- Mental Health
Help for Chronic Procrastinators
A problem that can't wait until tomorrow
Procrastination is no joking matter, yet lighthearted or dismissive expressions persist, like the clichéd "I do my best work under pressure". The truth is, procrastination can impact your job, your relationships, your finances and even your sense of self worth. It can cost you friendships and derail your career ambitions. With costs this high, it's no wonder that people feel compelled, even desperate, to defeat this condition. The enormity of such a change, though, can feel daunting. I've become a recovering procrastinator rather than an active one. Below I share some practical, often simple steps that have really helped me to become unstuck.
Specificity is Everything
You may be quite familiar with hopeful but vague New Year's resolutions. They might sound something like, "lose weight by summer" or "learn a new sport", or "join a writing club". What would have kept these resolutions from becoming last year's failures? A more specific approach. Let's modify these well-meaning resolutions. How about "I will lose 15 pounds by July 1st. I will do it through exercising at the gym 4 days a week and cutting down 150 calories a day." Another one? "I will learn to play tennis by joining a community tennis team that meets twice a week, starting in the spring." Joining a writing club sounds promising enough, but signing up for a "new writers group at the library on Wednesday evenings" sounds even better.
These resolution examples translate well to procrastinators. We can benefit greatly from specific plans in our everyday lives; in fact, it's quite difficult to get motivated unless you have a clear and concrete vision. Procrastinators are wonderful dreamers and big, grand thinkers, but without the momentum to move forward, those dreams stay grounded.
This is a critical step in overcoming procrastination, and one that many of us resist because of the hassle. If your internal motivation is not strong enough - and let's face it- some of us have a little less self control and are more prone to distraction, then you must find methods to keep yourself on track.
If you want to make a morning run part of your routine, then enlisting help is a smart and proactive move. A running buddy or a group that meets at the same time every day will provide the push you need. It's a lot more difficult to make excuses when others are relying on you. If you like to exercise alone, then make sure to stay accountable in another way. Log your progress in an app or journal every single day. My daily running app uses a coaching voice to periodically encourage me, telling me "You're almost there!" and "Great job today!" Sounds ridiculously simple, but it works. I don't want to disappoint, even an automated voice recorded within a program.
Stepping up accountability can work for anything in your life, not just exercise. If you tend to procrastinate at work, for instance, you can delay-proof yourself by asking for the help of a coworker. Set a weekly time to check in with the coworker so you stick to a project deadline. Go over what you've finished and what you hope to complete by next week. Make the check-in quick and fun; discuss your progress over coffee in the break room.
Prepare for success by improving time management skills
There is no excuse for being late. It makes others feel slighted and it makes you look irresponsible. If you are a chronically late person, you are sending a message that the other person's valuable time does not matter to you, even if that's not at all the message that you intend to send.
If lateness is a constant problem for you, remind yourself that preparation is key to overcoming poor time management. Simple steps before a task or event can help you feel more relaxed and open to success. Laying out clothes, from suit to shoes to earrings and stockings, the night before an important meeting can remove nuisance worries from your mind. You won't waste time frantically searching for items at the last minute.
Try to anticipate other variables which may cause major headaches on the day of an important event. Don't wait - familiarize yourself with a new driving route the day before an event. Find out what typical traffic looks like on the day you will be driving or taking other transportation. In the case of speaking engagements, practice is so important that it can mean the difference between success and failure. That extra effort and repetition can give you a huge boost in confidence. Make sure to rehearse important speeches often, preferably in different environments and in front of different audiences. Practice and preparation will help you break the cycle of procrastination.
Choose a planning system that works, and stick to one effective system
Calendars and scheduling systems are fantastic tools for procrastinators - if they are used properly. There are many low tech and high tech options, from paper and leather day planners to calendar/alarm app hybrids that seamlessly sync across multiple devices. Whichever system you feel most comfortable with, choose one and make it your own. Familiarize yourself with it and check it often. Don't use 3 different notebooks or systems when you add important appointments and notes. You will end up confused and won't remember where you wrote what. Dedicate yourself to one spot for everything, and you won't waste time searching for lost information. Of course, backing up your system via online or paper copies is always a smart move!
Take small steps, and I do mean small
You will need to be patient with your recovering procrastinator self. Aim for a few well organized, productive tasks the first week, and a sense of accomplishment will follow and help propel you forward. Beware of lofty goals. If you set out to completely label and organize your kitchen, streamline all the closets, attend sunrise yoga daily, and turn in every work assignment 2 days early, then you will fail miserably and end up more frustrated than ever. Self loathing is not helpful, but self awareness is. Figure out what your biggest distractions are, and eliminate them. Figure out what triggers your worst episodes of procrastination. Is it several days of poor sleep? Returning from vacation and being out of a routine? Starting an unfamiliar work project? Gaining insight into these factors can make you a smarter and more strategic player in the battle against procrastination.
Don't delay - your happiness may depend on it.
I am an expert on procrastination; in fact, I have a lifetime of experience! I truly believe that procrastinators are some of the most creative and interesting people in the world. Although people have many different reasons for fostering this bad habit, I think most procrastinators love life and are trying to live it to the fullest. They overcommit, get excited about many new projects and take on too much, and try to be all things to all people. You must decide that your highest priority, above all other goals, is to end the frustrating cycle of procrastination. Don't let this nasty habit stand in the way of fulfillment, productivity, and ultimately your happiness.