We've all done it: Put off a big report due EOD because Internet memes were clearly more important, or munched on a slice of pizza while promising to start our diet tomorrow. This, my friends, is procrastination. And no matter the overwhelming anxiety and stress we feel, sometimes we just can't bring ourselves to do the task at hand.
"Procrastinators are great excuse makers," says Joseph R. Ferrari, Ph.D., professor of psychology at DePaul University and author of Still Procrastinating: The No Regrets Guide to Getting It Done. And they can convince themselves that their excuses are valid, in order to keep putting off the task at hand. "To tell the chronic procrastinator to 'just do it' is like telling a clinically depressed person to cheer up," Ferrari says. Meaning: It's much more complicated than just managing your time efficiently.
And the effects can be a vicious cycle. "Oftentimes when you are procrastinating about something, your inner dialogue starts haunting you about the activity you’re avoiding," Lauren Zander, chairman of the Handel Group, a corporate consulting and private coaching company, says. "It becomes something looming in your mind and the amount of time you think about it and discuss not doing it starts to stress you out."
That probably sounds pretty familiar—you're not alone! Here are six things you need to know if you want to stop procrastinating.
"If you are procrastinating about something, start to listen to your thoughts about what you are avoiding," recommends Zander. Write down all the thoughts that are going through your mind in regards to the task you are avoiding.
Now that you've got everything written out on paper, read through your thoughts and try to pinpoint why it is you're avoiding your task. Zander says it will typically boil down to one of three things: You think it's too difficult, you're scared, or you're being lazy. Maybe the instructions to that new IKEA bookshelf just look too intimidating. Or you're worried that people will judge you on the quality of your work (Ferrari says many procrastinators are very concerned with how others see them, and would rather be seen as lazy than bad at something).
Whatever the motivation is, "the bottom line is that procrastination is all about avoiding something and it’s important to pinpoint why you are avoiding the task and deal with it," Zander says.
Cross your heart: After you pinpoint the reasons behind your procrastination, Zander says it's time to make promises, kind of like a contract with yourself. If you don't keep your promise to yourself, you suffer a "self-imposed consequence." She says this isn't a punishment; rather, it's an incentive to keep your promise.
Then, set up an action plan as to how you're going to accomplish your task. Make sure your plan is concrete and measurable as opposed to abstract. Meaning, promise to spend 10 minutes a day picking up the house, as opposed to saying you promise to keep the house clean.
Recognize that technology is not the bad guy here. Blame the snooze button for your woes all you want, but truth is, Ferrari says that the snooze button has been around for 50-plus years—it's not a new thing, and it's just another excuse.
This goes back to Zander's notion of laziness: "For example," she says, "someone may hit the snooze on their alarm and procrastinate going for a morning run because they’d rather stay in bed." (Okay, we may be guilty of that one.)
Don't hit the snooze button more than once; we know it's rough, but you can do it. If your willpower isn’t there yet, try keeping your phone across the room so you have to get out of your cozy bed to make it stop beeping. Bonus: You'll be less likely to check your emails, texts, and Facebook while lying in bed, resulting in a better night's sleep.
And, instead of punishing yourself for procrastinating, Ferrari says to focus on rewards for getting it done early. "Give the early bird the worm," he explains.
A common lie procrastinators tell themselves is, "I work best under pressure," Ferrari says. Actually, the opposite is true. During a study, Ferrari found that people actually made more errors when under pressure. "Take ownership of what you have to do," he advises. And stop telling yourself you need a running clock to get things done—that's just an excuse to put it off as long as possible.
As Zander says, once you complete the task, the feelings of anxiety will go away.
It's time to rethink the way you write your to-do list. Why? John Perry explains a trick in his book The Art of Procrastination: Try tackling the smaller, less anxiety-inducing tasks on your list first, then move on to the bigger ones.
That way, you're still procrastinating on the tasks you're afraid of/being lazy about/worried are too tough, but you're being effective with your time. And being productive feels good, which can help you when it comes time to actually get to work on the bigger tasks. Because, seriously, who doesn't get a thrill making a giant check next to their completed tasks? No one, that's who.
Now, see seven ways you can instantly de-stress!