Overcoming Procrastination

Do you take a long time to do tasks – so long that they only get done at the absolute last minute? Do you find yourself stressing about the job looming ahead, but unable to get started on it? Would you rather clean the toilet with a toothbrush than do what you are supposed to be doing? Do you tell everyone (including yourself) that you are “deadline driven” – rather than facing up to the fact that you are procrastinating?

You’re not alone. As a matter of fact, it took an inordinately long time for me to actually sit down and write this article. I found myself doing all the very low-priority ‘to dos’ and finding other non-essential things to fill my time (check my email yet again, reread all the articles I have written previously, get the coffee started, browse through a magazine, dust the house for the third time this week), all the while telling myself that I’d get this done. Deep down, I knew that I was procrastinating, but I tried to delude myself into thinking that it was all part of my ‘grand plan’ – that I was writing the article in my mind and when push came to shove I’d get it done. (As you can tell, I did get it done, but only after an agonizingly long time and many empty threats to myself.)

Does this sound familiar? Well, there are strategies to deal with procrastination. You probably already know when you are procrastinating; now you just have to know what to do to overcome your urge to clean the toilet with a toothbrush.

First, it doesn’t hurt to figure out why you are procrastinating. Is this a job/task that is unpleasant? Are you unsure of how to even begin? Are you overwhelmed?

If it’s unpleasant, force yourself to just do it. You know you’ll feel so much better when it’s done (“Why on earth didn’t I finish this before? It really wasn’t difficult and I feel so relieved now!”) and it probably isn’t as bad as you initially thought. (If it really turns out to be horrible, well, it’s done now and you can reward yourself with a box of chocolates.) Remember, the jobs that take the longest are those that are never started. (Yes, I know, that’s pretty corny … but true.)

Are you not sure of how to tackle the job? Perhaps it’s time to ask for help. There’s nothing wrong with looking to others who can share their experience and expertise. Sometimes all it takes is a starting point, and you’ll find the job goes very smoothly from there.

Are you overwhelmed? Then begin by breaking the job down into smaller, more manageable sections with realistic deadlines. Take it one step at a time, and as you finish each section, the job will seem less overwhelming.

Some other simple suggestions:

  1. Create a realistic to-do list – i.e. the absolute-must-do tasks rather than a whole lot of ‘nice to get finished if there’s extra time’ tasks – and the timeframe, with specific due dates. Put those dates everywhere: your daytimer, your online calendar, your email calendar, sticky notes on your kitchen counter.
  2. Change your work environment to make focusing easier. Get rid of what distractions you can. It is all too easy to begin a job and end up surfing the ‘net, all the while telling yourself that you are ‘researching.’
  3. Plan to devote a short amount of time (10 minutes) and then enjoy a cup of coffee. Then set another 10 minutes, then walk the dog. Then 10 minutes, and you can dig into a chapter of that book you’ve always wanted to read. And so on. You’ll find that the 10 minutes will probably expand as you get into your job and before you know it, you’ll be done.
  4. Pat yourself on the back for a job well done, and remember how great it feels to cross those tasks off the list the next time you are tempted to put off an unpleasant job.