It happens to the best of us: We leave some items on our to-do list, then they carry over to the next list, and the next. Eventually, we’re going out of our way to avoid them altogether. Everyone procrastinates a little now and then, but chronic procrastination can have a serious impact on your long-term success.In this age of infinite distractions, notifications, and entertainment, chronic procrastination is a growing problem. Add to that the stress of an entrepreneurial lifestyle and the embarrassment of shirking your duties, and some people will find themselves in a downward spiral. People procrastinate for all sorts of reasons–often they are overwhelmed, discouraged, or so afraid of failing that they don’t even want to start. The good news is, you can train yourself to be more productive. Whether you find yourself procrastinating a little or a lot, keep yourself on task by practicing these tips.
1. Make a New List Each Day
Make a brand-new to-do list at the start of each day. Keep your goals realistic and achievable, or you’ll only feel discouraged. A short, manageable list means that you can enjoy sense of accomplishment at the end of the day, and look forward to another productive day tomorrow. The better you feel about your productivity, the more eager you’ll be to tackle the next project.
2. The First Step is the Hardest
Starting a task is often the hardest part. If there’s an endeavor that you are dreading, try working on it for just 15 minutes. Set a timer, get to work, and then stop when the time is up. Not only will you have made some progress, you will also have completed to hardest part: getting started. Knowing that you don’t have to work on this thing for hours on end may be all it takes to finally get it underway. For more on this technique (and others) you can tune into a webinar I hosted with time management expert Sonya Dreizler.
3. Break Big Projects into Small Tasks
Large, complicated projects can seem overwhelming. Instead of worrying about the whole thing at once, break it down into small, manageable tasks. Incorporate these into your daily to-do list. Before you know it, you’ll be finished that mammoth project and ready to start the next initiative.
4. Eliminate Distractions
Make a point of avoiding unnecessary distractions. For instance, if you communicate with people via Facebook, you might get distracted by your news feed and start scrolling endlessly. Instead, use Facebook’s Messenger.com site, which has fewer distractions. There are browser extensions, such as WasteNoTime (available for Google Chrome and Safari), which can block or limit your access to certain websites that you choose. This can be handy if you find yourself wasting time online. Keep the TV turned off and your work area comfortable and uncluttered. You might consider turning off your smartphone or limiting yourself to just the apps that you need for work.
5. Create an Early Deadline
Some people swear that they can only stay focused when there’s a deadline approaching (cough, cough, who me?!). If you are one of those people, try imposing early deadlines on yourself. If a project is due at the end of February, set the completion due date in the middle of February. This may give you some extra motivation, and it will help you stay ahead of the game.
6. Don’t Avoid the Hard Stuff
If you make a habit of doing everything except that one task that you dread, your procrastination will only grow worse. You’ll feel that terrible task looming over you until it starts causing unnecessary stress. The result: you start to dread it even more! Getting it done right away will be a relief, and you’ll be free to enjoy the rest of your day.
7. Listen to Your Body
If you’re a morning person, you will likely feel the greatest motivation early in the day. It doesn’t make sense for you to work late into the evening. But for others, that might be when they do their best work. Make sure that you are playing to your strengths and working when you’re at your best. Likewise, don’t forget to take care of yourself. A good night’s sleep can do wonders for a person’s productivity.
8. Don’t Beat Yourself Up
Negative self-talk will only make the problem worse. If you are too hard on yourself, you’ll feel terrible, which will just make you that much more likely to avoid work. Instead, focus on how relieved you’ll feel once you accomplish your tasks. If you don’t get everything done today, start again tomorrow with a new list of achievable goals.
9. Ask Yourself Why
If you still can’t bring yourself to get things done, you may need to do some soul-searching. Once you understand the reason why you’re so hesitant to do these tasks, you’ll have an easier time finding a solution. Are you feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope with the stress? Do you work with difficult people? Are you afraid that you’ll never succeed? Be honest with yourself. It may be that a change of lifestyle or a different business strategy is in order.
The fight against procrastination may be never-ending, but it gets much easier with practice. If you make these habits part of your daily routine, you’ll be well on your way to overcoming even the greatest challenges.