It just happened again. That project or task you were supposed to work on weeks ago is due tomorrow and now you’re burning the midnight oil to get it done in time. Frustrated that you have done this to yourself yet again, you wish you knew how to stop procrastinating.
Sound familiar? Are you continually scrambling to to finish work you should have started weeks ago?
Reasons We Procrastinate
Here are some of the common reasons we procrastinate:
- Think We Work Better Under Pressure
- The Work Is Hard So We Put It Off
- Project is Too Large
- Lack of Skill
- Disconnect From Future
- Not Sure How to Proceed
I Work Better Under Pressure
I often hear this excuse from people as to why they wait until the last minute to work on projects. The truth is that you actually don’t work better under pressure – the pressure finally made you get off your ass and start the work.
Waiting until the last minute means you lose any possibility of corrections, feedback and help from others. And you may not have enough time left to give the late task the full attention it deserves.
The solution? Working better under pressure is a myth. Letting go of this way of thinking helps you unblock so you can actually schedule the upcoming work and complete it in a timely manner. Change your thinking and you will be able to solve this problem.
Hard Work Gets Pushed to Last
It is human nature to work on the easy tasks first and to put off the hard or annoying tasks. The problem is that then we have put off the hard work for late in the day when we have no energy – so we justify putting it off another day because we aren’t up to it just now.
This cycle repeats itself until we run out of time.
The solution? Do the “worst first.” Take the hardest, nastiest high priority work you HATE to do and work on it for the first 1-2 hours of the day. Then “reward” yourself with the work you enjoy.
First thing in the morning every day, I spend the first 2 hours working on the highest priority client and marketing tasks that would be so easy to put off until later. Mid range work like email replies and other work is for mid day. I love creating new workshops and find it energizing so I save the research, writing and presentation preparation for late afternoons when my energy is lowest.
Project Is Too Large
Large projects can be daunting. If you know a project might take 30 hours or more, we never have that much free time in our schedule to work on it. So we put it off, hoping we will have more open time later. But you know you are never going to have an open slot of 30 hours so you never get to it.
The solution? Break down the project into bite-sized 30 minute or one hour chunks. Here are some ideas for breaking it into smaller chunks:
- create an outline of the project first
- set blocks of time for any research needed
- if the project relies on other people, make a list of what you need from them and request it early in the project so you aren’t scrambling to get the information later.
If you have something that will take 20 hours to complete that is due in a month, spending a solid one hour every day on the project will keep it on track and complete it on time.
Lack of Skill
Sometimes a task needs a skill we haven’t mastered yet. So we work on the things are good at and put off the things we aren’t good at, even when they are important.
The solution? The first thing to do is to look at the skill and decide if it is a skill you regularly need for your work.
For example, I wrote blog posts and sometimes want graphics or infographics to illustrate the posts. But I am not a graphic designer so I just pay people on places like Fiverr to provide the graphics.
But if I was hired as a graphic designer and wasn’t that good at it yet, I would look at taking courses either locally or online in the evening to improve my skills.
So for skills you were hired for, set aside dedicated time for learning and practicing the skill. For other skills, learn to outsource them.
Disconnect from Future
When something is due in 3 months, we lull ourselves into thinking there is plenty of time. Students are particularly prone to this. Suddenly the 3 months is nearly up and we haven’t even started the project. And our manager can’t understand why there is a problem when we had 3 months to get it ready.
Solution: Treat future tasks like a project. Estimate the time needed and break it into smaller chunks and schedule some time each week or month until complete.
Not Sure How to Proceed
Often we get stuck on a task because we aren’t sure how to proceed. Since the next step isn’t immediately clear to us, we put it off. Eventually it gets very late and we are still stuck on how to start.
Here are some solutions on how to stop procrastinating when you aren’t sure how to proceed.
- Create a Plan/Outline: use a mind map or outlining tool to put together a plan on how to proceed. I find this step makes it much easier to find my path.
- Use a Decision Matrix: A decision matrix can help you decide come to a decision faster by turning factors of your decision into quantities you can rank and add together.
- Research Online: If you are stuck on how to do something, chances are that thousands of other people are also stuck. Search Google for terms like “how to ______” and you will find a wealth of information that will trigger ideas to get you started.
- Ask Your Supervisor: Checking with your supervisor on how to proceed has the benefit that you know you will be doing the task in the way the supervisor wants. Supervisors often have a wealth of experience and can act as your mentor.
- Ask Your Colleagues: Don’t want to demonstrate your uncertainty to your supervisor? Talk to colleagues in your office that you trust and get their input.
- Tap Your Network: Don’t want to show weakness in your office to your supervisor or colleagues? Tap your online network. I have an extensive network of people through places like LinkedIn, and Facebook that I can get help from.
- Ask Question Sites: Go to sites like Quora and Reddit and ask your questions there. I have found these forum/question web sites to be extremely valuable.
How To Stop Procrastinating – the Solutions
So here is a round up of solutions to how to stop procrastinating:
- Worst first
- Break large projects into bite sized chunks
- Block time for important tasks and future projects
- Forget about working better under pressure
- Tap your colleagues, supervisor and network for help
- Create plans and outlines to keep on track
- Develop your skills or outsource
- Research online and use question networks
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