Ok, that’s not completely true, but I hope that headline got your attention, and perhaps you saw a little of yourself in it. If so, you’re not alone. It’s estimated that up to 20 percent of people are habitual and chronic procrastinators.
In full transparency, procrastination was a frequent visitor for years, much like John Belushi’s “Guest Who Wouldn’t Leave” character from SNL.
But it’s no laughing matter. According to an article in The Guardian, the impact of procrastination is serious, possibly leading to such serious issues as depression, lowered self-esteem, and insomnia.
I decided to do some research into, and common sense thinking about, the best strategies and tactics to combat this unwelcome guest. These six approaches have helped me combat procrastination; I hope they help you too. (And please let me know if they do, or if you have others.)
- JUST DO SOMETHING: While there are many tools to combat procrastination, one that’s guaranteed not to work is wishing it away. Whatever is causing you not to write that blog post, research that article or prepare that presentation will still be there in 30 minutes, an hour, or at the end of the day. And the dread of a looming deadline may actually cause you to freeze, driving further procrastination.
The first step in ending the cycle?: Acknowledge that you must take action.
- GO DEEP OR GO HOME: There are a variety of issues that can drive procrastination. If you want to combat it, you must “go deep” to try to understand what’s causing your work block. Fear of failure? A lack of information, or perhaps motivation? Unclear what success looks like? Determining the answers to these types of questions are critical to start a project you’ve been delaying. Whatever the underlying issue is, know that you must fix it before attempting to dive back into the work. If not, you’re just setting yourself up for failure and further frustration.
- GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION NOT TO COMPLETE THE TASK: You may be thinking “WTF?” but hear me out: Sometimes we’re so overwhelmed by the enormity of a task, we can’t even get started. Fine: Give yourself permission not to complete the task. Now break the overwhelming job into manageable chunks and commit to completing just Step One. You’ll get such satisfaction from that preliminary step—particularly after the pain of procrastination– that you’ll be raring to go to Step Two, and so on. Here’s how it works in real life: If you’re daunted by the task of painting the house, don’t do it. Just pick the color. After that’s done, give yourself a pat on the back…and buy the paint. Now paint the living room’s back wall. Next, finish the room. This technique can be successful when you have a work-related “paint the entire house” business project.
- HAVE A PIECE OF SWISS: Staring at a blank computer screen doesn’t help, but visualization can be a powerful anti-procrastination tool; here’s one for my foodies like Gini Dietrich. Imagine the project as a large, solid piece of cheese, let’s say Cheddar. Your goal? Turn it into a piece of Swiss, by doing small tasks that make “holes” in the larger assignment. As you do so, you’ll get a boost of confidence and energy that will drive you to assignment completion.
- THE 15-MINUTE METHOD: It sounds counter-intuitive, but sometimes we procrastinate because we’ve given ourselves too much time to do a project. If that’s you, try this: Give yourself 15 minutes—not a minute more—on a hated task. No interruptions, email, or phone calls. Give yourself a hard-stop by starting at a “quarter-till-lunch.” Use that time to break the task down into a series of sub-tasks. Then book 15 minutes after lunch to start on or even complete sub-task one. Keep doing this, and eventually you’ll graduate to 30-minute blocks and greater task completion.
- ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS do tough, complicated assignments before easy ones. Ban the words, “Let me just get my simple stuff out of the way.” The problem with that approach is you do all your simple, unimportant stuff, and then your energy is down, and you have a sense of non-completion/inertia.By doing some tougher stuff first, you:
a) Well, have gotten some tough stuff done when you’re most alert;
b) You can get the simple stuff done when you don’t really need your brain power
c) Getting tough stuff done, and feeling good about it, might encourage you go get more tough stuff done.
Ken Jacobs is the principal of Jacobs Communications Consulting LLC, which helps public relations and communications firm leaders with three critical issues: 1) Growing and managing business; 2) Improving client service; and 3) Enhancing staff performance, motivation and retention. It does so via training, consulting and coaching. He’d love to hear from you.