Throughout our careers, we have all been plagued by procrastination at one point or another. Combatting procrastination at work isn’t easy, but getting started is always the hardest part! We’ve put a list together of strategies and mind-tricks to help you stop procrastinating and get going.
Squash the “I’ll do it tomorrow” mindset
This habit of thinking might feel like a relief in the moment, but anytime we say “I’ll do it tomorrow” we are sabotaging ourselves. The idea that we will be more motivated tomorrow is the type of magical thinking that keeps us stuck in the first place. What will be different tomorrow? In fact, delaying what can be done today makes getting started more difficult tomorrow because we now have to overcome the thoughts that allowed us to rationalize putting the task off in the first place. We can stop the mental gymnastics and the self-sabotage once we realize that taking action today is actually easier and kinder to ourselves.
Break up a project into bite-sized pieces
Take that project or task and list out all of the actions that need to be completed. Start with just one of those actions, even if it’s a tiny action. Don’t wait for the motivation to strike (because the odds are it won’t) and focus on the tiny action instead. Remember: Action, no matter how small, will bring results; and results will bring the motivation to continue.
Keep an old-fashioned to-do list
To-do lists help give us structure, a plan for the day, and proof of what we’ve accomplished. Keep it on your desk and cross off tasks as they’re completed. Review it at the end of the day, carry over any unfinished tasks, and prioritize them for the next day. Mornings can be stressful, especially if we are scrambling to remember where we left off – and stress depletes our energy. This method relieves this stress and makes our mornings most efficient, which will energize us for the rest of our day.
Set a timer
When you are procrastinating on something, try setting a timer. This gives our brains an automatic boundary and can help us to get started when we can see that there will be an obvious end-point. We can do anything for 10 minutes, right? If the task isn’t completed, that’s ok – make a commitment to come back to it for another 10-minute timed increment. Just remember to keep the promise to yourself that when the timer is up, that portion of the task is completed and you can move on. This builds trust with ourselves and, next time, it will increase our willingness to set the timer and begin a task in the first place.
Try 3-minute tasks
If you find yourself avoiding a specific task, do that task for 3 minutes – and 3 minutes only. For example, if you are avoiding responding to an email, tell yourself that you only have to focus on it and write for 3 minutes. This quick action allows us to overcome the inertia and begin the task. After the 3 minutes is up, allow yourself to either move on or to continue the task – but remember to celebrate that you got it started!
Create a reward system for yourself as the carrot that will move you forward while you complete the hardest task on your list, or spend time on a project, or even (and especially) when you work at something that you don’t like to do. Identify what your reward will be and, when you’re finished with your task, give yourself the reward. Delaying gratification isn’t always something that we learn growing up, but it’s an essential life skill that is never too late to teach ourselves. So when you complete your hard-to-do activity, give yourself a walk around the block or a 10-minute break with a snack. You deserve it.
Partner up for accountability
Having an accountability partner can be extremely helpful at work. One way of doing this is partnering with a coworker or friend where you share 5 actions at the end of the day that you plan to do tomorrow, and then following up on the 5 actions from today and how they went. Just knowing that we are both working at goals and we are accountable to each other can make all the difference in our willingness to get started.
Give yourself breaks
Use your breaks to refuel yourself – drink some water, eat a healthy snack, do some stretching. We can’t expect ourselves to run without energy so give your body and your brain what they need to keep going. Then you can get back to work recharged and refocused.
Are you a perfectionist? If so, start to identify when your perfectionism leads to procrastination, as this cycle often compounds on itself until we feel paralyzed. Perfectionism and the fear of doing it the wrong way or making a mistake can cause us to freeze up and become afraid to take action. But remember – imperfect action is better than no action. It gets us moving. As Nelson Mandela said, “I never fail. I either win or learn.” Taking action gets the process started, and even if it’s not perfect, it’s progress!