How to Overcome Procrastination and Improve Productivity
Most people procrastinate to some degree, so it is not overly worrying if you have certain days when you just can’t seem to get the work done. It becomes a problem if procrastination leads to a continual drop in productivity and you can’t see a way out.
You do your best to prepare before a major task – get enough rest, clear your schedule, and do all the small assignments in time, but are still constantly missing deadlines, or rushing to get things done at the last second?
Your current habits are probably not helping you in being productive and efficient, but the good news is that habits can change; it just takes some effort. With a bit of advice you will be able to change your behavior and become more industrious, so here are some tips that can help you.
Acknowledge and Define Your Behavioral Pattern
Many people often conflate procrastination with laziness, but this conflation is incorrect. Laziness is passive and is represented by a lack of action. Procrastination is active – it is a pattern of behavior characterized by completing menial and easy tasks, in order to delay working on the more difficult and stressful ones, and not getting much of anything done in the process.
Procrastination definitely hampers productivity; the only question is to what degree. You may find yourself procrastinating for a few hours, but still managing to finish most of the tasks you have, or you may constantly be rushing things and blowing through deadlines due to procrastinating. Either way, it is an inefficient and unproductive approach to work.
As with any behavioral pattern, it is important to recognize it within yourself, before you can overcome it. First, try to pinpoint which small tasks or leisure activities take up most of your time, and then work on fixing the issue.
Some people intersperse their workday with many small, seemingly innocent activities – maybe you went to brew the third pot of coffee, check whether the fridge is closed, or feed the dog. While none of these activities take up a lot of time by themselves, they add up and break your flow, and once you get back to work, you have to refocus.
Other people leave the more difficult tasks for later, or for when they think they are better rested. The easier tasks get done first, when you are at your most productive, taking up your energy and focus. Then you take a long break before getting started on the other tasks and find yourself already spent by the time you get to them. It becomes nearly impossible to muster the willpower to finish things.
These behaviors are normal and we all do them to some degree. The challenge is to acknowledge that we act this way, and work on fixing it. By recognizing that procrastination is detrimental to how productive you are, you have taken the first step, and now all you need to do is find the solution that works for you and put in the effort to change.
One of the most important skills that will help you overcome procrastination and be more productive overall is good time management. For some people, it comes naturally, while others have to learn it, but it is a skill that can be acquired by anyone.
Write down your daily schedule and figure out which tasks are important and urgent, and which are not. Categorize them by level of difficulty and the amount of time that is required to complete them.
In this day and age, there are many tools that can help you manage your time. If you are more traditionally minded, you can write what needs to be done on post-it notes; if you favor the use of technology, set reminders on your smartphone or PC.
Good planning is essential for helping you stop procrastinating. After you have categorized which tasks are the most important, start thinking about how to accomplish them. Give your best estimate on how long it will take you to finish them, and write down a general outline for your month.
Set the major deadlines and include lesser milestones, but try not to overburden yourself so much that you won’t be able to follow them. If you are unsuccessful in following your milestones, you may lose motivation and that will make your activities that much harder.
Once you have a general outline set up, it is time to focus on your daily tasks. Think of the time of day when you are most productive – maybe you are a morning person, or you focus better at night. Plan your day so that the most difficult tasks will be done in that time frame.
Usually, people are at their most productive for about two or three hours per day. Those hours should be planned as a block that you will not interrupt with simpler tasks. Plan your leisure activities and chores around this block.
Ideally, you will always do the most stressful tasks first, when you are the most rested; while not always possible, plan with this in mind and adjust accordingly. If you have a flexible schedule, maybe you can designate one day a week for finishing all the small tasks, so that you are free to work on other tasks during the rest of the week.
The goal is to maximize productivity, but that doesn’t include overworking yourself to the point where you are barely able to function. If you are stressed, you will work more slowly and the quality of the work being done will deteriorate.
One of the best ways to help you reduce stress is to plan for regular breaks. Take a ten-minute break every hour or two, to help clear your mind and keep your thoughts fresh. If you feel that you are in the zone and have an excellent workflow going, you can skip them, but try not to do it too often.
Taking some time away from your workstation will actually help you get your tasks done faster. However, it is important to note that if you take too many breaks, it will break your concentration, and if they are too long it may lead to procrastination. Find out what works for you and implement it into your schedule.
Avoid Getting Distracted
It is easier said than done, but do your best to block all distractions. A phone call, message, or email will break your concentration, and it will take some effort to refocus. Your situation may not allow you to entirely shut-off and focus on work, but the fewer distractions the better.
Give your friends, family, and coworkers a time-frame when you will be completely unavailable, unless it is an emergency. Try to make your peak hours a distraction-free-zone and you will be able to accomplish much more than you were before.
Inform them that you will turn off all communication devices during this time and will check for messages after it is up. Over time, people will get used to your schedule and not bother you during this period.
There are many simple things you can do to block immediate distractions that might break your focus – buy a noise-canceling headset, put up curtains and lock the door. Buying anything that helps you concentrate is money well spent.
Fragment Your Tasks
Fragment your main daily task in such a way that you can finish a portion of it every few hours, and mark the fragments as separate goalposts. This will allow you to feel a sense of accomplishment that you are hitting the milestones and help keep you motivated.
You will be able to see clearly that the work is progressing and that you do not need to worry. You will know how close you are to the finishing line, and that may be the additional push needed to complete the work on time.
Optimize Your Workspace
Depending on where you spend most of the time at work, you may have more or fewer options for customizing the area, but there will be some things that you can do. Even if you work in a cramped office, you can at least keep your desk clean and tidy.
Your immediate surroundings impact your mental state – a workspace that keeps you calm and helps you concentrate is a tremendous advantage. Don’t overcrowd it, but a few plants to liven it up and some pictures that motivate you will do the trick.
Ask Someone to Check-Up on You
Peer-pressure is not a pleasant thing, but it is effective. Ask a friend to call you at a certain time to see how the work is progressing. Show them your monthly plan, tell them the deadlines and milestones that you need to follow, and explicitly tell them to criticize you, if warranted.
It can certainly be annoying, but if you are talking to someone you are comfortable with, it will not stress you out and can stop you from procrastinating. When a problem arises or you hit a rough patch, you can bounce ideas off of them, to help you deal with it.
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