Procrastinating? We all do it to some extent. Sometimes procrastination can even be helpful—pointing to a need to reevaluate something or allow more time for something else.
However, all too often, procrastination plays a detrimental role in our lives, leading to a small payoff in the present with a much larger cost in the future. Procrastinating results most frequently in self-inflicted stress, disappointment in ourselves, and missed opportunity.
If you’d like to aim to reduce or eliminate the amount of procrastinating you engage in, consider this.
Take a look at the few most recent instances of procrastination you succumbed to. What was it you were avoiding by putting off what you should have been attending to?
Perhaps you were overwhelmed by too many choices and chose to scroll social media instead; or perhaps you felt discomfort in the prospect of handling a responsibility, so you reorganized your sock drawer instead; or perhaps you saw a deficiency in yourself related to the task you needed to do, so you took a nap instead.
There can be a lot of emotional baggage wrapped up in things that may look simple on the surface like paying your bills or reading your emails. Avoidance leads to greater discomfort down the road, however, while tackling the work at hand most often leads to a great sense of relief and happiness for making progress on things that matter.
When there’s a disconnect between what you believe you should be doing and what you are doing, you experience cognitive dissonance and can even come to distrust yourself and feel disappointed in yourself, sapping your confidence and encouraging more procrastination.
It’s the gap between who we know we could be and who we currently are that either encourages us to roll up our sleeves and get to work or stick our head in the sand, serving only to widen that gap.
So what can we do?
Short and Sweet
First, recognize that starting to get back on track is the hardest part. So aim to make starting easier. Starting can be simplified by defining it in as small a way as possible.
Instead of setting a goal of getting your email inbox to zero, for example, set a goal of processing five emails or even one email if that’s what sounds doable. Even one is much better than none and can be celebrated as progress. The magic in starting small is that you’ll experience some momentum and will likely continue past your goal of one or five to make even greater progress.
Other tasks may be more conducive to a small time limit. For example, if you need to begin cleaning your home or you need to plan out a project, try working on it for just five minutes. Set a timer and just do it for that very short period of time.
The key is to simply get over the hump of starting. Once you’ve started, it becomes clearer how to continue and easier to keep on going. It’s just like Isaac Newton said, “An object in motion tends to stay in motion.”
As you begin to make progress on the things you’ve been avoiding, aim to clarify in your mind what completion should look like. Envision that empty inbox, that clean home, that submitted assignment, or that new creation. Imagine how great it will feel to accomplish your goal and allow that vision to pull you further toward the finish line.
Habits Going Forward
When you can push through the starting line and begin to see progress on your previously avoided responsibilities, it becomes clear what a giant relief it is to stop procrastinating. The pressure that results from going about your life with unfinished business hanging overhead is substantial. When you alleviate that significantly, you can relax more and feel lighter.
Going forward, aim to establish habits that will support your desire to stop procrastinating. Evaluate what you tend to procrastinate on, and put in place systems that will support you’re making progress on those. A focus on progress rather than completion is key. Remember that starting is the hardest part.
If you procrastinate on cleaning your home, aim for a five-minute cleaning sprint each morning; if you allow your bills to pile up, aim to pay one each afternoon; if you never get around to projects that are important to you, mark a 10-minute block on your calendar in which that’s all you’ll look at or think about each day. A fantastic read on this idea and others regarding habits is James Clear’s “Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones.”
Kicking procrastination allows you to have confidence in yourself, knowing that you’ll honor the commitments you make to yourself and that you can make progress on the things that are most important. Ready to start?