We have all experienced this: we have a deadline to deliver or a task to finish, and instead of doing it, we start fiddling with other less important things, we check emails, navigate social networks, watch videos, you name it! We know we should be working, but the reality is, we don't feel like doing it.
This action has a name, it is called to procrastinate, and it consists of delaying, wasting our time, and postponing essential tasks that should be done until it's not too late. The consequence, almost always, is feeling bad for not starting earlier. Many people continuously regret this cycle and find it hard to stop procrastinating. In case you need to know how not to waste your time, here are some tips on how to stop procrastinating.
Procrastination is when we avoid performing a task that must be done within a specified period. Therefore, the meaning of "procrastinate" is similar to "postpone." It consists of a systematic or intentional delay to start or finish a task even though we know that it can have negative consequences. Procrastinating is a relatively common human attitude that involves the delay of regular or relevant tasks such as attending an appointment, presenting a work report, handing in academic work or addressing a stressful topic with a colleague.
Although procrastination is usually conceived as a negative trait due to its hampering effect on the productivity of the person, it is often associated with depression, low self-esteem, guilt or self-perception of inadequacy. It can also be considered an intelligent response to certain obligations that could lead to dangerous or negative results or that require more information to collect.
According to the definition of the Cambridge Dictionary, to procrastinate is to delay or postpone. Therefore, in a work context, procrastination implies the habit of putting off tasks or situations that must be carried out, substituting them for others that are less important, irrelevant or more pleasant.
Putting an end to procrastination is not easy since we are the ones who adopt this attitude. This is why, it's essential to follow a series of steps that will keep us on track and help us avoid postponing essential tasks.
One of the reasons we keep postponing is because, more or less consciously, we find the work too overwhelming. In this sense, it is better to break it up into small parts and concentrate on one of them at a time. If after having chunked the task we still procrastinate, then we break it up it even more. This way, the work will become so simple that it will seem effortless.
When we have divided the task into smaller ones, we have to concentrate only on what we have to do at that moment, without thinking about the rest of the phases. When we have finished the first step, then we focus on the next one.
Another factor to take into account if you want to stop procrastinating is the environment. Each setting has a determined impact on our productivity, and we have to bear in mind that an environment that makes us feel inspired and eager to work might lose its effect after a period of time. If that is the case, it's time to change things around and redecorate or declutter your living space and work area.
Having only one deadline to complete your work is almost like an invitation to postpone and procrastinate it. This happens because we have the impression that we have enough time to do it and we keep delaying everything until it is too late. As mentioned before, we have to break the project into smaller chunks and then create a general timeline with specific deadlines for each small task.
In this way, we know that we have to finish each job on a specific date. The timeline also has to be stable, that is, if we do not finish the task by the scheduled date, everything we have planned after that will be jeopardized. In this way, we create a sense of urgency which helps us complete our intended goal.
If we take too long to perform a given task it could be because we are distracted, so we have to get rid of the distractions that surround us: social networks, email, checking certain web pages, and so on. Many people who struggle to stay focused choose to deactivate the Internet, if it's not required to complete the task, and keep the phone quietly in a drawer and out of reach.
The people with whom we spend time have a direct influence on our behavior. We need to identify productive and hard-working people, friends or colleagues and spend more time with them. Soon we will adopt their powerful impulse to act and their go-getter spirit.
Getting in touch, either by email or personally, with people from your field of work and sharing stories, advice and encouragement could also provide a sturdy support system that will prevent anyone from procrastinating. This is one of the most effective methods to avoid procrastination.
Another trick to stop procrastinating is to tell all your friends, colleagues, acquaintances and family what projects you are doing. Now, every time you see them, they will probably ask you about the status of these projects. You can also publish it on social networks or your blog; in this way, you feel responsible and accountable for the task, and you will be less likely to abandon it.
What do you want to achieve and who are the people who have already achieved it? Find them and pick their brains. Seeing proof that your goals are achievable once you take action is one of the best motivators to get up and do it.
If you have been putting off specific tasks for an extended period, it could create an imbalance between what you want and what you are currently doing. Many times we exceed our goals as we discover more about ourselves along the way.
Get away from work, take a few days off and take some time to reflect. What exactly do you want to achieve? What should you do to get there? Which are the steps you need to follow? Does your current work align with that? If not, what can you do about it?
Are you waiting for an ideal moment to do it? Maybe now is not the best time due to specific reasons? Forget about all of this because there will never be a perfect moment. If you keep waiting, you will never get anywhere. Perfectionism is one of the leading causes of procrastination and adopting a perfectionist attitude can be more of a nightmare than a lifesaver.
To stop procrastinating, it is necessary to take action. You can strategize, plan, and theorize all you want, but if you do not take action, nothing will happen. It's useless to complain if we don't take measures to stop postponing tasks.
Sometimes we overthink things to the point of paralysis. Therefore, it's better to focus on a small task and do it, without thinking about the whole job or the rest of the steps to follow. Just do it, without thinking about what you have to do.
Becerra, L. D. A. (2012). Aproximación a un concepto actualizado de la procrastinación. Revista Iberoamericana de Psicología: ciencia y tecnología, 5(2), 85-94.
Bustinza, D. A., Cema, K. D., Calderón, A., Morales, J. F. D., & Ferrari, J. R. (2005). Evaluación de la confiabilidad y la estructura factorial de tres escalas de procrastinación crónica. Revista de Psicología, 23(1), 113-138.
Quant, D. M., & Sánchez, A. (2012). Procrastinación, procrastinación académica: concepto e implicaciones. Revista Vanguardia Psicológica Clínica Teórica y Práctica, 3(1), 45-59.