All of us, from time to time, have procrastinated both professional and personal tasks or projects. By definition, procrastination is the intentional and habitual postponement of a task, in favor of a task of a less-important task. Procrastination hurts our ability to stay proactive, efficient, and productive. And yet, far too many of us are guilty of procrastinating on a fairly regular basis.

The most common excuses we tell ourselves while procrastinating include:

  • It’s not due yet
  • I work better under pressure
  • The task is boring
  • The task is tedious
  • I do not feel motivated to do it right now
  • It’s too late

The Characteristics of Procrastinators

Real procrastinators have three strong characteristics. First, they know they have a problem and need to take action. Procrastinators generally feel guilty every time they think about the tasks they need to complete, but keep putting off. We feel guilty because we acknowledge the fact that we are not weighing the penalties of delaying the task against the benefits of completing the task. Procrastinators usually know exactly what needs to be done, but still continue to postpone the very actions that will relieve their guilt.

Second, great procrastinators always promise to take action at some indeterminate time in the future. But, unless there’s a crisis concerning the task, the typical procrastinator will continue to put off the task indefinitely. The self-talk of a procrastinator generally utilizes the phase “I need to” rather than “I will.” For example, a procrastinator is likely to say, “I need to clean out the garage.” A more goal-oriented individual might say, “I will clean out the garage by noon tomorrow.”

Third, great procrastinators often make the completion of the task contingent on something else. This makes the delay seem rational and justifiable. For example, a procrastinator might say, “I’ll take that vacation as soon as the pace slows down.” Unfortunately, for a true procrastinator, the pace never slows down. In this scenario, the delay tactic is a convenient excuse rather than a legitimate reason for the delay.

How To Stop Procrastinating

So, how do you quit procrastinating? Like any habit, procrastination can be overcome. It does, however, take some work and commitment to replace this habit with healthier habits and actions.

Identify What’s Causing the Delay

To overcome procrastination, it is critical that you figure out what is causing you to delay the task. Look back over the list of excuses above and identify which ones apply to you. Once you pinpoint the cause, it is easier to generate a solution.

Change Your Attitude

People are generally not excited about completing whatever task they are procrastinating. It is this very lack of excitement and enthusiasm that creates a need to put off the task in favor of another, less important task. In fact, you are likely using negative self-talk to justify your procrastination. When your self-talk consists of statements like, “I don’t even know where to start,” or “This task is boring,” they are likely to have a negative impact on the outcome. You are much better off focusing on the benefits of completing the task rather than the negative aspects of getting started on the task.

Conquer Your Fears

Sometimes we procrastinate a task because we fear the outcome. For instance, an individual puts off going back to school because he is much older than most students and is not sure how well he will do. A good way to overcome your fears and get on with life is to analyze the worst-case scenario. After you recognize the worst possible outcome, then ask yourself, “Can I live with the worst possible scenario?” Most times, we find that the worst possible outcome really isn’t so bad.

Make a Master Procrastination List

Get a clear picture of what needs to be done by analyzing the different areas of your life and making a list of all the things you’re procrastinating. Next to each procrastinated task, estimate how long it will take to complete. Some tasks will take mere minutes, while others might take hours, days, or even years. After you’ve identified the tasks and how much time they will take to complete, prioritize the order in which the tasks should be completed.

Organize a Plan for Completion

Once you’ve prioritized your tasks, organize a plan for each project. Break down each project into smaller tasks. For example, if you happened to have a large pile of magazines to read, you could start by separating the different magazines you subscribe to into individual piles. Starting with one pile at a time, open each magazine to the table of contents and highlight the articles you want to read. Then, tear out the articles you highlighted and toss the rest of the magazine. Lastly, set a goal to read or review the torn-out articles for thirty minutes a day until the task is complete.

Act Now

There is only one real way to win the battle with procrastination and it’s summed up perfectly by Nike: “Just Do It!” Let’s say you have to write an article for your corporation’s newsletter and it will take approximately one hour to write. Right now, you only have fifteen minutes before you need to be at a meeting. You can still act now. In fifteen minutes, you could put together an outline of the article. During your next available fifteen minutes, you can expand the outline. Before you know it, the article is finished.

Do the Hardest Part First

A young boy was sitting at the dinner table staring at some green peas he didn’t want to eat. Unfortunately for him, his mother had told him he couldn’t leave the table until he finished his dinner, peas included. After staring at the peas for over an hour, the boy’s father shared with him this pearl of wisdom. “Son, if you have to swallow a frog, don’t sit there and look at it.” And so is the case with procrastinated tasks – they don’t get any better with time. If you don’t like your green beans hot, you’ll probably like them even less when they are cold. If you do one thing you dislike each day, you develop character, and facing difficulties in life will be a lot easier.

Use a Daily “To Do” List

If you currently have slips of paper or post-it notes around your work area to remind you what needs to be done, transfer them all to a master “to do” list. Having one master list of all the tasks you need to complete makes the process much more organized and streamlined. Make sure you re-write your list of things to do each day and make a conscious decision about what tasks on the list need to be prioritized. Without a master “to do” list, it is much easier to lose or misplace one of the miscellaneous slips of paper you’re relying on.

Reward Yourself

When you accomplish a task you have been procrastinating, reward yourself! Rewards differ from person to person. For one person the reward might be drinking a beer, for another, walking on the beach, and for another, the peace of mind that comes with crossing off one more item on that “to do” list.

There’s no time like the present to break the habit of procrastination. By replacing procrastination with the steps and actions above, you will find yourself more efficient, productive, and proactive in the way you go about taking care of business in your day-to-day life.