I procrastinate every single day. Sometimes for 5 minutes and sometimes for hours on end. It leaves me feeling oddly drained. The majority of the time I spend procrastinating I’m struggling against the urge to procrastinate. it’s kind of like when you decide “I am not going to eat that doughnut” abut then all you can think about is eating the doughnut.
And I know I’m not alone, so I asked Johnna Kaplan, one of my favorite writers to investigate procrastination and write about how to stop doing it for About.com. Here are some tricks she learned along the way:
Develop a daily routine.
Knowing what you have to do every day, and determining the optimal order in which do it, cuts down on wasted time and takes a lot of guesswork out of your life. It helps keep mundane chores like cleaning and making your lunch from impeding your progress on larger, more urgent tasks. Following a daily routine or a weekly routine means you have fewer unnecessary choices to make each day and less room for procrastinating tendencies to creep in.
Take care of simple, routine tasks on time so they don’t pop up to tempt you whenever something important needs to be done
It’s a cliché that when, say, a student has to write a paper, they suddenly become very enthused about cleaning their room instead. But that cliché is a real problem, and it happens when you’re not regularly keeping up with your cleaning and organization at home or at work. You can think of this as tackling procrastination on the smallest level first. It takes little to no willpower to open your letters and throw away your junk mail every day (it’s the sort of mindless action you can add to your daily or weekly routine.) Once you get into the habit of doing that, there will never be a huge stack of mail waiting for you to sort through at the exact moment when you should be working on that paper.
Break large projects into steps, and schedule each step on a reasonable timeline
Often, procrastination attacks when a project feels too daunting. It could be a very difficult project (e.g. a paper on a topic you don’t understand) or simply a large or tedious one (e.g. a long paper on a topic that bores you.) To prevent this, don’t say you’re going to write your paper on Friday, the day it’s due. Instead, plan to review the source material on Monday, write an outline on Tuesday, write a draft on Wednesday, revise that draft on Thursday, and then double-check your work Friday before submitting the paper. Schedule each day’s “assignment” using your calendar or whatever method you prefer. When in doubt, assume any task will take more time rather than less. And consider the concept of “idea debt” – if you’re going to be spending time thinking or worrying about writing your paper, you might as well use that time to actually write it instead.
Allow yourself to procrastinate up to a pointif you’re procrastinating by doing something else that truly needs to get done
If you have to write a paper for one class and read a book for another, and you really aren’t feeling the paper right now, go ahead and work on the reading first. Of course, you don’t want to completely avoid writing the paper, but when you give yourself some flexibility – making sure you have the time to do so without falling behind – you may find your most onerous tasks start to seem less awful. This trick isn’t for everyone; some will find it helpful, others will find it a slippery slope. To stay on the safe side, limit your allowances to tasks within the same category: put off work by doing other, equally important work, but do not put off work by cleaning or shopping.
Give yourself rewards for working on what you’d otherwise put off
If you can manage to be mature about it, you can reward yourself in a variety of ways. One is to promise yourself that if you work until a certain time of day, you can then relax and do something fun. Another is to alternate stretches of work with stretches of fun, for example, two hours of paper-writing, then a half hour of TV, then repeat. You can also make working more enjoyable by adding a simultaneous treat, like buying your favorite iced coffee to drink while – and only while – you write your paper. To get the most of this method, you really have to know yourself (more on that below) and be honest, or you’ll end up with all rewards and no progress.
Use Elizabeth’s mantra trick
“I have a mantra,” says Elizabeth Larkin, About.com’s personal organizing expert. “Every time I catch myself procrastinating, I notice it and then remind myself of my mantra: Don’t let the temporary crowd out the big picture. That may not be grammatically correct, by the spirit is this: is looking at Facebook or reading a Reddit board about Game of Thrones helping me accomplish my long-term goals? No, it’s not. And usually this is enough of a kick in the butt to close my browser window and go back to writing.”
Many people depend on tools like apps, planners, and timers to keep their procrastinating minds on track. One of the best known is the Pomodoro Technique, which uses a special timer to divide your day into short intervals of work and rest. You can also set a plain old kitchen timer or alarm on your phone to give yourself a set time during which you’ll do nothing but work. One very old-school tool is a simple calendar, though you can get as fancy as you like with online calendars and apps. Scheduling everything you need to do in a calendar or planner helps you visually see your workload and fights the type of procrastination that involves keeping your mind fuzzy about when, exactly, you need to do what. With tools, keep in mind that they’re supposed to make it easier for you. If plugging your daily activities into an app is adding more work to your day, that’s not going to help your productivity, and when choosing a planner be wary of selecting one that’s more decorative scrapbook than scheduling aid.
Make time for hobbies
You may be procrastinating because you try to work, work, work all the time. “Make time in your schedule for your hobbies–the things you love doing,” says Larkin. ” For me, that is reading, hiking, and right now I’m learning photo editing. But, I also allow myself to take breaks during the day and the first thing I do when I come home from work is to sit on the couch with my dog and chill out for a few minutes. I would have a hard time staying on task if I was working all the time.” If you never take a break, you could be more prone to procrastinate because you aren’t replenishing your energy.