Research shows that about 20 percent of us are chronic procrastinators—but nearly everyone procrastinates from time to time. Whether it’s putting off folding the laundry or not starting a project until the night before it’s due, this stress-inducing habit affects us all. So why do we put off until tomorrow what could be done today? According to Timothy Pychyl, professor at Carleton University and author of Solving the Procrastination Puzzle: A Concise Guide to Strategies for Change, we avoid tasks because “we want to feel good now.” The thing is, delaying those not-so-fun tasks actually make them harder to do later. Luckily, Pychyl has shared some simple strategies for beating procrastination, so you can stay focused and productive throughout even the most challenging tasks.
Rather than having a vague goal and timeline, like “work out over the weekend,” make specific plans to complete your task, choosing exactly what you are going to do and when you will do it. (Take a yoga class at 9 a.m. on Saturday, for example).
A big project is easier to take on when you break it down into smaller, more manageable pieces. Instead of writing “create presentation” on your to-do list, try writing out the four or five steps you’ll need to take to actually finish it. Then tackle them one by one. “Psychologically, when you make a task concrete and achievable, you’re more likely to get started on it,” says Pychyl.
Just about anything can be a distraction when the alternative is an undesirable task. The key to avoiding distractions is to be honest with yourself about what might tempt you to get off-task, and eliminate it before it can ruin your focus. Know you’ll want to take a peek at your Facebook newsfeed? Log off before you get to work. Find yourself strolling to the vending machine to kill time? Stash some healthy snacks in your desk drawer.
“Once you make even a little bit of progress on a goal, it fuels your well-being and your motivation,” Pychyl says. Sounds simple, yes, but the best way to overcome procrastination is to just get started with the task at hand.