Everyone procrastinates. Sometimes it’s fun to procrastinate. Sometimes waiting until just before a deadline is very motivating. And sometimes procrastination is even necessary—as a way to put off a dreaded task until we feel more energetic, prepared, or able to do it.
But sooner or later, chronic procrastinating will begin to hamper job performance. It will also affect our mood and state of mind by generating worry, fear, or added stress. Perhaps most serious for people in a leadership position, procrastinating may cause our peers and employees to feel that we’re holding up progress.
If procrastination has become a problem for you—and you know who you are—here are 9 ways to change your behavior so you can be more productive. An added benefit is that you’ll feel more upbeat, less worried and stressed, and more confident about your reputation and effectiveness.
1. Put it in writing. Write down the task you’ve been putting off. Doing this brings the project to the front of your mind so you can’t easily ignore it.
2. Name your feelings. Psychologists acknowledge that procrastination is an emotional reaction. One of three core emotions is always driving it. What’s driving yours? Is it fear, that you won’t get the job done well enough and on time, for example? Is it anger, perhaps because you have to do something you hate or resent? Or is it sadness, because you feel inadequate or ill-suited for the task, for instance? Dig down deep to identify the emotions behind why you’re dragging your heels.
3. Release the emotion. Fear, anger, and sadness are just pure sensations in the bodies that get stuck. If they’re not expressed constructively and physically, they build up inside us like a pressure cooker. In a private setting, do exaggerated shivering to get rid of fear; punch a pillow or stomp around to release anger; or watch a movie that makes you cry to get rid of sadness. It may sound silly, but it works.
4. Neutralize destructive thinking. When you think of this task, what negative thought pops into your head? Find an antidote to that thought in the form of a truth that contradicts it. For example, if you think “I’ll never be able to learn all this,” you might say to yourself, “If others can learn this, so can I.”
5. Break it down. You’ve envisioned the task, dealt with what’s been holding you back, and fixed your destructive thinking. Now, break the big job down into a series of little doable steps so you can stay focused on just handling the next little task. Plot out each part of the project, including details such as whom you will talk with and what about, where and when you’ll be working, and how long you expect each step to take. (This will spare you from getting overwhelmed, because each step will be doable.)
6. Praise each little step. Don’t wait until the end of the task to congratulate yourself. Give yourself praise for each small victory, rewarding yourself for each little step completed. Doing this is very motivating, and it also prevents fear of failure from creeping in to the process and sabotaging your efforts.
7. Prepare for obstacles. Once you’ve broken the task down into smaller pieces, anticipate roadblocks that could pop up along the way. For example, how will you deal with projects with shorter deadlines that land on your desk? Have a tactic ready for sticking to your original plan.
8. Fight resistance. It’s time to take the leap and tackle the task you’ve been putting off. When you do, you’ll likely meet resistance in the form of excuses, bad moods, and discouragement. Shiver to express the fear. Say to yourself, “I’ll feel better when I handle this.” Repeat it like a mantra until the urge to procrastinate passes.
9. Enjoy the win. Finishing a daunting task is satisfying. Remind yourself that you’ll feel incredibly virtuous when the chore is off your plate once and for all. Accomplishing what you’re avoiding will simplify your work life. You’ll feel more energetic. You’ll sleep better at night. Relish the feeling of success.
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Jude Bijou, MA, MFT, is a respected psychotherapist, professional educator, and workshop leader. Her theory of Attitude Reconstruction® evolved over the course of more than 30 years working with clients as a licensed marriage and family therapist, and is the subject of her award-winning book, Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life. Learn more at www.attitudereconstruction.com.