Professional Education and Career Blog

How to Defeat Procrastination and Get Yourself Back On Track

procrastinationIt’s pretty safe to say that no matter how accomplished someone is, they go through periods where their productivity takes a big decline. There are endless ways that people find to waste time and avoid doing what they know they should be doing. You may have the desire to accomplish something, but finding that motivation to move forward can be challenging. But recognizing you have a problem is half the battle. Here are some practical tips for the other half.

Create a To-Do List

Everyone knows this simple piece of advice, but very few people actually do it. But don’t underestimate the power of the simple list with checkboxes. Sometimes just seeing things written out gives you power over them, because you’ve taken them out of your head and put them down on paper. Prioritizing them gives you an idea of what’s important and what can wait.

List everything you need to do, large and small. Break big activities into smaller chunks so you don’t feel overwhelmed by the size of a particular project. As you work through your list, if you think of things that you forgot to put on there, don’t panic – just add it to the list. If you need re-prioritize, then do it. Remember, you’re only one person, so don’t get stressed out if you’re not making it through the list. You’re still better off with what’s been crossed off than you were before.

If It’s Under 2 Minutes, Do it Right Then

One of the most valuable techniques for not getting overwhelmed with too many items is to do the very small things immediately when they come to your attention. Someone needs something emailed? Do it right then – it would probably take longer to make a mental note or add it to your to-do list than it would to just do it. If you get in the habit of getting those small things out of the way, you’ll find yourself with more time to focus on the big things.

Experiment with the Pomodoro Technique

Simply put, the Pomodoro Technique is a time management method where you use a timer to break your work into intervals of focused work, followed by short breaks. The two intervals are typically 25 minutes of work, and 5 minutes of break. Key to the method is using a timer to keep track of your work and your break so that you get into a rhythm of work, and you don’t overrun the time. Of course, if you get on a roll and you want to work past your end-time, that’s okay.

The valuable part of this technique is that it formalizes the idea that you’re going to get work done, and you’re going to take a break. There isn’t guesswork about when you’re going to do each.

There are many free computer programs around this idea, where it can lock you out of “problem web sites” during your work time, to help keep you focused and not tempted.

Do the Worst, Most Difficult Thing First

When we’re faced with a bad job, it’s human nature to want to put it off as long as possible. But it’s almost always better to just get it out of the way as soon as possible. We have a limited amount of willpower and energy, and you want to have your full measure when tackling that tough job. And putting off the dreaded task can just make it sit in the back of your mind, distracting you and sapping your strength. And when you get right to it and it gets done, you get a big boost in morale.

multitaskDon’t Wait For the Perfect Time

Many people find excuses about why something can’t be done right away. They wait for the “right moment” when they feel like the stars will align. Sometimes there are legitimate reasons to wait, but more often it’s an illusion. Diving right in and making things work will ensure that you don’t get bogged down with “analysis paralysis.” Have the confidence to make adjustments along the way if needed.

Break Your Patterns

When all else fails, try breaking out of your rut. Go to the library with your laptop and find a quiet corner. Try doing a very early morning, like starting your work at 6am. If you’re normally around a lot of people, try working alone. If you normally work alone, try working around a group. Sometimes a change in environment can break you out of a procrastination cycle.