourself to a reward when you reach them. This can be going for a walk, eating a piece of cake, or having some phone time.
If you’re working on boring big tasks that you don’t like, you need to motivate yourself to keep working. It is also helpful to try and focus on the bigger picture or the end goal, why are you doing these tasks? What will you accomplish in the end? Always look for ways to stay motivated that’ll push you through large tasks.
Revenge bedtime procrastination is when you’re busy with work or tedious tasks all day, so when it’s time to go to bed, you want to do enjoyable activities, like watching TV or going on social media. This is our way of making up for not being able to do anything fun during the day. As a result, you sleep late and aren’t really productive the next day. It is recommended to try and take breaks during the day to relax, meditate, or watch TV, instead of doing it all at night.
Procrastination and anxiety are somewhat correlated, if you feel overwhelmed or anxious over tasks, it can lead to procrastination - but it isn’t considered a form of anxiety. However, some symptoms of general anxiety disorders, like PTSD or OCD, can lead to procrastination.
Perfectionists are people that thrive to finish tasks with results that meet their high standards. They would rather have perfect results than any results at all. Therefore, they delay starting tasks if they don’t think it’ll be good enough or they’ll consume a lot of time perfecting it even if it risks missing deadlines.
Procrastination is a bad habit. But like any other habit, you can break it. Start by applying these few tips in different aspects of your life, whether it is meeting deadlines or finishing chores. Don’t overcomplicate it or think about it, just do it!