THE BLOG

Stop Procrastination in Its Tracks

02/25/2015 03:07 pm ET | Updated Apr 27, 2015

Office door with post-it note - Writing in progress - photo credit Carmi Levy

Do you ever delay doing something important in favor of less pressing, even frivolous activities?

With so many distractions around us, being productive is challenging at best, especially if you don't prepare and properly allocate your time and resources. I speak from experience as someone who has a tendency to procrastinate and well knows how a lack of preparedness can lead to disappointment, aggravation and missed opportunity.

Leaving what matters most to the mercy of the trivial is irresponsible. While an important task may not appear to be exciting or enjoyable, there are risks to consider when choosing to put off the inevitable. If you're anything like me, once I'm focused, I'm off to the races. But it takes some effort to get there, and may require changing things up a bit to achieve success.

To guide us through, I've shared a checklist that helps keep me organized, prioritized and accountable:

1. Ask Yourself Some Key Questions

  • What really needs to be done?
  • Are these items stated/documented on a list?
  • Has the list been prioritized?
  • What is preventing me from getting a particular task done?
  • How can I remove distractions so that I can do what needs to be done now?

2. Make a List

Half the battle is simply making the list. There's nothing better than a good brain dump to clear your mind and make more capacity for productivity. Free yourself from carrying around to-do lists in your head and get action items down on paper. Writing these down may help you to better remember what you need to do. Creating a list also documents the information and makes it easier to prioritize it.

3. Prioritize

Don't know where to start? How can you tell the difference between what can be done now and what can wait? To stay on top of priorities, you need to set them. Identify what should be done first based upon importance and urgency. Ask yourself if a particular item on your list is holding someone or something else up. Sometimes thinking about the consequences of leaving a task too long can motivate you to pursue it sooner than later.

4. Identify What's Keeping You From Completing a Task

Assuming we have a list and have prioritized, progress should be a gimme, right? Not necessarily. Procrastination can occur at any step on the journey. Tasks involving others can be especially challenging because the people you're working with have their own agenda and set of priorities. Letting others down isn't something we strive to do but is often a result of procrastination.

5. Understand Common Obstacles

There are many reasons for why people procrastinate. Sometimes they feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of tasks awaiting them, especially if everything appears to have the same weight attached to it. One of the apps on my iPhone is the Procraster app. I've found it to be useful as a taskmaster and appreciate how the app zeroes in on why people procrastinate as well as what you can do to overcome blocks to action. The app boils down the primary reasons for procrastination:

  • My task is too big
  • I don't know where to start
  • I've made a mistake
  • I have to finish
  • I have to be perfect

6. Overcome Obstacles by Removing Distractions

Once you know which obstacles are in your way, you need to put the blinders on and dig in! Common strategies to aid focus are closing out email, social media and creating an environment that is conducive to work. If you have a private office, affix a post-it note to your door indicating that you're busy and then close it. Put your phone on Do Not Disturb mode. If there's a TV set on or the radio is playing, turn them off. Anything with words or moving images can distract you, so it is best to eliminate them or put as great a distance between you and the distractions as possible.

7. Reward Yourself

Being disciplined is not a quality that everyone is born with. If you can relate to that statement, you might want to reward yourself for completing a task. The reward itself doesn't need to be costly but should be something that you look forward to. One aspect of the Procraster app experience is rewarding yourself for seeing a task through. Before setting out to complete a task, determine what that reward is and put a deadline on when you need to complete the task by. When you are finished the task, you'll be able to enjoy the reward whether it be a cup of tea, walking the dog or playing the piano.

If you've observed a pattern of procrastination in yourself (or others have told you as much), rest assured that procrastination can be overcome. You'd be amazed by how good it feels to have accomplished a task, regardless of its size. Every battle you face has been fought before. To get in the groove of overcoming, start small and make incremental steps toward success. Start with a list and the rest will follow.