Putting it off? How to overcome procrastination

“Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.”

This advice from founding father Ben Franklin seems pretty straightforward. Just do the work. Get it done. No problem, right?

Except for millions of people, procrastination IS a real problem in their daily lives. Research shows one in five people are chronic procrastinators — consistently putting off tasks in multiple areas of life, threatening their productivity and confidence.

Whether you’re a chronic procrastinator or someone who puts off the occasional task, taking steps to improve this behavior can help you rise to the top of your game at work and at home. Don’t put this one off: Employing these simple but effective strategies will help you overcome procrastination.

Mix work you love with work you don’t love so much.

It’s highly likely that the task you keep putting on the back burner is not one you’re looking forward to. Maybe it’s a project that will take significant brain power and effort and is completely overwhelming (more on how to deal with overwhelm here), or it’s a subject that just doesn’t tickle your fancy. Acknowledging the reason for your procrastination will not make your task magically disappear — but it can help you put it into perspective. If it’s the topic or type of work that doesn’t interest you, make sure to fill your to-do list with work you enjoy so you can reward your dedication to the tough stuff.

If it’s the magnitude of the project that keeps you away, keep reading.

Get to it first thing in the morning.

An influential book on productivity helped this blogger understand that doing the right work at the right time was key to getting more work accomplished. Tasks that require more focus, for example, are best done with a clear head first thing in the morning. But getting the tasks you dread out of the way first thing can also help you be more productive and refreshed. Let’s take exercise, for example. For arguably the majority of people, working out is not an enjoyable task. But getting it over with first thing in the morning allows you to mark it off your list and spend your day doing other things you enjoy. Otherwise, you’ll spend the day dreading the gym, and, you guessed it, you’re more likely to put it off until tomorrow.

Put the big tasks at the top of your to-do list. And then actually do them first.

Let’s talk about those to-do lists. You love them, don’t you? Filling your list with tasks (it’s OK, we know a lot of them are easy peasy) and checking them off one by one can be extremely satisfying. But it is also master trickery. From an article by Georgetown University Law Center’s Michael Pitts and Jennifer Bennett:

“Using little tasks to put off the big tasks that really need to get done is a particularly deceptive form of procrastination – even as we pat ourselves on the backs for checking items off our to-do list, all we’re actually doing is putting off the most important, time-consuming work until the end.”

So just put the biggie at the top of the list and get it over with, already. Then go check off all the little tasks. That’s a recipe for feeling awesome.

Break it down into small pieces.

If you’re putting that big, dreadful task at the top of the list but still not getting it done, Pitts and Bennett recommend deceiving yourself a little bit. Break your project up into smaller tasks so you feel like you’re accomplishing more. It’s a total mind game, but an effective one: As you begin to check off those small parts, you’ll feel more confidence and get to the finish line faster.

Put yourself on a time clock.

This Forbes article refers to it as a “power hour,” but 60 minutes is the goal, not the starting point. Choose a block of time in which you will rid your space of all distractions (yes, even your phone!) and get. it. done. For this scientifically proven method, start small, at maybe 10 or 15 minute intervals. Give yourself a brain break in between those blocks of work to rest and power-up for the next round. Focusing on your task for concentrated periods of time will help you perform your best.

Have some productivity tips to share? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter and let us know how you’re tackling those major tasks.