Procrastination is an active process you choose to do something else instead of the task that you know you should be doing. In contrast, laziness suggests apathy, inactivity, and an unwillingness to act. Procrastination usually involves ignoring an unpleasant, but likely more important task, in favor of one that is more enjoyable or easier. But giving in to this impulse can have serious consequences. For example, even minor episodes of procrastination can make us feel guilty or ashamed. It can lead to reduced productivity and cause us to miss out on achieving our goals. If we procrastinate over a long period of time, we can become demotivated and disillusioned with our work, which can lead to depression and even job loss, in extreme cases.
Once you’ve decided that you really do need to do something, there are plenty of things that you can do to help you avoid procrastinating. Minimizing distractions is a really good start, but here are some more ideas that you may find useful:
- Do it first, then reward yourself with something you’d rather do.
It can also be helpful to do unpleasant things first thing in the morning, when you’re a bit more resilient, and also when you can’t think of a really good excuse.
- Do it more often, not less.
If you find yourself struggling with a task that you feel you ought to do once a week, or twice a week, try doing it every day, instead. That way, it will be harder to put off, and you will feel worse if you don’t get it done that day.
- Write it down.
It sounds odd, but it’s much harder to ignore a task once you have written it on your to-do list, especially if it’s a list of things to do today. A more extreme version of this is to tell someone else what you plan to do. You can even ask them to call and check whether you’ve done it.
- Arrange to do it with someone else.
If you struggle to motivate yourself to go to the gym, or to take exercise, or even to take your child out somewhere, arrange to go with a friend. This has two benefits. First of all, you’ve arranged to meet at a particular time, and you will feel bad if you let your friend down. Secondly, we all enjoy things more if we do them with someone else.
- Ask yourself ‘Will this really be better if I put it off?’
This is a great way of persuading yourself to do small but unpleasant tasks like sorting the washing, cleaning the drains, or even having a difficult conversation with someone. If it won’t get any better for being put off, then just get on and do it.
- Think about how good it will feel when you have done it.
Again, this has several elements: the joy of ticking it off on your list, the feeling of having completed it generally, and the great feeling of having done something worthwhile that you were dreading. The key is to focus on the end goal, not on the task needed to accomplish it. This means thinking about how good you always feel after taking exercise, or the cup of tea you’ll have once your deadline is met and your report sent off.
- Break down the task, and do the preparation.
If you’re dreading doing a big task, then break it up into smaller bits. For example, if you’ve got to write a report, do a quick web search and find some suitable sources. Check your brief and work out how long it’s going to take you, then plan when you will have a suitable block of time. Put it into your diary even, so that you’re committed to it. All these will make the task seem that bit smaller and more manageable. Have a look at our pages on Action Planning and Project Management for more ideas about this.
- If it will take less than 2 minutes, just do it now.
Stop arguing with yourself and just do whatever it is, if you are sure that it is not going to take much time doing it.
- Think about the pain of not doing it.
Just as we are motivated by reward, we are also motivated by fear of loss. The thought of the pain of losing out by not doing something can be much more motivating than the reward of having done it. For example, if you don’t go and have that conversation with your boss about your pay rise, you won’t get one this year.
- Commit to the task.
Focus on doing, not avoiding. Write down the tasks that you need to complete, and specify a time for doing them. This will help you to proactively tackle your work.