“How soon ‘not now’ becomes ‘never’.”
“A year from now you may wish you had started today.”
Year after year, one of the most common question people email me about is this one:
“How can I stop procrastinating?”
I am no stranger to procrastination either. I used to do it a ton when I was in college and my results, stress levels, self-esteem and happiness suffered for it.
So today I would like to share three common mistakes that I did every week back then and what to do about them.
1. You overload your to-do list.
One very common reason why you may procrastinate that that the to-do list for your day is endless. You take one look at it and feel an itch inside of you to just run away. To escape. And so you procrastinate because you can't even see an end to all the things you have to do.
What to do instead:
To overcome this issue you have to limit your list.
Make it really short – 2-3 of the most important tasks –- and just focus on doing them and you'll reduce those urges to procrastinate a whole lot.
So how do you reduce and unclutter the to-do list to just the most important tasks?
I usually ask myself this question:
What would I work on if I only had 2 hours for work today?
Or this one:
If I was just told that I had to go away for a vacation tomorrow and it would last for a whole week then what would I spend today doing?
Try them both and see which one works the best for you.
2. You don’t break projects or tasks down into smaller steps.
When you look at a big essay or report you have to write or a 3-month long project you need to get done then it is easy to feel overwhelmed and to give into the urge to escape onto Reddit or Facebook.
What to do instead:
Break it down. Break down your essay or project into small steps. Then just focus on taking action on one small step. When you are done with that step move on to the next one and focus on only doing that small step until it is done. The small steps will add up quickly.
If you still wind up in procrastination while trying to get started with that one small step then set a small time limit.
Focus on writing for just 5 minutes on your essay. Or spend 5 minutes on creating the plan for how the project will work.
If the 5 minute commitment still makes you procrastinate don’t beat yourself up. Take an even smaller step instead and just work for one or two minutes.
Do what you need to do to get started.
Because getting started is – in my experience – the hardest part. After that it is usually pretty easy to keep working and to find some enthusiasm in the task. Or at least in the fact that you are moving forward and will pretty soon be done with the small step you are on right now.
3. You don’t put up limits for the obvious sources of distraction.
If you make it too easy to escape onto Facebook, your favorite forum or into your inbox to see if something new is going on there then you’ll probably spend a fair amount of time procrastinating in those places.
What to do instead:
Set limits and create a small ritual.
I bunch all of my checking of email, Facebook, Twitter etc. to one small session at the end of my workday. I do all the checking and replying in those places once a day.
Am I able to do this every day? Nope. But I do it maybe during 90% of my workdays. And that prevents a whole lot of procrastinating.
Also, if possible, try working early in your day with no internet connection at all. I usually try to get an hour or two of writing done in the morning before I even connect my computer to the internet.
If you procrastinate quite a bit via your cell phone then put it in your bottom drawer while working. Or if possible, put it in silent mode and then place it in another room and just check it a couple of times a day while you work.
You can also remove your favorite places from your bookmarks and favorite apps for procrastinating from your smart phone. By doing this you won’t have your favorite procrastinating places staring back at you whenever you use your browser or phone.
And it becomes a little harder to reach favorite websites – you have to punch in the address in your browser – than it used to be. It might not sound like much but I have found that these small obstacles have also helped me to reduce procrastination online in the past few years.