Everybody, at some point in their life, has procrastinated in order to avoid doing their work or a task, in the vain hope that it might complete itself or maybe even disappear. Unfortunately for you and me, the task never disappears; in fact it normally gets more and more urgent or difficult to do. The best way out of this circle is probably not to get into it in the first place.
Avoiding procrastination is not as easy as avoiding work, but it can be done. A good place to start is to understand why you are procrastinating. Some people are perfectionists; they avoid doing a job for fear of not getting it perfect. Other people may be overwhelmed by the volume of work required; they don’t know where to start, so they don’t start at all. Often people procrastinate when they are faced with a task that they don’t particularly enjoy. Whatever the reason, it is possible to overcome procrastination with a little effort. Here are some suggestions:
• Take a look at the task in hand. Are you worried about not completing it properly? Well, the truth is that you won’t – if you procrastinate. But if you make a start immediately, your work will be easier to complete properly and on time.
• Set aside the time you need to complete your work. Good time management is important. It’s easier to do something if you have a set amount of time for it. Use a diary or a calendar. Most modern email applications have a built-in calendar. Go on, give it a try.
• Try to plan out your work. Deal with one thing at a time. Write down everything that needs to be done, and you will see which things have to be done first in order for everything to fall into place. When you write things down, what seemed like an endless and complicated task usually turns out to be simpler than expected. Dealing with one goal at a time will make your work seem less of a burden.
• Don’t over plan. There is such a thing as planning too much. Spending too much time in a planning stage is another form of procrastination. Endlessly thinking about a task is not the same as doing a task.
• Delegate work. Make good use of resources. If there are people who can help you, then ask them. Often other people can see things from different perspectives and can assist in making a task easier.
• Don’t say yes when you don’t have time. Often people agree to do something that they can’t in fact do because of time constraints. Don’t agree to do something that may be impossible in a set time period. Try to keep things realistic, and negotiate for more time if possible.
• MAKE A START! You will be amazed at how a project’s process increases in momentum once you have started it.
There are normally a hundred reasons and excuses to justify one’s procrastination, but at the end of the day none of them will actually match up to the reasons why one shouldn’t procrastinate. Any reason you give yourself not to start something is normally false. The rewards for starting on a project and getting it done far outweigh the consequences of not making a start as soon as possible.
• The longer you delay, the less time you have. The more you procrastinate on a task, the more stressful it will be to complete your work before the given deadline. Try to give yourself a good head start; this will also help you deal more effectively with project delays that are out of your hands.
• Think of the knock-on effect. In most office environments, delays on one project will often affect other projects. By doing the best you can and moving at a reasonable pace, you can rest assured that you won’t be causing your friends and colleagues any delays.
• Chronic procrastination harms you in the long term. It will eventually affect your chances of promotion and even your CV and job references. If you are after a raise, your employer will be looking at the workloads which you take on and complete. Always running behind schedule is generally not something employers regard well.
If you manage your time and get started, you will progress steadily through the job. Remember the tortoise and the hare? Slow and steady wins the race. Settle into it and keep a good pace, and you will beat the hare of procrastination every time.
Making a start is easier said than done. It sounds good on paper, but the procrastination monster is still lurking under the bed. Don’t worry, though – help is close at hand. There is a technique to help you start, and it’s called ‘dash’. The dash method involves a burst of focused activity, in which you focus on your work for a very short period of time, even as short as a minute. The idea here is to break the mental barrier by chipping it away (figuratively speaking, of course) and psyching yourself out of the hole of procrastination. Once you have started, you start to feel relief and the burden of the task weighs less and less.
There are three kinds of dash:
• The time-based dash. Set aside a small amount of time, between 1 and 10 minutes. Make sure it is enough time to actually accomplish something but short enough not to be intimidating. Make a start and stop when the time is up. Soon you will be well on your way to completing your work.
• The unit-based dash. If your work can be broken down into units, then the unit-based dash is for you. Instead of trying to write a 1,000-word essay all at once, why not start with 100 words at first? If you have to wash 100 dishes, for example, wash the first 10 and then the rest will be a breeze.
• The combo dash. This is a combination of the time- and unit-based dashes. You work until you have reached either your allocated time or units, whichever comes first. It may sound silly, but it really works.
Here’s an example of dashing in action:
You have a 1,000-word piece to write, and it’s on something that doesn’t particularly enliven your creative side. No problem – try a goal of writing 10 minutes or 100 words. Start writing, and write anything – just make sure you write for 10 minutes or 100 words. All of a sudden it will start making sense and you won’t actually be able to stop writing. What once seemed like a momentous task is now a task in hand. It’s all under control.
Once you start something, you will start to feel better about yourself. One of the darker sides of procrastination is that it often makes you feel worse than you did before, and this builds and builds until it becomes seemingly impossible to complete anything. Procrastination can become a habit, and it’s easier to break a habit by replacing it with another. Become a habitual doer instead, and you will soon see the benefits. Overall you will be less stressed, have more free time and feel more confident in your position. So why are you procrastinating? Go on, get started now!