In 1978, about 5% of the population admitted to being chronic procrastinators. But today? According to a 2007 story by University of Calgary psychologist Piers Steel, that number of procrastination quintupled to nearly 26%.
But regardless of whether you identify yourself as a chronic procrastinator or not, one thing’s probably true: You do find yourself giving in to procrastination from time to time. Nearly all of us do.
Each of us, at some point or another, have put off, slacked off, or otherwise delay a tasking we’d rather not do.
It happens in our personal life and, for many of us, it happens in our professional life as well. For example: We put off that project that seems harder (or more boring) than the others.
But just until tomorrow, of course. We’ll definitely get it done tomorrow … Well, maybe the day after.
Don’t get me wrong: Putting something on the backburner for a little while isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, according to the American Psychological Association, intentionally delaying work can actually be beneficial if you’re doing so for the right reasons.
But when that procrastination becomes a perpetual habit—or when it negatively impacts your job, your life, or your happiness—it’s probably time for a change.
And that’s what we’re going to talk about today: Six practical, actionable ways to break free from the delay-stall-excuse-delay-stall-excuse loop and finally tackle those projects you’ve been putting off.
#1: “Chunk” Overwhelming Projects into Smaller Tasks
Although this probably isn’t the first time you’ve heard about the concept of “chunking,” it really is the first step in overcoming procrastination.
The concept’s simple: Take the project you’ve been procrastinating and break it up into as many bite-size chunks as possible. For example: If you’ve been putting off writing a blog post, you might start chunking it into these tasks:
- Open Word
- Choose a Topic
- Create a Working Title
- Spend 30 Minutes Researching
- Create an Outline
And so on. You get the idea. The trick here is to forget about the entire project and just focus on one chunk at a time. In other words: “Right now, I’m not working on writing a blog post. I’m working on creating a title.”
See how that’s a little less daunting? Chunking makes it easier to finally get started, by making starting easy.
Want to learn more about proactive task management? Check out Stallions vs Rocking Horses: 3 Steps to Mastering Proactive Productivity.
#2: Create Your Own Momentum
“The most important thing you can do to achieve your goals,” says author and speaker Tony Robbins, “Is to make sure that as soon as you set them, you immediately begin to create momentum.”
In other words, never set a goal without taking at least one step toward completing it. And since you’ve taken the first step, why not take a second? And, since you’re starting to pick up speed, why not a third?
Soon your walk will turn to a jog, and your jog to a run. And before you know it, you’ll be making real headway on your projects.
This is incredibly effective when paired with the chunking skill above: By breaking down a project into bite-size pieces, you make it easy to take that first step and gain the momentum you need to keep moving forward.
#3: Switch Up Your Environment
If you’re at work or in your home office right now, take a moment and look around. How cluttered is your desk? How many tabs do you have open on your computer? How many devices do you have in front of you?
In other words: How many distractions are you surrounded by?
A cluttered environment leads to a cluttered mind, and a cluttered mind is an unfocused, easily-distracted mind. So here’s my challenge to you: Anytime you’re about to shift gears and start on a new project, take just a few moments to de-clutter.
Clear unnecessary papers off your desk. Close down browser tabs. In fact, if you don’t need your computer, shut it down. Silence your phone and place it face-down.
Make your workspace like a library: Quiet, clean, organized, and serene. Your mind, and your productivity, will thank you for it.
But what if you can’t create a completely distraction-free environment? In that case, you need to find one. Find a place you can retreat to—either in a different part of the home or office or somewhere else entirely—outside of your usual element where you can focus completely on the task at hand. For example: A local coffee shop, library, or hotel lobby.
#4: Set (and Record) Multiple Deadlines
Having a single far-off deadline for a major project makes it far too easy to say, “Oh, I’ve got tons of time left to take care of this.” Of course, the problem is we often end up saying that until we no longer have “tons of time.”
So instead of setting one deadline way into the future, set a deadline for each of the “chunks” you created earlier. Having immediate deadlines, even for small projects, creates a sense of urgency; after all, missing one of those deadlines can throw the whole timeline off.
And if that still isn’t motivating enough, consider writing the consequences of missing a particular deadline next to each task. This will further increase the sense of urgency and importance, creating the momentum you need to start and keep going.
#5: Increase Your Accountability
When you’re the only person that knows about your goals and deadlines, it’s easy and make excuses to procrastinate. But when others know about your goals and deadlines, suddenly there’s a lot more accountability.
For better or worse, peer pressure works. So consider asking several people to track your progress and set up weekly check-ins to ensure you’re on track. After all, it’s much harder to let down others than it is to let down ourselves.
#6: If Necessary, Redefine Your Goals & Priorities
If you’ve tried everything above and still struggle to overcome procrastination, it may be time to start asking some of the hard questions. More specifically: Is there a misalignment between what you want and where you are?
Are your goals truly aligned with what you really want? Because no amount of productivity “hacking” can fix misalignment. This can take a bit of hard honesty and soul searching, but it may be worth doing if all else fails.
Consider redefining your goals or, at least, recontextualizing why they’re important to you. Because once you’ve found alignment between where you are and where you want to be, procrastination will become much more manageable.
For more on finding goals that are aligned with your long-term vision, check out Stop Setting Weak Goals: The Ultimate Guide to Creating Goals (That Actually Get Done).
The Ball’s in Your Court Now
Procrastination squanders away our already-limited free time, infringes on our happiness, and prevents us from reaching our fullest potential.
Philosopher Williams James once said, “Nothing is more fatiguing as the eternal hanging on to unfulfilled goals.” So roll up your sleeves, get energized, organized, and motivated, find your momentum, and fulfill your goal!
Ever feel like there just isn’t enough time in the day? Like after you finish responding to emails, replying to Slack messages, and sitting in meetings, there’s no time left for the tasks that really matter?
You aren’t alone.
Time management is one of the most universal challenges faced by people across the world; especially entrepreneurs. And it isn’t helped by the fact that our lives are becoming increasingly reaction-driven.
Overcome this tendency with our free book, Whitespace Time Management: The Proactive Entrepreneur’s Guide to Owning Your Time and Mastering Your Priorities.