Procrastination, or the act of putting off tasks until the last minute, can be a normal response to the often-overwhelming number of tasks on a to-do list. Many of us have procrastinated at one point or another. However, procrastination can become a significant hurdle to productivity for some individuals. Research shows that up to 20% of adults struggle with regular procrastination.
Procrastination can severely affect several facets of your life if not appropriately managed. It can lead to poor performance at work and school, affect your mental and physical health, and impact your relationships. However, procrastination can also be addressed so that it isn’t preventing you from living a productive, enjoyable life. Understanding how to reduce procrastination can improve your mental health and help you enjoy other aspects of life.
What Is Procrastination?
People procrastinate in many ways. For example, you might be procrastinating if you decide to organize your closet instead of finishing your work project. Another example of procrastination is engaging in an unproductive activity like playing a game when you should be working on a school project with a submission deadline. Neglecting a task altogether can also be an example of this phenomenon.
There are several reasons an individual might procrastinate, including a lack of motivation, perfectionistic behavior, physical health concerns, or a mental health condition. Some people equate procrastination with laziness or failure, but this is not accurate. Often, procrastination is a coping mechanism that can help an individual avoid the stress of complex or overwhelming tasks. It may also be done unknowingly due to difficulty with focus or time management.
Regardless of its source, procrastination can prompt anxiety, negatively impact physical health, and lead to unwanted outcomes in professional and academic settings. If you’re struggling with procrastination, there are several changes you can make that can increase your productivity.
How To Overcome Procrastination
If you know that procrastination is a concern in your life, you can learn to stop procrastinating by building better work habits over time. The following tips may help you better manage your time, prioritize tasks, and stay ahead in your professional life.
Find Your Optimal Work Time
Many people feel most productive or awake at a specific time of day. For example, people who identify as “morning people” may enjoy waking up early and starting work before noon. Others may take the morning to wake up and get into the groove before they get to work. Some people may also prefer to work in the evening or overnight. Applying for a job that pushes you to work outside of your comfort zone may make you more tired and less motivated.
Find times that work best for you and save your most difficult tasks for that period. If, for example, you do your best work in the afternoon, consider using the morning to complete administrative tasks, clean up, and exercise. You can then get started on the in-depth activities in the afternoon when you’re feeling alert.
Focus On The Benefits Of Completing A Task
If you notice a task on your to-do list, it might be beneficial to write yourself notes regarding the benefits of getting it done. Focus on why you committed to the task in the first place and how it can help you in the future. When filling out your to-do list, consider writing the benefits of each task next to it. Doing so may help you avoid having a list of abstract or overwhelming tasks to complete.
Take A Walk
Taking time out of your day to stroll may seem counterproductive, but it may help you focus. Walking can help you clear your mind, remove distractions, and relax. According to a study by the University of Michigan, a walk in nature was linked to improved mental health.
Walking is a light aerobic exercise that can increase endorphins in the brain, boost mood, and potentially motivate you. Consider scheduling walks in the middle of your days or during a time when you often struggle to focus. After your walk, you may return to the task refreshed and ready to finish.
With the popularity of technology and other potential distractions, many external forces can interrupt your flow during the day. Having a smartphone with pop-ups and notifications directing your attention away from the task at hand can increase procrastination. To eliminate distractions, consider exiting your email, staying off social media sites, and silencing your phone.
In addition, there are several apps you can download to your device that can track the time spent on tasks or projects, in addition to website-blocking programs that ensure specific sites are inaccessible. Some apps make avoiding procrastination into a game. For example, the app may block you from using your phone for a specific period, allowing you to grow a plant or care for an animal while you work. If you get on your phone, the app may reduce your rewards or make you start over on the game progress.
Learn To Prioritize
Another hurdle that might increase procrastination is difficulty prioritizing tasks or managing time. You may feel overwhelmed or unsure where to start if you have many essential tasks to complete. Having a ton of tasks to complete with no solid planning can cause stress levels to increase and productivity levels to decrease.
Start by sorting through your tasks and noting what needs to be completed and when. You can categorize tasks based on importance and urgency. Once you’ve taken this step, consider selecting the top three highest priority items and focusing on getting those done first. Depending on your workload, you might be able only to finish one priority item each day. However, one step may be better than none. As you work through your tasks, you can develop a routine and make these tasks a habit.
Often, people may have trouble finishing tasks because they’re unsure what to complete. Not being on top of your priorities may result in missed deadlines, mismanaged time, and unfinished projects. Keeping lists can help you track what you must do and organize your days efficiently. Consider writing down each task as you think of it or as assigned.
In addition to a to-do list, try making a “done” list. Writing down the tasks you have completed at the end of each day may help you realize how efficiently you are working, where you need to improve, and how to maximize your time the next day.
Let Others Hold You Accountable
Research shows that expressing your goals with someone you hold in high esteem can help you achieve them. Consider telling someone you respect—a higher-up at work, a family, or a mentor—about a specific goal you’d like to achieve. Doing so may help you commit to the task and ensure you’re being held accountable.
Find A Challenge
Boredom can be a frequent cause of procrastination. If you are challenged with a task or a project, you may feel more motivated to complete it. If you feel like you aren’t being pushed at work, consider taking on new projects or going for a promotion.
You might focus a lot on what you need to complete but not on celebrating the accomplishments you’ve already made. A lack of incentives can be de-motivating, causing individuals to view work negatively and potentially leading to procrastination.
Try to take time between tasks to acknowledge your work and reward yourself. Some examples of rewards include taking a short break or grabbing a snack or beverage that you enjoy. If you’ve just finished a big project, consider taking yourself out to dinner or buying yourself a new item of clothing.
One of the most straightforward ways to overcome procrastination is to start on the task as soon as you think about it, even if the task is minor, like putting gas in the lawnmower, cleaning a small part of your home, or eating a small snack. Beginning a project is often the most challenging part, and you may find that once you start working on a task, you can complete it until the end.
Create A Routine And Reduce Procrastination With Professional Support
Overcoming Procrastination With A Professional
If you continue to struggle with procrastination or feel it may be a sign of an underlying mental health concern, you might benefit from speaking to a therapist. However, if you have many unfinished tasks, scheduling a visit with an in-person therapist can be overwhelming. In these cases, online therapy may allow you to receive support without having to put off other tasks for hours.
Research also shows that online therapy can help individuals become more proactive. In a study of 150 people, researchers found that online cognitive-behavioral therapy could help participants decrease procrastination. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a widely accepted form of treatment that helps individuals recognize and replace undesired thought patterns. For example, a therapist can help their client realize that they were putting off tasks due to perfectionism.
If you’re having trouble with procrastination or similar mental health-related concerns, consider contacting a licensed therapist online. With an online therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can chat with a mental health professional from home and choose between video, voice, or in-app messaging sessions. BetterHelp allows you to schedule therapy sessions through their site or app, making it easier if you struggle to be proactive with tasks.
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