When you imagine a highly productive person, you likely think of someone who focuses effortlessly on the job and never succumbs to procrastination. You know, the type who can sit on the ground in a subway station with their laptop and still manage to get more done in an hour than you would in a day at the library.
The truth is, ridiculously productive people face the same procrastination challenges as the rest of us. The difference is, they beat procrastination by using a calculated approach. First, they understand why they procrastinate, and then they apply strategies that beat procrastination before it takes hold. Anyone can follow this two-step, research-driven process to overcome procrastination.
The Procrastination Doom Loop
You can’t hope to stop procrastinating until you first have a firm understanding of why you procrastinate. New research from Joseph Ferrari at DePaul University shows that procrastination is more complicated than most people think. People tend to think of procrastination as coming from poor time management or laziness, but Ferrari’s research shows that procrastination stems from negative emotions that hijack your mood. Once you’re under the influence of these emotions, you can’t bring yourself to work.
Instead of being lazy or disorganized, people usually put things off because they aren’t in the right mood to complete the task. Doing so places you firmly inside the procrastination doom loop. Since you’ve decided that you aren’t in the right mood to work, you distract yourself with other tasks—checking email, checking the news, cleaning your desk, talking to a coworker, etc.—and by the time you come up for air, you feel guilty for having wasted so much time. This only worsens your mood, and as the deadline draws closer, you feel worse than you did when you first put off the task.
Escaping The Doom Loop
Beating procrastination is a simple matter of exiting the doom loop by taking control of your mood. With the right strategies in place, you can take the reins and get yourself in the mood to get things done. The strategies that follow will help you to make this happen.
Figure out why. When you aren’t in the mood to work, procrastination is telling you something important. It could be something simple, such as you need to take a break or get something to eat. It could also be something complex, such as you’re carrying the team on your back or you’re dissatisfied with your job. Whatever it is, instead of punishing yourself for procrastinating, take a moment to reflect and figure out why you’re procrastinating. This could end up being the most productive step you take in conquering your task.
Remove your obstacles. Prior to getting started on a task, take a moment to carefully consider the obstacles that might get in your way. Then, develop a plan to ensure that they don’t. For example, you might have instructions for a task in your e-mail inbox, and if you don’t do anything about it, you’ll repeatedly go back to your inbox to look at them, only to get distracted by other incoming e-mails. In this case, your management plan should be to get the instructions out of your inbox prior to starting your work. By planning ahead, you can maintain your focus and avoid procrastination. After all, it’s much harder to regain focus than it is to maintain it.
Jump right in, no matter what. Sometimes it’s really hard to get started on something, even when it’s something that you love to do. I might be staring at a blank Word document or standing on the beach on a cold winter morning. That first step is difficult, but once you get going—typing that first paragraph or taking off on that first wave—your mood improves dramatically. When you focus your attention on how difficult and cruddy it is to get started, you discourage yourself from doing so. When you dive right in no matter what, your mood quickly improves, which helps you to stay on task.
Cut holes in your project. We often procrastinate because we feel intimidated by the size of a project. To minimize intimidation, try cutting holes in it. Find smaller pieces of the task that you can quickly and easily accomplish. For example, writing a proposal might require 10 hours of intense concentration, but you can spit out an intro in 15 minutes and develop a list of deliverables in 10. Before you know it, these smaller tasks have cut serious holes in the project and it’s no longer intimidating.
Work in the right environment. Even if you do everything else right, working in the wrong environment can make you succumb to procrastination. This means keeping yourself away from television, electronics, friends, and loud places. This isn’t what works for everyone, but you need to exercise discipline by working in the environment that’s right for you.
Enjoy small victories. There’s nothing quite like checking something off of your to-do list. To keep yourself from procrastinating, you need to experience this sense of accomplishment by tracking your progress carefully. Small victories build new androgen receptors in the areas of the brain responsible for reward and motivation. The increase in androgen receptors increases the influence of testosterone, which further increases confidence and eagerness to tackle challenges. This keeps you fired up and moving forward. Sometimes crossing a few easy things off of a list is all it takes to build up the mental strength to tackle something big. Remember, it’s not about doing small tasks to avoid big tasks; it’s about including small tasks in your daily checklist to build your confidence and momentum.
