No matter how long our to-do lists get – both in our personal lives and at work – many of us are guilty of looking the other way and spending our time on easier, less taxing tasks. Learn how to beat procrastination and smash that to-do list with these top tips from social entrepreneur Sharath Jeevan and author Gemma Bray…
Procrastination comes in many forms: it’s not always simply a matter of laying on the sofa and watching Netflix while your ever-expanding to-do list collects dust in the corner. Sometimes, there are legitimate explanations for your procrastination, like a lack of information or energy. However, more often than not, our behaviour is caused by fear, perfectionism, delaying tactics or mere dilly-dallying.
In other instances, we may think we are being productive, as we tick smaller chores off from the bottom of our to-do lists, yet we are simply using this approach to defer starting the larger, more daunting tasks.
Here, our prioritization becomes skewed, as we award our immediate attention and effort to the less important – but easier – tasks, to feel the instant satisfaction and validation as we tick it off the list. All the while, the bigger, and often more important project is becoming more and more of an impossible task in the back of our minds.
If you’re ready to smash your to-do list – difficult tasks and all – read on for some top tips on how to beat procrastination at work and in your personal life…
How to beat procrastination
1. Think about what is causing your procrastination
The first step to overcoming procrastination is understanding it. ‘Ask yourself what is at the root of your procrastination. There might be a very good reason, such as you don’t have all the information, input or energy you need to complete the task,’ says Sharath Jeevan.
Procrastination is not always a bad thing. It may be necessary if it’s not about avoidance. Once you work out what is causing you to procrastinate, you can take steps to overcome whatever is stopping you from being productive – whether that’s seeking the external information you need, or recognising your own avoidance tactics and working out how you can overcome them.
2. Recognise when procrastination is beneficial
Do you tend to be more productive in the final hour before a massive deadline? While we’ve all been told that you should never leave work until the last minute (we see you school teachers), this approach might not necessarily be a ‘bad’ thing. For many people, it can actually be highly beneficial.
‘Not everyone thrives on completing tasks immediately,’ says Jeevan. ‘I’m someone whose creative juices flow best close to the final deadline. I feel fresher, and that type of urgency helps me deliver a good product. Knowing your own style helps a lot.’
If you, like Jeevan, find that the sense of urgency close to a deadline brings out the most productive version of yourself, then procrastinate away! Procrastination only needs to be worked on when it’s causing issues in your work or personal life, after all.
3. Do the toughest task first to beat procrastination
So many of us feel productive as we work our way through the quickest and easiest tasks on our to-do lists. However, this is merely a false sense of productivity that is disguising our deeply habitual procrastination.
Yes, all tasks need to be ticked off, no matter how small. However, by doing the easiest tasks first, not only are you making your life a lot more difficult when only the toughest tasks remain, but these larger tasks are likely to constantly be on your mind, using up your attention and energy even while you are not working on them. Because of this, it’s often better to just rip the plaster off and start working on it first.
This is known as ‘eat the frog’ strategy (eat the frog or it will eat you and you will procrastinate all day). It’s incredibly tempting to postpone these difficult tasks for another day, but at the back of your mind you know the task is waiting, and the longer you leave it, the more daunting it will become.
4. Don’t use ‘research’ as an excuse for procrastination
Do you find yourself randomly ‘researching’ topics on the internet, having a quick browse on an online shop or scrolling through social media? While browsing the internet or social media can be productive, and there are times where it is necessary, this habit can quickly tip over into procrastination. It’s easy to lose track of time while scrolling, after all.
If you struggle to stop ‘researching’ throughout the day, try setting up different home screens on your phone or laptop, to limit which apps you can use at different times of the day. ‘I have my phone setup with three different home screens – work, home and lifestyle, with fitness apps, social media and so on,’ says Gemma Bray. ‘That stops me checking the weather, browsing Facebook and online shopping whenever I pick up my phone. If it’s not on my work screen, I don’t go there.’
5. Perfectionism doesn’t make perfect
One reason a lot of us procrastinate is because we are fearful that our work is not good enough as it is. Maybe we have grandiose ideas about our completed project having to be a world-class work of art, business or science.
‘Perfectionism is the enemy of the good,’ says Jeevan. ‘Instead, aim for mastery. Mastery accepts that you never get to perfection, but what should motivate you is the process of getting better and better at the work. Do your best at the time but accept that there will always be things on which you can improve. Getting more proficent at something is exciting.’