People usually procrastinate to avoid a task that's unpleasant or daunting. Everyone does it. But you know it's time to stop putting the task aside and get on with it when procrastination starts to interfere with your work performance. Perhaps it's causing you to feel worried, fearful, and stressed-out, or perhaps your behavior is causing others to feel anxious because your holding up progress.
Don't let things get that far. Instead, try these 10 ways to get out of the quicksand of procrastination. When you do, you'll enjoy improved productivity, enhanced mood, less stress, better coworker relationships, a sense of accomplishment, and restored reputation at work as a "doer."
1. Identify the challenge.
Write down the specific task you've been putting off. For example, "I have to convert all of my client contacts and notes into the new file-sharing software system and learn how to navigate its tools and folders." Writing down the challenge helps you focus on it.
2. Pinpoint the underlying emotions.
This step helps you see the act of dragging your heels for what it truly is: an emotional reaction.
What's preventing you from diving in to this task? It's typically one or more of three core emotions. Perhaps, to use the above example, you're intimidated by all the new functions you'll have to learn (fear). Or you're resentful about having to change when the old system worked perfectly well (anger). Or you're bummed that you're just not tech savvy (sadness).
3. Express and release the emotions.
Take some time in private to express those emotions constructively. By crying to express sadness, punching or yelling into a pillow or stomping around to release the anger, or doing exaggerated shivering for the fear, you give yourself permission to express the emotion. The emotional energy that's been holding you back will get released and you won't feel stuck. It's like letting steam out of a pressure cooker.
4. Define your goal.
Good planning is the foundation of success for most any project. It's helpful to write it down so you have it for ready reference. Start by getting clear on your goal. Your goal is your beacon to keep you on track in treacherous waters. For example, "I want to get good at this new software so it's a useful tool, not an impediment to my progress." Having a clear and precise idea of your goal will keep you on track and motivated.
5. Neutralize sabotaging chatter with "truths."
Identify sabotaging thoughts that are hanging in the wings, ready to pounce in a weak moment, then come up with a couple of truths to contradict them. For example, if you continually tell yourself "I'll never be able to learn all this," you might say to yourself, "I can do this" or "If others can learn this, so can I." That's a plain and simple truth. To neutralize your frustration at having to do this task, you might say, "I'm doing this because I want to be a team player" or "My boss thinks I'm the best person to do this."
6. Break the task into small, doable steps.
You've envisioned the goal, dealt with what's been holding you back, and fixed your destructive thinking. Completing the task requires deciding when you'll get started and figuring out a doable step-by-step game plan. Write it down, schedule it, and commit to it. Then go on a mental journey, plotting out each part of the task, including details such as whom you will talk with and what about, where and when you'll be working, and how long you expect each part to take.
7. Be ready for roadblocks.
Once you've created a game plan, step back and imagine challenges and obstacles that are likely to pop up along the way. For example, other projects with shorter deadlines might land on your desk. How will you tackle such challenges in order to keep moving forward with the big task at hand? For every such scenario, have a tactic ready for sticking to your original plan. You may also want to find a mentor or supporter whom with whom you can consult on a regular basis.
8. Take the leap.
With all this preparation, it's time to tackle the task you've put off. Before you do, acknowledge your emotions--whether it's anger, fear, or sadness. Take just a minute or two and release the pent-up emotion in a physical and constructive way. Without the emotional energy dragging you down, you'll feel prepared to take the leap and be amazed how easy it is as you just focus on one step at a time.
9. Fight your resistance.
As you move through the task, you're likely to meet with resistance in the form of excuses, bad moods, and discouragement. Meet resistance with tenacity and stubbornness, and continue to deal with any emotions that surface. Say to yourself, "I can do this. I'll feel better when I handle this." Say it over and over until it's set in your mind. Any time you feel discouraged or are tempted to procrastinate, refocus on the goal.
10. Focus on the upside.
Getting through a daunting task is incredibly satisfying. Praise each little step along the way. Remind yourself at every step that you'll feel incredibly virtuous when you get the task off your plate once and for all. Accomplishing what you're avoiding will simplify your work life. You'll feel more energetic. You'll sleep better at night.
Jude Bijou, MA, MFT, is a respected psychotherapist, professional educator, and workshop leader. Her theory of Attitude Reconstruction® evolved over the course of more than 30 years working with clients as a licensed marriage and family therapist, and is the subject of her award-winning book, Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life. Learn more at www.attitudereconstruction.com.