Are you postponing something right now? Are you feeling guilty because you haven’t completed a task? Everyone procrastinates. Procrastination is one of our biggest time-wasters, but this New Year it’s time to do something about it. Time management expert Lorena Prime says that with some small habit changes, we can decrease our stress, suffer less guilt and have more time to spend in a different way.
Don’t try to use all the tips below, rather pick two and see if you can break out of your procrastination habit.
- Recognize the symptoms. Has something been on your to-do list day after day? Has someone asked you multiple times for something? Are you feeling guilty for not doing something? If so, then you’re procrastinating! Notice when you’re stalling so that you can take action to get moving. (See the ideas below for help.)
- Practice the 2-minute rule. This accomplishes two things: 1) it gets small tasks off your plate, freeing your mind to think about other things and 2) it creates a habit of doing things now and not procrastinating. Here’s how it works: if you see something at work or home that takes 2 minutes or less, then do it. Don’t wait—do it now! Things like deleting an email, filing a piece of paper, putting your clothes in the hamper, putting a plate in the dishwasher, washing your coffee cup, etc.… take care of any task that takes 2 minutes or less. The key is focus on very quick items—not 5 minute, 10 minute or longer tasks, but the really fast ones. By making this a habit, you’ll learn to take care of things rather than saying, “I’ll do it later.”
- Find an accountability buddy. A friend of mine asks me to be her buddy. She tells me what she’s going to do and when, then texts me when it’s complete. Of course, I promise to do something as well so that we’re in it together. And, sure enough, it works! It creates a sense of responsibility. She doesn’t want to disappoint me by reporting that she didn’t complete the work (and vice versa). Choose a buddy who is reliable and trustworthy; someone who won’t criticize you for whatever it is that you’re trying to get done.
- Apply the 5-minute rule. I heard this idea on a podcast, and it’s become a favorite. Set a timer for 5-minutes and start working on a task. At the end of the time, you decide whether or not to continue. (You can do anything for 5 minutes!) If you decide to continue, then that’s great! If you decide to stop, that’s okay too—allow yourself to stop. The reason why this works is because we often have trouble getting started, but once we’re in motion, we’re usually able to continue.
- Take a baby step. It’s common to delay if we cannot see how to complete a task. If you don’t know how to do something, then break it down into teeny-tiny steps. Ask yourself, “What is the very next step to move this forward?” If you’re stalling on completing your income taxes, for example, then the next step is to call the accountant to set up an appointment or buy the software to do it yourself. The next step after that is to gather the paperwork, and the one after that is to organize the paperwork, etc. You don’t have to complete your taxes in one sitting, rather take a series of small steps to get it done.
- Mind map it. After completing the task on which you delayed, think about how you can overcome any barriers in the future. I use a mind map to help me stop procrastinating. (Click here to learn how to do a mind map.) I write my problem in the center circle (“Why is creating my newsletter difficult?”) then I draw branches out from the center, writing down every reason I can come up with as to why I procrastinate. Then I brainstorm on solutions to overcome each of those reasons. You could do it the opposite way as well (“What could I do to make writing my monthly tips easier?”) If you’ve never used a mind map, it’s a great visual tool to help you come up with solutions.
Keep in mind that tasks are rarely as bad as you imagined them to be. Procrastination is a huge waste of time, causes stress and forces you to work longer hours because you’ve wasted so much time doing less important things. Instead of spinning your wheels, recognize that you’re stuck and use one of these tips to do something about it. What are you waiting for? Start the New Year off right!