In professional and personal life, we all have tasks we put off until completing them seems worse than letting them continue to languish. But at the same time, our procrastination makes us feel guilty and sends us into a tailspin. In those situations, it’s easy to feel stuck between doing something we dread or continuing to put off the assignment, phone call, or other duty, and feel badly about it. But we’re here to share some tactics that will help you see a third route—completing the things that have value to you and releasing those that don’t.
Set Goals with Structure
One of the biggest reasons lots of projects never get finished is we set out with the end goal in mind, but don’t know how we will get there. A S.M.A.R.T. goal is one that is specific, measurable, achievable, results-focused, and time-bound. Basically, pick something challenging you know you can achieve in a certain time period, that will have an actual impact—and make sure you’ll know when you’ve achieved it.
Different Times, Different Measures
When setting S.M.A.R.T. goals, think in different time frames. Try making a list of specific to-do items for tomorrow at the end of each day. Make sure each task moves you closer to the more long-term goals and plans you’ve made, even if you’re just building skills and biding your time. Measuring success in big public milestones like a graduation, new job, or award feels great but crossing things off a list will help keep you motivated to go the distance between.
Force More Focus
Another efficient way to avoid procrastination is to put yourselves in situations where you simply can’t procrastinate. Maybe this means finding a business partner, study buddy, or just telling others you’ll be completing a task or hosting an event. The American Society of Training and Development found in a study that simply telling someone your goal increases your chance of success by 65%. And if you set a future appointment to discuss the goal specifically, there’s a 95% chance you’ll have reached it by the time the meeting arrives.
Keep a Broad Perspective
Remember that all the lists and public accountability announcements in the world won’t help you control for every eventuality. Even when you do slip up and spend a day (or two) binge-watching Netflix, remember, you only really fail if you don’t get back up and keep going. As writer Ray Bradbury put it, "Life should be touched, not strangled. You've got to relax, let it happen at times, and at others move forward with it." Force focus when you need to, but don’t force yourself to exhaustion.
Establish Distraction-Free Time
Sometimes it’s not lack of passion or focus that drives procrastination, but the demands and distractions of the outside world. If your phone is always blowing up or people keep interrupting you to ask for things, establish time when you’re not going to be disturbed by those things. That might mean installing a new app to block texts or social media, finding a new secret spot to work, or just telling everyone you’ll be incommunicado for a few.
Look for the Reason
If all these strategies can’t get you moving on a certain task or initiative, it’s time to examine why. Some projects seem like a good idea, or like what we need to grow, but If every instinct you have is driving you in the opposite direction, you’ll just keep being stuck. If what you’re putting off is essential, see if you can think of a different way to accomplish it—and if it’s not, try giving yourself permission to walk away.
Procrastination is natural, and sometimes even drives us to better results when a deadline looms and we can’t waste time second-guessing ourselves. But when procrastination becomes chronic and problematic, something has to give. What are your tried-and-true ways to overcome procrastination?