10 Tips for Procrastinators


Procrastination is the habit of putting off, delaying, avoiding things that need to be done. It's obviously counterproductive, a form of self-sabotage that carries heavy consequences - but many of us find ourselves engaging in it now and again. It makes sense especially in the context of abuse. For example, as a child I was overwhelmed with multiple unreachable goals that were constantly changing. So, whenever my parents introduced a new goal for me, I'd freeze because I was sure I'd fail no matter how hard I try, and because I had no idea where this goal even came from, and whether it would be forgotten tomorrow. Naturally, as an adult I often found myself procrastinating: playing solitaire instead of doing my laundry, or watching cat fails on YouTube instead of working on my college papers. I'm not a child anymore, so, to stop procrastination, I needed to realize that I'm the only one setting goals for myself, and to learn how to do it appropriately.

Be honest

The point of time management is achieving the goals you want to achieve, not the goals someone said you should be achieving. If your to do list consists of painful and unpleasant things you want to hide from - the problem might not be procrastination, but faulty goals. For example, if you don't really want to clean your house - don't clean it for a while and see if it bothers you. There are no right or wrong answers here: some people get motivated to clean when they see the mess, others discover that they are actually comfortable with it, yet others just hire a cleaning service for a couple of hours a week. Dropping the shame/blame/self-bashing is pretty relieving, it allows you to focus on what really matters to you. Life is short, don't spend it chasing after someone else's goals.

Define success

For many people procrastination comes from a perpetual sense of failure, which, in its turn, could be caused by a blurry definition of success. For example, if your goal is to schedule an appointment with your dentist - success would be the outcome, getting it done. Yet if your goal is to lose weight - success is a process, exercising and eating healthy. As long as you do that - you're succeeding. Focusing on the outcome instead, i.e. compulsively weighing yourself every day and seeing that you haven't reached your goal weight yet - will only give you a prolonged sense of failure, which will likely result in avoidance and procrastination. Next time you set a goal for yourself - be clear on what exactly would count as success.

Break up your goal

Another cause of procrastination could be feeling overwhelmed with the complexity of your goal, being unsure where to start on it - so you end up hiding from this insurmountable project, postponing it indefinitely. Spend a half an hour breaking your goal up into manageable steps, write them down, and focus on them one at a time. When the goal is simple and doable (like "fill out the college admission application" rather than "become a neurosurgeon") - you're a lot more likely to achieve it. Checking it off your list provides a sense of accomplishment, and motivates you to work on the next step.

Drop perfectionism

It's rewarding to be good at something, one thing that you enjoy and are passionate about. Everything else, however, doesn't need to be done perfectly, it just needs to be crossed off your list. If your parents used to punish you for less-than-perfect performance in every field - practice deliberate slacking. For example, don't fold your pajamas after washing them, just throw them in your drawer and move on; you'll see that the world won't collapse. Don't overexert yourself over things that just don't matter in the long run. Save your effort for more important goals.

Practice small consistent effort

If you were abused around the age of 7-10, it's possible that you never mastered the skill of small consistent effort, and therefore approach every goal as a one-time blitz attack, aiming for instant results and losing motivation when that doesn't happen. Unfortunately, this tactic doesn't work with most life goals: you can't build a career, a house, or a family in one day. Stop berating yourself for failure, and start learning the skill of small consistent effort that doesn't bring immediate results/gratification. For example, get a plant that needs to be watered every day. Start small, and progress to more complex goals one step at a time.

Revise your distractions

Any task that takes less than 15 minutes can (and should) be used as a distraction; that makes accomplishing your goals a lot easier. For example, you've been reading for a while by now, so you're probably starting to lose focus, your eyes are getting tired, your neck is starting to ache. Taking a break might be a good idea, but choose your distractions wisely. Browsing YouTube won't accomplish much right now, while doing some of your dishes could improve your focus, your eyes, and your neck, and could also give your self-esteem a boost. Just try it, spend 5 minutes doing dishes right now, this page will still be here when you're back.

Change your habits

Some goals don't require elaborate planning, they are much easier to perform on autopilot. If you have a relatively small and repetitive task that you consistently fail to accomplish - don't clutter your to do list with it, incorporate it into your general daily routines instead. For example, I keep my trash in shopping bags, and take one out each time I leave the house, without thinking about it, just as I grab my keys. Such habits take about two weeks to form, and can greatly simplify your life by easing the stress: you'll be accomplishing your goal without even noticing it.

Adjust your environment

Motivation doesn't just happen randomly, it's created by your surroundings, consciously or not; I prefer to do it consciously. For example, I can't work out while wearing a nightgown - I need to first get dressed, tie my hair, open my windows, and put on some energetic music. Once I do that, I feel a lot more motivated to exercise. When you can't start on a task - see if something in your environment is blocking you, making it hard (or imposible altogether) to work on your task.

Celebrate accomplishments

When you complete a goal - no matter how small - acknowledge your achievement. Don't minimize it, don't make self-deprecating remarks, don't immediately shift your focus to how much is still left undone, etc - quit treating yourself the way your abuser did. Acknowledge things you are doing right, even if they don't seem like much. Reward yourself with something. I personally watch a movie whenever I pay all of my monthly bills - I could watch one at any other time too, but I would feel guilty about wasting time instead of doing something more productive. Yet after the bills are paid - the movie is a guilt-free reward that I earned, that makes a big difference.

Don't bash yourself for failures

When you really want to do something but can't - the problem isn't with your willpower, but something standing in your way. You wouldn't scold a chained dog for his inability to reach his water bowl - you'd untangle his chain instead. Have some compassion for yourself. Figure out what's blocking you from accomplishing your goals and brainstorm solutions. Cliche, but true: failure is an opportunity to try a different way.