Get real. Setting unrealistic goals for your day is a great way to become discouraged and to succumb to the negative moods that fuel procrastination. Setting realistic goals keeps things positive, which keeps you in the right mood to work.
Take control of your self-talk. Saying to yourself, “I’m not going to procrastinate. I will not procrastinate,” virtually ensures that you will procrastinate. There’s a classic study where participants were told to not think about a white bear. It turns out it’s nearly impossible to avoid thinking about something that you tell yourself not to, as your mind gravitates towards the thing you’re trying to avoid. The trick is to shift your attention to something completely different (and positive). Instead of telling yourself not to procrastinate, think about what you will do and how great it’s going to feel to have it done. This way, your mind fixates on the action you want to take instead of the behavior you’re trying to avoid.
Don’t be a perfectionist. Most writers spend countless hours brainstorming characters and plot, and they even write page after page that they know they’ll never include in the book. They do this because they know that ideas need time to develop. We tend to freeze up when it’s time to get started because we know that our ideas aren’t perfect and what we produce might not be any good. But how can you ever produce something great if you don’t get started and give your ideas time to evolve? Author Jodi Picoult summarizes the importance of avoiding perfectionism perfectly: “You can edit a bad page, but you can’t edit a blank page.”
Focus on results. Chances are, you don’t enjoy going to the dentist. Not many people do. So why do you go? It gets results. Your dentist is quite good at making your teeth and gums healthier and more appealing. You also go because the pain of having someone pick at your teeth for an hour is nowhere near the pain of getting a cavity filled, a tooth pulled, or a root canal. You go to the dentist because you know the process is worth it. The same mentality applies to a challenging task. While it may make you anxious to get started, don’t focus on that. Just think of how great it’s going to feel to get things done and how much worse you’ll feel if you wait until the last minute and don’t give it your best effort.
Forgive yourself. There’s no point in beating yourself up when you slip up and procrastinate. You might think that punishing yourself will help you to avoid procrastination in the future, but it actually has the opposite effect—beating yourself up sends you right back into the procrastination doom loop.
Bringing It All Together
The key to beating procrastination is to understand that procrastination is rooted in emotions. The strategies above will help you to turn the procrastination doom loop on its head and to achieve greater productivity than ever before.
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Seven New Onboarding Strategies You'll See This Year According to a study from Equifax, more than half of all employees who left their job in..
Your Workforce Tools Are More Strategic Than You Might Think This is not a typical article about attracting talented job candidates or retention — while..
Don’t Let ‘Meaning’ Be Missing From Your Engagement Strategy Meaning is one of the five keys in building employee engagement and it may be the..
Inclusion Doesn’t Mean Including Everything and Everyone Inclusiveness is not about thought policing. It’s also not about turning everyone into a liberal. It’s a normal..
4 Ways To Inspire Change In Your Employees Have you ever listened to a speech that inspired you so much, you were ready to make..
7 Ways to Incent Employees to Feel and Act as Owners Building accountability into your business culture is a leadership process. It can't be driven..
Don't Shuffle People Into the Wrong Job Just Because They're Already on the Payroll You grow your company by putting proven performers where you need..
Tips for Minimizing Workplace Negativity To Deal with Negativity in the Workplace, Use These 9 Tips Nothing affects employee morale more insidiously than persistent workplace..
You Were Promoted To A Leadership Role But You Feel Unprepared - Don't Panic You’ve been at the job for years. As much as you..
This Is the No. 1 Reason Why People Fail at Switching Jobs (and What to Do About It) There's a reason changing careers is so..
Why a Coffee Shop Will Probably Be Your Workspace Within 10 Years As the gig economy grows, there are both social and scientific reasons why..
Didn't Get Your Dream Job? This 1 Technique Could Get You a Second Chance Every job seeker experiences this at least once, if not several..
