When we fail to complete tasks on time, others see it as a sign of disrespect, incompetence, or laziness. Because procrastination is essentially a mind-set, cognitive-behavior techniques can help even chronic procrastinators break the habit. If you’ve been putting something off for days (or months), try the following time-management tips.
1. Do Something Fun First: Many people find it helpful to do something they love first as away to get in the mood to do less enjoyable tasks. Any stimulating activity you enjoy will do the trick. Some play basketball or computer games. Others dance or take a bubble bath. Set a timer for 20 minutes to make sure you don’t get so absorbed in the fun activity that you forget to do the necessary one.
2. Create the Right Work Environment: Some people are often most productive in unconventional surroundings. Instead of wearing earplugs to ensure silence, you may find that you get more done when listening to loud music. If you work best under pressure, but still turn in projects late or exhaust yourself by pulling all-nighters, set your own deadline for completing portions of the project. This way, you can still work under pressure to finish each portion “on time.”
3. Don’t Beat Yourself Up: What we silently say to ourselves about doing the task at hand has a strong impact on how (or whether) we do it. Avoid negative self-talk, and send yourself positive, realistic messages. Instead of saying, “This will take forever, and it’s so late already…” substitute “I might not be able to finish this today, but I can do the first two steps within the next 30 minutes.”The messages you send yourself when you complete a task can be powerful deterrents to future procrastination. They can also diminish the guilt that procrastinators often feel about having missed appointments in the past or having turned in work that doesn’t measure up to their ability.
4. Just Do It!: Just starting a task — even if it’s begun poorly — makes it easier to follow through. Next time you find yourself avoiding something, take a “first sloppy step.” If you need to write something, for example, start by typing random letters on the page. It is gibberish, but at least you will no longer be looking at a blank page.
5. Take One Step at a Time: Break large tasks into pieces. The smaller steps aren’t as intimidating and facilitate getting started. If a project can’t be completed piecemeal over several days, keep up your momentum by focusing only on the next doable step. Write this step on a sticky note and post it within your line of sight. Put on your blinders and focus on this one step rather than on the task as a whole. When that’s done, move on to the next step in the same manner. Before you know it, you’ll be done. Try it: If you need external pressure to stick to a task, enlist a body double — someone who will sit with you quietly while you’re working on a boring chore.