Procrastination – the act of delaying something that must be done, often because it is unpleasant or boring (Cambridge Dictionary)
In 2015, a study by Censuswide for Beagle Street found that avoidance is one of the things we do most often, with Britons spending on average 11 hours a week putting things off.
Online, it’s also a hot topic with stacks of searches on Google for how to avoid procrastination.
So, what are some of the secrets on avoiding procrastination?
1. Begin a task
Mentally starting a task, project or job is the way to go. Even spending just a few minutes on what you need to do means there’s every chance you’ll then go on and complete it.
Professor Richard Wiseman, author of ‘59 seconds: Think a little, change a lot’ talks about The Zierganick effect, which describes how once you start something, your brain remains alert until you finish it.
Wiseman goes on to say that starting a task is often the hardest part and if you can persuade someone just to start it for a few minutes, the brain’s desire to see it through to completion should then take over.
2. Avoid distractions
Are you a mobile twitcher? i.e. someone who just can’t put their mobile phone down?
Well, the American Psychological Association has found that the mere presence of a smartphone can make you perform 20% worse than if you had put your phone away. The authors also say that ‘the mere presence of a mobile phone may be sufficiently distracting to produce diminished attention’.
3. Get a buddy
Teaming up is always a great way for getting things done. Whether it’s a colleague, your line manager, your boss or a client, working together to reach a goal is a sure fire way to accomplish what you need to do. The focus of knowing you don’t want to let someone else down, and not wanting to go back on your word, can be a great way to squash procrastination.
4. Give yourself a reward
There’s nothing like a pat on the back to make yourself feel good. Research from Kaitlin Woolley at Cornell University has shown that immediate rewards motivate people to try harder than the rewards they have to wait for.
So go on, give yourself a swift reward when you’ve done something. Whether it’s a treat from the coffee shop, a binge on your favourite Netflix show or simply five minutes on Facebook, give yourself a treat now and then.
5. Tick things off
Yes, you’ve guessed it, this means making a list. But just think about the satisfaction you will get as you start ticking things off your list!
Lists are extremely beneficial if you can’t stop procrastinating because they help us deal with at least two of the three factors that cause procrastination risk-aversion and rewards.
Psychology Today reported that Shamarukh Chowdhury, a senior doctoral student in a research group, collected data from 300 undergraduate students. She found that individuals who created to-do lists more often tend to procrastinate less, those who created formal to-do lists procrastinated less than any other group and were more conscientious than the participants who used random or mental to-do lists.
But don’t just make any old list. Make it achievable and make the first items really easy to do to get yourself up and running. Plus, seeing everything written down will hopefully download some of your worries and arm you with some confidence and a way forward.
6. Don’t be a perfectionist
There’s no doubt about it, trying to be perfect is not a good thing. It’s also an obstacle to getting things done. Life is rarely perfect, and you don’t need to be either.
Harvard Business Review found that after looking at four decades of studies on perfectionism, covering 25,000 working-age individuals, they found that ‘perfectionism is a much bigger weakness than job applicants and interviewers probably assume’. Plus, their results also found, ‘perfectionism is strongly and consistently related to numerous “detrimental” work and non-work outcomes, including higher levels of burnout, stress, workaholism, anxiety, and depression’.
So, aim for the 80% ‘good enough’ rule and accept that although you could have done better, you’ve completed a task. Job done.