As a former procrastination queen, let me tell you, procrastination is the bane of productivity. Not only is procrastination a serious cause of stress, it puts a strain on all areas of your life.
So why do we procrastinate? Well, there are a lot of reasons. Maybe we like to test ourselves. Maybe we buy into the excuses we tell ourselves. You know the ones, the “I do my best work at the last minute” and “I may not have started yet, but at least I’ve been thinking about it!”
I’ve been a serial procrastinator ever since I was young. In the tenth grade, I put off a huge geometry project for so long that I completely forgot about it. The night before it was due, I somehow came across the grading rubric and I remember the feeling of utter panic that washed over me. But you know what I did? Went to bed. I actually can’t recall exactly what I was thinking at this point. Maybe my dog ate it or I forgot it at home. But mostly, it was that I would just do it tomorrow.
The next morning was when I realized the universe was on my side. Lo and behold, two feet of snow came down overnight and I was saved! I spent the whole day on the project and ended up with the second highest grade in my class. Score one for me and my procrastination.
At some point in the last few years, I realized a few things. One, procrastinating was stressing me out. Two, my friends were starting to think that my tardiness and last minute work were a personality trait. I needed to change, stat.
It hasn’t been an easy road, but I think I’ve finally overcome my ugly procrastination habit. Other than the stress and embarrassment I kept feeling, there were three things that helped me the most:
Break up your overall to-do list into smaller tasks and put them on a timeline. Research is part one. The outline is part two. First draft is part three, and so on. Breaking one big task down might make it seem like you are only giving yourself a longer to-do list, but in my experience, you can accomplish more (and more thorough) work when you do it this way.
Move your due dates up and give yourself mini-deadlines. If you have something due to your editor on Friday, have it done by Wednesday. This gives you time to look over it before you submit it and it will free up your Thursday night for things like crying over Grey’s Anatomy.
Reward yourself. There’s nothing like good old classical conditioning to get you to change your behavior. Your reward can be as small as treating yourself to a pumpkin spice latte for finishing your first draft of your research paper. Or they can be as big as that Marc Jacobs bag you’ve been coveting for sealing the deal on those big contracts at work before the deadline.
Sometimes changing your habits is only a matter of determining what is preventing you from reaching your goals. Don’t rely on motivation to get your work done. While motivation is fleeting, it is discipline that will help you the most. So write that paper even when you don’t want to, your future self will thank you for it.
What tips do you have for beating procrastination? Share in the comments below!