So many great ideas die because of procrastination. Why do some of us tend to keep delaying our tasks while others get them done on time? It turns out that there is a cocktail of factors at play. “Some avoid an activity for a lack of interest, such as being asked to take out the garbage or a child being asked to clean his or her room,” says Seaford, New York-based clinical neuropsychologist Dr Christine Weber.
Sometimes people will put off even important tasks, such as preparing an office presentation. “These activities have greater consequences for the future, and there may be more trepidation associated with them,” observes Weber. “Emotions and insecurities may cause an individual to experience fear, which if extreme, can be paralyzing.”
This can impair your capacity to regulate your behavior and hurt productivity.
But procrastination is not a disease. It’s like a bad habit. You can beat it. Try these research and expert-backed suggestions:
1. Set smart goals: You need to set powerful goals to beat procrastination. Your long-term goals (I want to be a rock star) must deeply resonate with your inner values and interests. “You could think of these goals as nuclear-powered naval ships, in that they’re immensely powerful and slow-burning, so they’ll hold your interest forever, keeping you oriented and pointed in the right direction,” says Los Angeles-based licensed psychotherapist Jim Hjort.
On the other hand, short-term goals (I need to apply for the music residency in Milan) need to be tangible and objective. “These serve as a means of noticing your progress, much like watching mile markers whiz by the window on the highway while the mountains (your long-term goals) appear relatively motionless in the distance,” says Hjort.
2. Think days, not years: Is it one of your top goals to reach the six-figure mark in income in three years? If you don’t want to procrastinate, don’t think of the time period in years, think in terms of days. So, you should tell yourself that you have to hit the six-figure mark in 1,095 days, says a study published in April this year in Psychological Science.
3. Make “now” deadlines: A study published in Journal of Consumer Research in August 2014 showed that people were more likely to be spurred to action if they made “now” deadlines. Let’s say you want to lose 20 pounds by January. January is too far ahead. You could lose interest easily. How about focusing on the weight you have to lose this month—or this week? Looks doable, doesn’t it?
4. Fake it till you make it: San Diego-based psychotherapist Robert Duff says the “fake it till you make it” approach can kick procrastination. “With this strategy you ask yourself, ‘What would I be doing right now if I felt motivated?’ and then you play that role, go through the motions at first and act as if’ you were motivated and not distracted.” He also recommends combining this method with the five-minute rule. Ask yourself to do something for just five minutes. You can quit after that. “More often than not, once you get started, you will find your groove, and it will seem like a better idea to just keep going,” says Duff.
5. Chop it down: One reason we fall into the procrastination trap is because the task that lies ahead is huge and daunting. “Break seemingly big and challenging tasks into smaller more manageable activities and get started on those activities,” says Alan Zimmerman, author of The Payoff Principle: Discover the 3 Secrets for Getting What You Want Out of Life and Work. “For example, you can write a 200-page book in seven months by simply writing a page a day.”
6. Make boring fun: Beating procrastination requires learning to do some unpleasant work. The trick is to find excitement even in the mundane. “Attempt to make disliked activities more enjoyable by using positive reinforcement,” says Weber. “Offer your own rewards for completing unpleasant tasks.” Been putting off making dinner tonight? Why don’t you ask your globetrotting friend, Anna, to come over? The prospect of listening to her Korean adventure this summer while dining suddenly makes cooking hour a lot more tolerable.
7. Forgive yourself: Did you miss your deadline for an important work project because you were glued to baseball on television? Stop berating yourself. A 2010 study by Carleton University researchers shows that if you forgive yourself after an episode of procrastination, you are less likely to procrastinate on that task in the future.
Get started on these tactics to beat procrastination…now.