Everyone puts off things. Sometimes this becomes a habit that’s difficult to break. When not doing what needs to be done gets in the way of everyday living, prevents you from achieving your goals, or contributes to a sense of unhappiness, loss of self-esteem or loneliness, it’s time to take action.
These ten simple steps may be just what you need to stop procrastination.
- Break it up
The whole may be too much to contend with, so the easiest way to overcome a tendency to put things off is to break a project or task into smaller pieces. Call them bite-size chunks.
Not only is the resulting amount of work more manageable, it doesn’t loom as overwhelming. Besides, once you complete the smaller pieces of the task, you can relish the feeling of accomplishment. This helps reinforce your determination to tackle other things on your list.
- Have a plan
It won’t do you any good to simply break up a task into parts, however manageable, if you don’t also come up with an action plan. Just as you wouldn’t wade into a pool without knowing the depth or having a rescue route handy, jumping into a task or project without a clear picture of what’s involved and how you’re going to handle it will jeopardize the outcome. Instead of seeing the finish line, you might give up at the first hurdle.
A plan, while not foolproof, will at least provide a roadmap that you can reference. Without a plan, the tendency is to use any excuse to put off doing what’s required.
- Just begin at the beginning
You need to start somewhere, and that isn’t at the middle or the end of what needs to be done. Sure, you can tackle some parts of the whole that don’t necessarily follow in order, but that’s after you begin at the beginning. When you first approach a task or project, you need a sense of where you’re headed, what’s needed, how you’re going to handle distractions, delays and obstacles. Along with the plan and having broken the whole into manageable parts, starting at the beginning can give you a sense of motivation and determination to see the project through.
- Create a ritual for starting
One way to cultivate a good habit is to create a so-called starting ritual. If you’re about to undertake a project or task and find it tough to get motivated, making use of a familiar ritual for starting may help. This might involve doing warm-up exercises, going for a latte, eating a good breakfast, incorporating a few reminders, post-it notes, calls from a loved one or friend or something else.
Do this ritual every time you start a project — the more difficult and anxiety-producing, the more you need a starting ritual.
- Create a keystone habit
One of the secrets of highly successful people is that they build in what are called keystone habits. One of the best examples of a keystone habit is exercise. When you exercise regularly, all sorts of benefits result. You eat healthier, sleep better, become more toned, may lose weight, feel better about yourself, enjoy a sense of self-accomplishment and, as a result, you stop procrastinating. Figure out what your keystone habit is and incorporate it into your routine.
- Give yourself a pep talk
What you have to do may not be the most pleasant task, or it might take time you’d rather devote to something else. Still, if something needs to be done and you’re the one to do it, give yourself a pep talk to boost your motivation. Remind yourself why you’re doing this in the first place. Recognize that putting this off won’t help with your list of other things to do. Getting a jump on this task right now is one way to stop procrastination before it starts.
- Ask for help when you need it
Many times an unexpected hurdle or addition to the project or task throws you for a loop. You’re already overwhelmed and are working as hard and fast as you can. It’s okay to ask for help when this occurs. In fact, it’s the smart thing to do.
Be sure you’re not trying to foist your responsibilities on someone else’s shoulders, but don’t be afraid to enlist others’ help when necessary. This helps stop procrastination in its tracks.
- Know when something’s unworkable
If a project or task becomes so muddled or riddled with problems and delays that to continue on is foolhardy, you need to know it’s unworkable and get out. This isn’t the same thing as quitting because something’s hard. Some projects or tasks just can’t be completed in the time allotted or given the set of circumstances at hand.
For example, your loved one is addicted to alcohol or drugs and you’re trying to shore up the relationship by taking on the responsibilities of that person. This is called enabling and it’s no good for either of you. By being co-dependent, you’re reinforcing your loved one’s addiction. This is a situation where you, along with your loved one, could benefit from professional counseling.
Not recognizing what’s going on or trying to avoid it is a form of procrastination. Again, asking for help when you need it is a wise choice.
- Build in costs or consequences for delays
If stopping a project or task is what you’re used to doing, breaking this habit might require building in some costs or consequences for delays. For example, if you have a tendency to endlessly surf the Internet to avoid tending to duties or work items, and it’s the end of the day and you’ve accomplished little that you set out to do, give yourself some meaningful consequence for your inattention to what needed to be done. This takes some discipline and won’t work for everyone. That’s because it’s too easy to self-rationalize that you need some time for yourself.
Let’s say you regularly log into a website to play games and this winds up eating away hours. Make your password incredibly difficult and keep it locked away. Taking longer to retrieve it may be enough to dissuade you from wasting time better spent doing what you’re supposed to do.
- Treat yourself for success
Nothing motivates more than a reward for a job well done, or a job that you complete, period. After working so hard to get through the project or task, one excellent way to reinforce this good behavior is to treat yourself. Whether it’s a latte with a friend, taking a half hour for a nap, reading a chapter of a book, walking in nature or talking with someone you love, this reward will help solidify a healthy pattern of ticking off items on your to-do list.
Frustrated woman photo available from Shutterstock