Many people tend to wait until the last minute before filing their taxes, paying their summonses, submitting their work reports (and claims), replying to wedding invitations and so on. We all have a tendency to procrastinate.
Joseph Ferrari, a pioneer of modern research on procrastination, found in 2013 that 20 per cent of the population identify themselves as chronic procrastinators.
How do you combat procrastination? Here are 10 ways:
CREATE A (VISIBLE) TO-DO LIST
Write down the things you have been putting off in a to-do list. Go through them and prioritise them according to urgency and importance.
With a variety of mobile apps available to help you organise your thoughts, there should not be any excuse not to use a to-do list.
If you have a tendency to avoid checking your to-do list on your mobile devices, we suggest keeping a notebook containing your list handy. Alternatively, paste your to-do list at strategic spots where you can be reminded on a daily basis.
SET A TIMEFRAME
A to-do list remains just that, if we do not set a timeframe to complete the tasks. For example, instead of just writing "contribute articles for Lifehack.org", write "contribute one article for Lifehack.org every month".
BE MINDFULLY PRESENT
In the age of 24/7 Internet connectivity, there are a gazillion things out there seeking our attention. From real-time news to frequent updates on social media, our attention span has been greatly reduced.
You must have lost your train of thought while working because of incoming WhatsApp messages about random things. After reading or responding to them, it takes you some time to get back into the groove.
One piece of advice is to put these potential distractions far away, so you can be mindfully present for what you plan to do. Put away that phone if you must.
Do you find yourself "killing many birds with one stone"? Are you talking on your office phone, sending a message on your smartphone and reading your Gmail simultaneously?
A 2013 Stanford University study found that multitasking greatly decreases performance at work, wastes time and is bad for your brain's cognitive control in the long term. The fact remains that your brain can only focus on one thing at a time. So, stop multitasking.
DIVIDE AND CONQUER
We sometimes procrastinate because a task is just too complex, and we do not know where or how to start.
In computer science, the divide and conquer algorithm works by breaking down a problem into smaller sub-problems until these become simple enough to be solved.
Likewise, "divide" a complex task into smaller achievable tasks before you "conquer" them little by little.
It takes a lot of discipline to combat procrastination on your own. It is recommended that you look for a buddy to whom you will be answerable.
This buddy will occasionally ask about your progress and put "pressure" on you if you slack in the tasks you set out to do. If your buddy has his own set of goals, you can work to motivate one another.
JUST DO IT
It is often said that the first step is always the hardest. In this regard, reframe your mindset to live up to Nike's "Just do it" tag line. An effective way to start something you have been putting off is to allocate 10 minutes to concentrate fully on the task. Start small, before gradually increasing the amount of time for focused work.
TAKE SHORT BREAKS
If you are really uninspired while working on a task, take short breaks to recharge. Give yourself about 10 minutes to chill at the office pantry, listen to your favourite song or just talk to someone.
And do not even think about treating this privilege of taking short breaks as an excuse to procrastinate further.
TWEAK YOUR ENVIRONMENT
Your workspace plays an important role in how you work towards starting and completing long-overdue tasks. It will either spur you on or demotivate you completely.
Check whether your workspace is well ventilated, spacious, well lit and comfortable, then make the necessary adjustments.
For example, people often focus better and think more clearly in a clutter-free and tidy workspace. Imagine an ant-infested desk - surely you will not be able to work comfortably and peacefully.
CELEBRATE LITTLE SUCCESSES
Scott Friedman, chief celebration officer at Friedman & Associates and a faculty trainer with social enterprise Leaderonomics, said that we sometimes do not celebrate enough.
In his own words, "celebrate" means to acknowledge the good work of a person and the milestones achieved along the way. For every task completed, why not treat yourself - and your accountability buddy - to a nice meal or movie, to keep you motivated to take on the next task?