Procrastination gets a bad rap, but there are upsides to putting things off. In his TED Talk, organizational psychologist Adam Grant makes a convincing case that it can fuel creativity, giving you “time to consider divergent ideas, to think in nonlinear ways, to make unexpected leaps.”
But, too much of a good thing can throw a wrench in your professional plans. Sometimes, you just need to get stuff done, and sooner rather than later. To do otherwise is to risk angering your boss, coworkers and clients — not to mention, adding a lot of unnecessary stress.
When you find yourself putting things off to the detriment of productivity, these strategies can help:
1. Put a Stop to Catastrophizing
“One of the biggest reasons people procrastinate is because they catastrophize, or make a huge deal out of something,” writes Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD, at Psychology Today. “It may be related to how tough, how boring, or how painful it will be to complete the task; the underlying theme is that doing the task will be ‘unbearable.’”
It can help to remind yourself that things are not actually as dire as they seem. You might dislike a writing a report, but it doesn’t need to ruin your workday unless you let it. You might fear giving presentations, but you won’t die if you have to do so.
2. Commit to Just 5 Minutes
Getting started is the hardest part of any project. Sometimes, the best way to begin is by biting off a tiny chunk of the work.
If you want to get really sneaky, you might try bribing yourself: “I’ll just do this outline, and then I’ll get a cup of coffee. I’ll draft this email, and then I’ll go for a walk.” If things go well, you’ll be so absorbed in your work, it’ll be an hour before you get that coffee or take that walk. Either way, you’ll have more done than you do right now.
3. Procrastinate by Producing
Another trick is to play one project off another. Most people don’t have the luxury of working on one project at a time. Up your productivity by procrastinating at one task by working on something else on your to-do list.
4. Find Your Triggers
In his research, Tim Pychyl, author of Solving the Procrastination Puzzle, identified seven triggers that make tasks more likely to invite procrastination. At Harvard Business Review, productivity expert Chris Bailey lists these triggers as:
- Not intrinsically rewarding (i.e., you don’t find the process fun)
- Lacking in personal meaning
If you can figure out which trigger the task is activating, you might be able to change your thinking about it.
“Take writing a quarterly report,” writes Bailey. “If you find this boring, you can turn it into a game: see how many words you can crank out in a 20-minute time period. Or if you find a work task ambiguous and unstructured, create a workflow that lays out the exact steps you and your team should follow each month to get it done.”
5. Plan Procrastination Breaks
Can’t resist the urge to check social media, read the news, update yourself on your favorite sports team? Maybe you should give in — on a scheduled basis.
“After spending time in a procrastination research rabbit hole, I settled on a method suggested by habit guru Charles Duhigg,” writes Anisa Purbasari Horton at Fast Company. “In a Big Think video, Duhigg suggested that instead of denying yourself the urge to check Facebook, only to end up in a downward productivity spiral when the temptation becomes too strong, you should schedule those activities in your calendar so you can fulfill the urge and it doesn’t balloon out of control.”
In the end, Purbasari Horton found that taking breaks made her more productive. It could do the same for you.
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