Even minimal progress toward a goal, can help you achieve it!
Many of us struggle with procrastination. We need to do something and we deliberately don’t do it, even though we know this isn’t in our best interest.
Here’s an example. Linda has an important project to complete at work. She’s had four weeks to do it. A busy manager, Linda often gets distracted “putting out fires” that arise with her clients and team. Each day she tells herself she’ll start the project, yet each day she does not. The project is now due in two days; she tells herself she works better under pressure. To complete the project, Linda works late the night before it’s due. She knows she would have done a better job if she’d started earlier and is angry with herself for habitually putting things off.
Psychologist Timothy Pychl, PhD (2010) explains that procrastination occurs when we delay performing an action even though we know our delay may negatively impact ourselves or others – the main thing preventing action is our hesitation to get started.
For some of us, an occasional tendency to avoid a task is not much of a problem. For others, procrastination is a habitual behavior. Where do you fall on the procrastination continuum? According to Dr. Pychyl, the first step is looking at your patterns. Make a list of typically delayed tasks and the thoughts and feelings involved.
Here are 5 Ways to Stop Procrastinating
1. Just Get Started
Even minimal progress toward a goal, lets us feel more positive about the objective and ourselves (Sheldon, 2004). Typically, once we begin the task we discover it’s not as “bad” as we’d anticipated. Sometimes we wish we’d started sooner to have more time to work.
Just start! Take one small step to get the ball rolling down the hill toward completion.
For example, Adam has a college class assignment due in 2 weeks. He’s been avoiding it. Finally, he takes the first step…
- Day 1: He creates a file and simply types a working title, his name and the date. He congratulates himself for getting started.
- Day 2: He writes a few simple ideas – just notes to get working. The momentum stimulates his interests and he searches for information on the Web.
- Day 3: He begins a rough draft.
- Day 4: He researches a few more ideas.
- Day 5: He writes a rough draft for much of the assignment.
- Day 6: He finishes the project.
2. Be Prepared – Create an If-Then Plan
Think ahead to form plans you’ll perform when the going gets tough (Legrand, Bieleke, Gollwitzer & Mignon, 2017). An if-then plan can stimulate the resolve to overcome “I can’t” and “I don’t want to.”
These automatic contingencies can help in many situations. For example:
- “If I feel bored when I’m doing this task, then I’ll take a breath, focus my attention, and keep working.”
“If I want to check my email during the hour, then I will leave my phone off (or turn it off if it’s on), and continue doing my homework.”
“If I feel like I need to eat a sugary snack, then I’ll walk for 10 minutes instead.”
3. Remember You Don’t Have to Like It to Do It
To achieve a goal, our current level of motivation does not have to be high to get it done – “We can do something even if we don’t feel like it” (Pychyl, 2010). Just beginning the task can positively shift our motivation and attitude.
4. Plan Realistically
Get a reasonable understanding of requirements to complete the task effectively and on time.
Break the task into small, manageable, reasonable steps – be honest about what you can do in a particular time frame. Allow yourself relaxation and rewards as you complete steps. Keep track of your progress and adjust tasks and your commitments as needed. Avoid perfectionism – be reasonable about expectations from yourself, others, and the situation (Brown University, 2008).
5. Let Yourself Know What Procrastination and Delay are Costing You
How has your procrastination habit impacted your stress level, relationships, financial well-being; professional potential?
Ilene Berns-Zare, PsyD, ACC, a Certified Professional Coach, Psychologist, and Educator. Ilene has dedicated her career to the personal and professional development and integrative well-being of others. As a life and leadership coach, she inspires people to find fresh perspectives and access their full potential as creative, resourceful, whole persons.
- Brown University (2018). Overcome Procrastination.
- Legrand, E., Bieleke, M., Gollwitzer, P. M., & Mignon, A. (2017, April 10). Nothing Will Stop Me? Flexibly Tenacious Goal Striving With Implementation Intentions. [accessed Sep 21 2018].
- Pychyl, T. (2010). Solving the procrastination puzzle: A concise guide to strategies for change. Penguin Group, New York, NY.
- Sheldon, K. (2004). Optimal human being: An integrated multi-level perspective. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. New York, NY.