“Never put off until tomorrow what you can put off until the day after tomorrow.” Mark Twain
We’ve all done it – an important report is due this afternoon. It’s a firm deadline with a clearly defined deliverable. Yet we can find dozens of other less important tasks to do. We check our email and texts repeatedly, make trips to the coffee room … anything other than working on the report. Until finally, with a desperate look at the time, we plunge ahead, having both shortened the available work time and also raised our stress to panic level.
Mark Twain’s suggestion is a humorous attempt to address the very real problem of procrastination. Everyone procrastinates to a certain degree, and it’s not limited to our work obligations. We procrastinate on other tasks like chores around the home, and school work. We also delay acting on more personal responsibilities, such as uncomfortable conversations or phone calls, coming to grips with financial issues, making difficult decisions or dealing with health issues.
There are many reasons why we procrastinate, such as boredom, fear of failure or criticism, or laziness, to name just a few. However, once we acknowledge that we see this behavior in ourselves, it’s important to try to eliminate or at least lessen it. All the work planners, calendars and To Do lists in the world won’t help if we are unwilling to take the first step.
The following are some ideas that can be helpful in overcoming procrastination. One of them may appeal to you, and can be adapted for all professional and personal obligations:
- Learn to handle distractions – don’t use the excuse that you have pressing emails to deal with. Set a time period, such as 30 minutes, in which you will concentrate on the task at hand and will avoid reading any emails.
- Take the first steps to begin the work – often when you’ve actually begun working on the task, continuing will be much easier than starting. If you’re writing a research paper and are struggling with the opening thesis paragraph, leave that for later. Begin with a subtopic that you’ve researched and can get into more quickly.
- Break a task into smaller, more manageable steps – working for the next four hours on a report that is due this afternoon seems daunting. However, if you list the smaller steps involved in completing the whole, you’ll find it easier to tackle the steps one at a time. You’ll also feel a sense of achievement as you complete each step, which will cause you to look forward to the next one.
- Create personal rewards for completing a step – if you’re delaying preparing a personal budget by playing Solitaire on your computer, promise yourself that you can play for ten minutes once you’ve gathered all the statements you’ll need. Once that’s done, plan to play for ten more minutes once you’ve completed the next step.
Lastly, consider that projects and other responsibilities that you delay acting on don’t disappear. They remain obligations, in your mind as well as on your To Do list. By tackling them using the techniques listed above, you will eventually have the satisfaction of crossing these items off your mental or physical list. Procrastination may not be eliminated, but it can be managed for professional and personal success.