Do you want to save time and lower stress? That’s exactly what you will do if you learn and consistently apply the strategies to overcoming procrastination outlined below.
Like most people, I have struggled with wasting time and creating self-induced stress by waiting until the last minute to get things done. I can often remember telling myself, “This is the last time I’m going to put something off until the last minute,” only to do the same thing a short time later.
Sometimes when we’re stressed because of everything we have to do, it’s because we’re not actually doing it. Procrastination often triggers worry and anxiety, sleeplessness, irritability, frustration, poor eating habits and many other unpleasant outcomes. Timothy A. Pychyl, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, studied 374 undergraduate students and discovered that subjects who put off completing homework were more likely to eat poorly, sleep less and drink more compared to subjects who got their homework done early. We know from years of scientific research that stress compromises the immune system. Based on his research, Dr Pychyl concludes that “procrastination is a stressor,” which means it can literally make you sick.
Many of my coaching clients ask how they can overcome procrastination because they realize it not only creates unnecessary stress, but it is also a huge time waster and can cost money if you incur late fees, interest and penalties on your bills. One client recently told me that he gets so stressed by putting things off that he has to look for ways to calm himself down. His favorite coping strategy is surfing the internet and playing time-wasting games, both of which ultimately help to create even more stress.
Why Do We Procrastinate?
There are a number of contributing factors that influence and reinforce the habit of procrastination, but some of the most common include: tasks that are dull, boring, unpleasant or difficult, self-doubt, poor organization, forgetfulness, indecision and impulsivity.
As I mentioned earlier, procrastination is a habit – a habit of thought, feeling and behavior. If you intentionally or unintentionally experience the same thoughts, feelings and behaviors on a regular basis, over time your brain develops strong neural pathways that help to maintain the habit. These well-entrenched ruts become very difficult to escape, especially because most people fall into a pattern of starting, getting discouraged, quitting, and then starting the cycle over again.
The good news is that bad habits can be eliminated, and I want to share 10 key strategies that have significantly helped a lot of us overcome procrastination.
How do I stop procrastinating?
It goes without saying that you should start today – don’t wait until tomorrow. Whether you want to lose weight, make it to appointments on time, stop paying late fees, or meet your deadlines at work, start putting these strategies to work for you right away.
Get your brain on board
Your brain is a trainable organ. It doesn’t know the difference between fact and fiction so you can re-train it by reinforcing positive thoughts that will replace the misbeliefs that lead to self-defeating thoughts, emotions and behaviors. Henry Ford is quoted as saying, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.” Rehearse these self-affirmations every day, especially just before you go to bed and as soon as you wake up. If you don’t fully believe the statements – no worries – in time you will.
“I complete all my tasks on time.”
“I consistently strive for excellence, not perfection.”
“I am capable and competent to complete my work.”
“I am organized and make good and timely decisions.”
“I am focused and able to delay gratification.”
“I am more efficient, happy and healthy when I complete my tasks promptly.”
This habit of thinking will help to eliminate self-doubt and perfectionism and promote proactivity and motivation.
If you struggle with negative thoughts I recommend that you read How to Exterminate Mental ANTs.
Develop a simple system for keeping track of what you want to complete and when it is to be done and keep this information within reach at all times. I use a notebook to write down and track all my tasks and keep it with me wherever I go – low-tech, but effective. Many people use smart phone apps or computer programs for this purpose. Regardless of what you use, keep it current and review it regularly. Pick a time of day that works for you and think through what you need to accomplish and what steps you will take to do it. This habit of daily behavior will help to eliminate disorganization and forgetfulness.
Plan and schedule sufficient blocks of time to implement the steps you identified to either make significant progress on a task or to see it through to completion. Make sure your schedule is what guides your decisions instead of your emotions. It’s the emotionally driven decisions we usually live long enough to regret, since most of us would rather check Facebook, stop for coffee, or do almost anything but the task at hand.
So, for now, your assignment is to get started on your resolution to stop procrastinating. Begin today feeding affirmations to your brain, decide what type of system you prefer to use and schedule some steps toward accomplishing your goal. Next time we will talk about the other 7 Strategies for Overcoming Procrastination!
Live, Work and Relate Well!
Dr. Todd is a licensed psychologist, executive coach, published author, and national conference and seminar speaker. He has been a featured expert on national and local radio talk shows and television news programs.