Conquering Procrastination (Don’t Wait Until Tomorrow!)

Jan 24, 2019

By AMA Staff

Each of us has a to-do list that includes some tedious tasks that we really don’t want to tackle. Yet postponing the things we know we need to do creates problems—for our coworkers, our organizations, and ourselves.

There are many reasons why we procrastinate: fear of failure or success, lack of interest, feelings of anger or hostility, and so forth. We also tend to have plenty of excuses for not doing necessary tasks, such as:

  • “I don’t have all the materials.”
  • “I have to wait for information from another department.”
  • “I have too many other commitments.”
  • “I’m not in the mood right now; it’s not due for another week, anyway.”
  • “I’ll get to it when I finish with this other stuff.”

…and on and on it goes. Some of our reasons may be valid, but we seem to know when they’re just excuses. The problem is that procrastination causes internal chaos. We feel as if we’re not in control of how we use our time. In a way, we become our own worst enemy.

Exercise: Are You a (Gasp!) Procrastinator?
Take a moment to consider what tasks you avoid and what you do instead with that time.
Do certain tasks loom over you like a big dark cloud? Has avoiding or delaying a task become a source of stress? Let’s look at what you tend to avoid.

First, list five tasks that you consistently avoid.
Tasks I avoid…

Then determine your procrastination rituals. Ask yourself, “What you I do instead of the task that I don’t want to do?” Make a list.

Overcoming Procrastination
You may be familiar with some of the following strategies, but do you use them? The first step toward overcoming procrastination is to realize that you are in control and to make a commitment to yourself to change. Here are some ways to overcome procrastination:

  • Separate complex tasks into manageable parts, then work on one part at a time.
  • Develop a clear image of the finished task/project.
  • Draft a timeline for each part and then stick to it.
  • Plan a reward for yourself for finishing each part of the task and be sure to follow through on it.
  • Offload the task to someone who has the time and ability to do it.
  • Ask for advice in completing the task—you might get some good ideas.
  • Tell someone about the task—by sharing your intention of doing a task, you hold yourself accountable.
  • Do the task first while you’re fresh and get it over with.
  • Make a list of all “undone” tasks, so you can stop worrying about them and keep them together in a handy place. Then code each item—prioritize them for importance or decide that they’re unnecessary and cross them off your list with a flourish.
  • Give yourself permission not to do the task when you catch yourself procrastinating. This reduces your resistance to it and frees you to get it done, reschedule it, or to eliminate it altogether.

Setting Goals
Having a sense of direction and knowing what tasks are most urgent will keep you focused on what is really important each day. We all have a tendency to get bogged down with busywork. Busywork does indeed keep us busy, but rarely is the work high on anybody’s priority list.

“SMART” Goals
Specific. A specific goal is unique to the type of result you want to attain, which keeps you focused on the exact growth for which you’re aiming. It spells out what type and how much; for example, “At the end of each day I will determine what tasks I must complete tomorrow.”

Measurable. How will you know if a goal is completed? Goals should contain some type of measurement so that you can monitor your progress. The goals, “clear desk of clutter” and “complete the draft” are both forms of qualitative measurement. You may also have goals that can be measured quantitatively, for example, “Starting next month, I will set aside 7% of my pay toward a summer vacation.”

Achievable. This means that the goal should stretch your capabilities but not cause burnout. If you want to be more prompt, for example, your goal might state, “I will set out early enough to be on time for all my appointments.”

Relevant. Make sure that your goals relate to what you’re trying to accomplish overall, to avoid getting caught up in activities that don’t contribute to your mission. If you wish to minimize interruptions, your goal may be to “implement my interruption strategy next week.”

Timed. Your goals need deadlines, so you have to set clear expectations about when they will be accomplished. Try adding the phrase “on or before X date” to each goal you set.

The more you are able to plan and schedule your time, the more time you have. Effective planning creates the space in your day to free up the creative mind—leading to insight, breakthroughs, and new solutions which create further efficiency and...more time!

© 2005 American Management Association. All Rights Reserved.

The information in this article is adapted from the AMA seminar Managing Chaos: Dynamic Time Management, Recall, Reading and Stress Management Skills for Administrative Professionals.

About the Author(s)

American Management Association is a world leader in professional development, advancing the skills of individuals to drive business success. AMA’s approach to improving performance combines experiential learning—“learning through doing”—with opportunities for ongoing professional growth at every step of one’s career journey. AMA supports the goals of individuals and organizations through a complete range of products and services, including seminars, Webcasts and podcasts, conferences, corporate and government solutions, business books and research.