We’re all prone to procrastinating for some reason every now and then, but serial procrastination can have a serious effect on you, from raising your stress levels to decreasing your productivity.
What Is Procrastination and How Can it Hurt You?
Procrastination means to defer or delay action. You become a serial procrastinator when you'll do anything else than the work you have at hand. A serial procrastinator puts off their work over and over again, and they seldom meet deadlines.
Procrastination can hurt you in several ways.
- You're less productive.
- You lose precious time.
- You could blow opportunities.
- You could hurt your career when you're considered unreliable.
- Studies show that chronic procrastination can make you more vulnerable to health conditions like cardiovascular disease and hypertension.
- Research suggests that putting off important tasks can cause stress, and the added stress can psychophysiologically impact the body and increase your vulnerability to everyday illnesses.
Whether you’re a serial or occasional procrastinator, check out these seven tips to stop procrastinating and focus on the task at hand.
How Can You Stop Procrastinating?
1. Use the Two-Minute Rule
Will a task take you less than two minutes to complete? If so, just do it! First cited in David Allen’s Getting Things Done, the basic principle here is to train yourself to stop procrastinating on tiny tasks that add up – like hanging your bag up when you get home, taking out the trash or dropping your dishes in the dishwasher after each meal.
Think about if there is something you consistently procrastinate on – like dropping your plate in the dishwasher after dinner, for example – and find ways to build that into your daily routine. Start small and only add in a goal or two at a time, and only add in more once your goal has become a habit.
3. Manage your Emotions
You may have just done a double take when I mentioned that managing emotions is key to stopping procrastination in its tracks, but hear me out! How many times have you been presented with a task and been hit with negative thoughts, like “I can’t do this,” or “this is too hard,” or “I have so much to do already, I don’t have time for this.” Called catastrophizing, making a bigger deal out of something that it really does not only encourage procrastination but can also stress you out more and have negative effects on your health.
4. Pad Your To-Do List
There’s nothing more satisfying than checking something off your to-do list. Padding your to-do list with simple items like “make breakfast” or “walk the dog” can give your brain a shot of dopamine and make you feel like you’re on a roll. Here are some to-do lists to get you started.
5. Set Self-Imposed Deadlines
This takes practice, but setting a deadline for yourself is a good practice when it comes to curbing procrastination. After all, if you have a deadline, you can’t put it off forever.
6. Break Down Your Goals into Manageable Chunks
Remember the five-paragraph essay, and how it was the foundation for any paper you wrote – be in 1 page or 100 pages – in school? Just like this format taught you to break down a paper into manageable chunks – an introduction, three points, and a conclusion – you can use this same approach to break down any task or project you need to accomplish. You’ll likely need to set aside some time to think it through and figure out what micro-goal you need to accomplish your overall goal, but once you do, you’ll find that your project is a whole lot more manageable and less daunting.
7. Find an Accountability Partner
We need different types of people in your professional lives, and an accountability partner is one of them who can take many different forms. For example, it could be your mom, sister or best friend checking in daily to see if you're sticking to your to-do list. It could also be a co-worker that’s willing to sit down with you in a collaborative workspace and churn through projects together. Though you might be tempted to chat while in a group working session, they also fed off procrastination by providing a deadline and a structured environment.
Samantha Smoak is a journalist turned tech public relations professional based in Nashville, Tennessee. For sports jokes and dog pictures, follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @samanthaksmoak.