Procrastination is a fact of life. We all do it, and we usually stress about it. Even as we let ourselves become sidetracked with other activities, the anxiety remains. This self-sabotaging behavior not only wastes our time, but research shows it leads to higher levels of stress and lower well-being.
Often, getting started is simply a matter of making a conscious choice to dive in. Implementing action strategies instead of wasting energy on excuses and guilt can get you past your own inertia. The six tips below can clear the way for action.
1. Schedule the task you need to do on your calendar and add an alert. Often we postpone important actions because they're not right in front of us. Designating a specific date and time to devote to the job -- and sticking to it -- can move things along. Also, remember to schedule difficult tasks during your daily high-energy phases, and easy ones during periods of low or moderate energy.
2. Make sure your workplace is well-organized, and reduce physical distractions. Missing items or information often cause inaction. Assemble what you need before settling down to work. Also, keep your visual field as uncluttered as possible, even if you think it's not a big deal. Clutter can negatively affect productivity. Certain sounds, too, can be especially disruptive. In open office plans, you often have little power over your working environment, but make sure not to add distractions of your own making.
3. Start with the easiest step and reward yourself when finished. Usually, even the most onerous tasks have some simple element. Start with the easiest and least offensive piece to get into the flow. If you strongly dislike the chore you're delaying, you can balance the scale with something positive. Rewarding yourself for finishing a difficult or hated task is one of the best ways to offset a positive with a negative. Rewards that are immediate and meaningful have the greatest impact.
4. If fears cause delays, acknowledge them and get to their roots. Facing difficult emotions can be uncomfortable, but it's essential to acknowledge them if you want to move from inaction to action. The more precisely you can pinpoint what triggers the fear, the easier it is to distinguish between real and imaginary issues. Recognizing fabricated anxieties and countering them with objective information and rational thought can break the spell.
Fear of failure is one of the leading causes of procrastination. Whenever fear paralyses your efforts, remind yourself of your past successes. Find assurance in your ability to accomplish past goals effectively.
5. When resentment gets in your way, make peace with the situation. Often, delaying action is a tactic for getting back at somebody you feel is controlling or treating you as their inferior. As with other passive-aggressive behaviours, procrastination usually backfires by making you look bad or heating up the power struggle. A proactive approach is always preferable. Controlling your anger and tactfully communicating what's bothering you is by far the best way to resolve an impasse. When that isn't an option, completing the required work as quickly as possible will lessen the strain and allow you to get back to the things you enjoy.
6. Turn off digital distractions (except calendar alerts). When a task triggers procrastination, it's important to minimize easy access to distractions. One of the greatest culprits is your smartphone. The lure of the latest news or gossip is often stronger than your self-control. Make it easier on yourself to be productive -- turn it off whenever possible.
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