If you’re slacking off online right now instead of working, you’re not alone. Procrastination hits everyone, from lazy co-workers to top performers. Even I’ve been hit with it, during writing this article, in fact. (Sorry for the late send, Will!)
So how do you get back on track and stop procrastinating? Everyone goes off-task sooner or later which means a lot of people have actually studied and found ways to tackle procrastination effectively. Here I’ve chosen 5 techniques that are proven to fight procrastination well, all of which I use myself. Let’s get started:
1) COMMIT so you don’t quit.
Ever wonder why contracts were invented? I’d wager it’s because it was an almost bulletproof way to motivate someone to do work. Writing down your signature really seals the deal in your mind, especially if the contract has a really nasty consequence if you skip out.
You can do the same with your projects. For your contract, write out a check and say to everyone that if you don’t finish your work by the deadline, you’ll send this checkout. The thought of losing money should be enough but let’s stoke it a bit more. Make out the check to someone you really, really dislike. A religious group perhaps (wink) or maybe your competitor? The potentially embarrassing and/or damaging situation should make you even more committed to finishing.
If spending money seems overboard to you, you can roll your own commitment. Just remember two things:
- The consequence must be something you really don’t like doing. It can be shaving your fine beard, making dinner for your in-laws or becoming the office gofer for a day.
- The commitment should involve other people. Announcing it publicly is good and it’s what I usually do when I have a new project. You can spread the word in the office or upload a video pledge to YouTube. But better than that, have a “sponsor” to hold you to your word, especially one who has no regrets holding you to the consequences if you fail.
2) Gain MOMENTUM by starting now.
Big projects often overwhelm us by the sheer magnitude of the work involved, which makes us put it off until the last minute. One cure for this is to just start on one part of the project, no matter how seemingly tiny that part is. Like a pebble rolling down a hill, your small task will soon lead you to doing yet another task and another until the momentum of working carries you the rest of the way.
That first task can be something as simple as jotting down your to-dos for the project. The trick here is that the first task has to be quick enough and easy enough that putting it off seems ludicrous. After all, it’s just 2 minutes to make a todo list right?
3) Going off-task? DIVERT yourself to something useful.
One minute you’re doing great progress on your project, the next you’re on TV Tropes. What happened? (And a word of warning, don’t go to TV Tropes. Please.)
Slacking off and doing something else is the brain’s way of avoiding uncomfortable situations like thinking too hard or getting stressed. But if you’re going to do something else, why not make it something useful instead of indulging in bad habits or time wasters?
When this happens to me, I usually switch from a digital task to an analog one or vice versa. For example, if what I’m researching is getting a bit hard to understand, I tidy up my desk to take a break. You can also try switching apps like working on your photo editing when the spreadsheet gets too overwhelming. This way you still get something done even though you’re procrastinating a bit.
4) Insert PLEASANT TASKS between unpleasant ones.
One thing we can learn from gym buffs is to switch our tasks. Just like how you follow strenuous exercise with something light, so should you switch between hard or hairy tasks with enjoyable ones. For example, tinker with a pet project in between bouts of paperwork.
Having a pleasant task to look forward to changes the boring to the exciting, which in turn helps you fight procrastination more effectively. And who doesn’t like getting a prize after doing a good job, especially if that prize also gets some work done?
5) Don’t be afraid to say NO.
Procrastination is often a problem of focus. When you lose focus on what you’re doing, you often switch to doing something else. Why do we lose focus? Because we have too many things vying for our attention.
So one way to both fight procrastination and a lack of focus is to reduce the number of things grabbing our attention. This means saying no more often than yes. Keep your to-do list short and let people know that it’s just your way of getting things done, nothing personal or anything. It might slightly rub a few people the wrong way, but that’s a small price to pay to finish your project.