The Best Way to Set New Employees Up for Success Create an onboarding program that's both meaningful and memorable Congratulations; you've just hired a terrific..
Do This In Your First Hour, Day, Week, And Month Of Your New Job Getting settled into your new job is the ultimate act of..
11 Expert Tips To Make 2018 Your Most Productive Year Ever Could eating cake for breakfast and never listening to your voicemail help you get..
7 Ways Modest Leadership Increases Team Success When we imagine the traits of successful leaders, whether they are managers, high level executives, CEO's or owners..
Grateful Workplaces and Engaged Employees All leaders need to ask themselves why happy and engaged employees are worth their weight in gold. If you’re a..
How to Set Your Career Goals for 2018 and Achieve Them Each New Year offers the opportunity for a fresh start—and that includes your career...
Managing employee stress during the festive period More than half of employees feel stressed in the weeks leading up to Christmas, with most calling for..
How to Avoid the No. 1 Reason People Leave Their Jobs William James, the father of psychology, stated that the most fundamental psychological need is..
Will You Be Leading an HR Function in 2024? Here are five things to look at to examine and determine if you’ve got what it..
Importance of Effective Employee Appraisals The performance appraisal may be one of the few times during the year where an employee and the reviewer, typically..
What Is Your Impact? We keep throwing this word around called "impact." Do you know what your impact is and how would you define, discover,..
From Cubicle To Coffee Shop - How The Workplace As We Know It Is Changing In the past few years we have seen a major..
LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner's 3 Best Pieces of Career Advice Jeff Weiner, LinkedIn's CEO, has had nothing short of a successful career. After graduating from..
Why You Should Consider Working For A Small Company Eighty-four percent of small-business employees are happy in their current job, according to the 2017 Aflac..
HR's key role in enlightened office design HR magazine and Landid's roundtable on the workspace of tomorrow explored how HR can positively influence facilities management..
Workplaces still hamper productivity Noise, lack of privacy and space are some of the factors causing the greatest dissatisfaction among office workers Nearly half of..
Nine Things You Should and Shouldn't Do If You Lose Your Job Most of us wouldn’t think to associate the words "joblessness" and "fun," but..
Why Risk Is A Necessary Component To A Successful Career - And How To Balance Risk With Reward Taking at least some risk is necessary..
Top 10 Benefits Of A Workplace Wellness Program When Google opened up in the 90s it took a unique approach to employee satisfaction. In an..
It's all about potential: how to write a CV with no work experience Follow these tips to stand out among competing candidates – from research..
Being Too Busy for Friends Won’t Help Your Career Friendship matters. Everything we do to succeed in our careers is improved when we’re supported by..
The Best Ways to Reward Employees. Having an effective reward program in place can help solve many of your HR issues. Every company needs a..
Burnout at Work Isn’t Just About Exhaustion. It’s Also About Loneliness More and more people are feeling tired and lonely at work. In analyzing the..
People Don’t Take HR Seriously; Here’s Why That’s Dangerous Legacy beliefs like being the bad guy and a lack of strategic vision isolates HR, and..
Think Strategically About Your Career Development In a world where the average employee sends and receives 122 emails per day and attends an average of..
Diversity Doesn’t Stick Without Inclusion Leaders have long recognized that a diverse workforce of women, people of color, and LGBT individuals confers a competitive edge..
How To Advance Your Career In A Crappy Entry-Level Job Yes, you can still bring yourself one step closer to snagging that dream job even..
Interviews are generally regarded as the primary decision-making event in any recruitment process. Regardless of your academic credentials or career thus far, it is crucial..
What causes burnout and how it can affect both the employees and the organisation How HR Can Help Prevent Employee Burnout An engaged workforce. It's..
Studies have shown that structured interviewing is more than twice as reliable a predictor of future employee performance than unstructured interviewing. That is why most..
Cyprus unemployment has been steadily increasing monthly since 2008 and is getting closer to double digits (January 2012 Eurostat figure – 9.6%). However there are..