How to beat procrastination

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I have been plagued by procrastination throughout my working life – and even as a student.

If there was a task that I was scared about doing, or didn’t think I could do it well, I’d struggle to even start – often leaving it to the last minute.

It was never helpful, and only caused me more anxiety and stress. And I often found, when I got on with it, it wasn’t so bad after all and I completed it much quicker than expected.

So how to beat procrastination when it strikes? Here’s what I’ve learnt from overcoming my own chronic procrastination habit.

1. Why are you procrastinating?

Instead of ‘doing’ something to beat procrastination, start with figuring out why you’re stopping yourself taking action on that particular project, or contacting that client or sending that email. What is it about the task that you don’t like, or don’t want to do? Addressing this first and foremost will help you overcome the fear of doing it and/or help you find support if you need it.

ACTION: Write out your fears about taking action on this, and what is the worst that could happen? Then ask yourself: “how likely is this?” and “what do I need to do, or who do I need to ask for help to overcome this?”.

2. Break it down

Big tasks and projects can seem daunting and overwhelming and that can stop us from starting. So, take the time to break down the task into the smallest possible chunks and actions and then prioritise them. I also like to change my to-do list to add a verb at the start of each point. So, instead of: ‘Social Media Policy’ I would put ‘Write first draft of policy’ and then ‘Send first draft to xxx for review’.

ACTION: Break down your task into as small actions as possible, prioritise them and give them a verb!

3. Eat the frog

Have your heard the Mark Twain quote:

“If you eat a frog first thing in the morning that will probably be the worst thing you do all day”?

It’s great advice for kicking your procrastination habit. Start with the worst action on your to do list, and the rest of your day will feel like a breeze and you won’t waste time worrying about doing that one thing. Just get it done.

ACTION: Highlight your scariest/worst to do on your list and DO IT NOW! And for more help on how to eat the frog (and overcome procrastination!) read Brian Tracy’s book Eat The Frog.

4. Get accountable

Find someone at work who can make sure you actually get stuff done. Maybe not your boss, but a colleague you sit next to or talk to often who you respect, and who (if you ask them to) will hold you up to your to-do list and make sure you’ve done it.

ACTION: Choose an accountability buddy, ask them to support you and set an agreed check in time and date for when you’ll have your task completed by.

5. Visually see your progress

I like to visually see how much I’m achieving throughout the day and use a Kanban board to do just that. It’s a white board (or piece of paper) split into 4 columns:

TO DO  |  DO TODAY  |  IN PROGRESS  | DONE

I use post-it notes for each action and move them along the board through out the day, to visually see where I’m at and what I need to do. Limit your ‘do today’s’ to three key actions, so as not to overwhelm yourself. If you can take on more tasks later in the day, great.

ACTION: Create a Kanban board, or find an alternative way to visualise your to-do list.

6. Log when you overcame procrastination

If you procrastinate a lot, you’ll likely be able to relate when I tell you that when I do the thing I’ve been worrying about, I find it’s no where near as bad or difficult as I thought it would be. But, I can forget this! So, I have a note on my desktop to remind me of all the times I’ve overcome procrastination and how I felt. I turn to this folder when I catch myself putting something off, and it gives me the courage to just get started.

A final tip – if you’re chronically procrastinating over the majority of your work load, you may need to address whether its the task itself that’s causing your procrastination, or there’s a wider issue at play and you need to make significant changes within your career or working life. When I was procrastinating most at work, it was because I wasn’t happy in my job and needed to move on.

Jen Smith coaches entrepreneurs in social media.

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