By Gregg Newby, Staff Writer
April 15th is a date most Americans know well. Yet every year, millions of people have to scramble to get their taxes in on time, even though they’ve known about it for months in advance. Some of them may have a good reason, but others just haven’t gotten around to it. They’re models for that infamous bumper sticker – “Procrastinate Now!”
But whether it’s filing your taxes or making a dental appointment, procrastination can cause problems. Habitual procrastinators put things off even when they know there could be serious consequences. Yet this can create needless stress and anxiety, both for you and those around you. It can even cause minor issues to grow into major ones. Consider what can happen, for instance, when you ignore a health issue or needed home repair.
Perhaps you’ve been in a spot like this before. Or maybe procrastination is an ongoing issue for you. If so, here are six effective ways to manage the problem.
1. Get to the bottom of it
Ask yourself why you’re procrastinating. There could be any number of reasons for it, including:
- Fear of failure
- Lack of motivation
- Too many distractions
- Poor time management skills
- Weak organizational skills
- Uncertainty about how something is done
- Inability to concentrate
- Lack of enthusiasm about the task
Your reasons for procrastinating won’t be the same as someone else’s. But once you understand why you’re doing it, you’ll have a better sense of how to control it.
2. Make it more manageable
Does your workload seem too large? Consider breaking it into smaller tasks. Instead of seeing one big project, think of it as several little ones. You can do this with everything from filing paperwork to running errands. Then take it step by step. This may make the job seem less overwhelming. You might also get it done faster than you expected.
It helps to separate what’s important from what’s not. That way you can tackle major tasks first and set minor stuff aside for later. As you work, concentrate only on what you’re doing. Don’t worry about the assignments you haven’t gotten to yet. They will still be there when you’re ready.
4. Track your progress
Some people overcome procrastination by creating work schedules for themselves and setting deadlines. If you keep a to-do list, you can cross off tasks as you go. Making this a daily habit could help you learn to stop dallying. You can create your schedule in any format you like, even if it’s just a handwritten list. Keep track by marking through the tasks you complete. Watching your to-do list dwindle may just inspire you to keep going.
5. Optimize your environment
If your workspace is cluttered or messy, it may be hard to concentrate. There may be too many distractions. You might need to straighten up at the beginning or end of every workday. Make sure you’re comfortable, too. Find a chair you can work in and get the right kind of lighting. Also, you might just need to make the job a little more enjoyable. That way, you can have fun while you work. If possible:
- Consider hanging posters or artwork
- Try working to music you like
- Rearrange your workspace to fit your needs
- Organize your desktop in a way that works for you
- Reward yourself for a job well done. Go rent that movie you’ve been wanting to see, or order takeout that night.
6. Ask for help
There may be certain tasks you can’t finish on your own. If that’s the case, let someone know. If you need more guidance at work, for instance, ask a boss or co-worker. And if you think a task is too big to accomplish alone, don’t be afraid to speak up.
Sometimes, chronic procrastination can be linked to a clinical condition, such as depression or attention-deficit disorder. If you think that could be the case, see a doctor or counselor. It might be the only way to get yourself back on track and become productive once more.
- National Resource Center on AD/HD. Succeeding in the workplace. Accessed: 03/23/2010
- Novotney A. Procrastination or ‘intentional delay’? American Psychological Association. Accessed: 03/23/2010
- Steel P. The nature of procrastination: a meta-analytic and theoretical review of quintessential self-regulatory failure. Psychological Bulletin. 2007;133(1):65-94. Accessed: 03/23/2010