How Do I Stop Procrastinating?
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How Do I Stop Procrastinating?

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One of my biggest career struggles is the battle against procrastination. Sometimes, I’ll procrastinate not because I’m dreading a task but because I’m bored or uninspired. Other times, I purposely push things off to create a sense of chaos or urgency in my work. For whatever (foolish) reason, having too much to do and little time to do it is really energizing for me. I almost always complete tasks, but almost never in a timely manner; I just barely meet a set deadline. While I’ve always been lucky enough to be able to complete work quickly, if you’re not able to move at a breakneck speed to finish your work on time, you risk seriously damaging your career. This sense of do-or-die doom can be a heavy weight on your shoulders and compound the stress you already feel. And while being a procrastinator can be stressful, you can’t even complain about the stress because you do it to yourself. So, how can you avoid procrastination and the stress that comes with it? The easy answer is: don’t procrastinate! That’s not realistic, though, so here are a few tips to stop procrastinating and get your tasks (and career) back on track!

  • Figure out why you procrastinate. Those who don’t procrastinate might think those of us who do are lazy. We put things off because we just don’t want to do it. Sure, that’s true every now and then---I procrastinate on doing the dishes after dinner because I absolutely hate doing dishes---but for the most part, there’s a reason we’re putting off tasks. This doesn’t mean that when you know why you procrastinate you’ll automatically stop doing it, but it can help you build a strategy to quit procrastination over time. The usual reasons people procrastinate are boredom, lack of motivation, or because they feel confused/overwhelmed by tasks assigned them. I procrastinate because I need to feel pressure to be inspired. By letting tasks build up, I’ve convinced myself, I’m actually working harder. The logic there doesn’t really work, but it’s how I justify putting off things I’m nervous or unsure of. So, take some time and think about the moments you procrastinate. What motivated you to put off completing an assignment?
  • Create an anti-procrastination strategy. For me, procrastination is like my coffee addiction: at this point, I don’t really reap the benefits of it anymore but it’s a habit so ingrained that I find it very difficult to not do it. Just like any habit, though, your tendency toward procrastination can be defeated over time. If you’ve figured out why you procrastinate (fear of failure, lack of motivation) you can start slow and work your way up to “quitting” the habit. For example, the biggest reason I tend to put things off is because I don’t like the idea of failing. If you don’t do something, my brain tells me, you can’t possibly fail. And then I let tasks pile up, telling myself that the pressure created by this mountain of nearly past due work will help me do better. I do finish and get some great ideas when this is going on, but is it because the pressure really motivates me or is it the fact that, deadlines looming, I literally have no time to fear failure? So, I set small goals for myself to achieve and call that success when I accomplish them. I’ll make a to-do list for each day, usually on a small post-it, and tell myself I won’t fail as long as I accomplish those few things. I’ll also start each morning at my desk by prioritizing things. Something that’s due that same day will come first, obviously, and then everything will be done in order of when it’s due. This strategy doesn’t totally eradicate my day-to-day procrastination but it helps keep it under control.
  • Learn to procrastinate productively. That makes no sense, you’re thinking. Productivity and procrastination are two words that never go together. But I’ve never been able to completely quit putting tasks off. I’ve been able to manage my procrastination, for the most part, because I allow myself some “procrastination” cheats. If I’m ridiculously uninspired by something I’m working, I’ll walk away from it for a bit and work on something else. This could be reading articles to find inspiration for the future, taking a walk to think, or even doodling. I’m procrastinating, sure, but it has a time limit; it also allows me a “brain break” to think about other ideas or tasks i need to do. Once I clear my head, no matter how much I despise the original task, I’m able to go back to it with a fresh mind. I also don’t feel guilty or as if I’m being lazy; I may not be currently working on the most urgent task at hand, but I am working on something.

Don’t think you’ll ever fully stop procrastinating; it’s an unrealistic expectation. But making small changes and concentrating on what you need to can make a huge difference in your career. And, bonus, when you don’t have a pile of overdue work waiting on your desk each morning, you’re less stressed and happier to get into the office, which is a win for everyone!

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