“Just one more story, please Mummy, then I’ll go to bed.” “I’ll do my homework in the morning; it’s not due ‘til Monday.” “I’ll tidy up my room after this program.”
Many of us learned the art of procrastination at a very young age.
Procrastination is something most of us do, but when is it a problem? Joseph Ferrari, psychology professor at DePaul University in Chicago, and author of Still Procrastinating? The No-Regrets Guide to Getting It Done, says everybody procrastinates, but not everyone is a procrastinator. “A procrastinator is someone who habitually and consistently delays tasks.” Occasionally screeching in before a deadline is one thing, but if your life is in constant disarray because nothing ever gets done, then you’ve got a problem.
Ferrari thinks you should start by looking at why you procrastinate. Fear of failure is one of the most common reasons. Many people put things off because they’re worried the task will be too hard. If this is an issue for you, you could try breaking it down into easier steps and then visualize yourself completing the task. Is it really that hard? In extreme cases, Ferrari recommends using counseling to help change the way you think.
There are simple techniques for overcoming a tendency to procrastinate. The easiest is to write a list. There’s something about an ink and paper list that makes you want to get a task finished and crossed off. I can’t be the only person who finds it so satisfying I write down tasks already completed, just so that I can cross them off.
Do important and urgent tasks first, then ones you really don’t like, saving the easiest and pleasantest for last. Keep your list regularly updated and make sure your goals are achievable. I have a long master list with absolutely everything I need to do on it, then each morning I create a smaller list of tasks I need to achieve that day. The feeling of satisfaction I get from finishing my daily list goes a long way towards motivating me to get the unpleasant tasks done.
Many people think they work better under pressure, and they may be right. But if you leave something to the last minute then your child gets sick, you’re going to have a problem. Try and schedule your time in so you can get things done without having to rush.
Switch off distractions. For me this is key. I love Twitter and Facebook, but having them on in the background is the surest way for me to leave stuff unfinished. We’re all great at multitasking, but actually we’re more productive when we focus on one thing.
Finally, don’t forget to reward yourself for a job completed. Finish that tricky report, then head out to your favourite coffee shop to meet a friend.