We are all familiar of the ancient proverb “Procrastination is the thief of time”. Think about the last time you found yourself at your desk towards the end of the day working on a task that you really wished you had started earlier. You curse yourself for avoiding it and doing any other task but this one. Or perhaps you spent an hour scrolling on your social media earlier on in the day instead of jumping into this task and getting it completed. This is a classic example of procrastination.
You may be relieved to hear that we all procrastinate to some degree, either in our personal or professional lives. Whether it’s putting off that appointment at the dentist or avoiding getting that presentation completed for your colleagues. In fact, according to Piers Steel’s book, “The Procrastination Equation”, 95% of us procrastinate on some level.
Procrastination can have a negative impact on our work lives, personal relationships and our own motivation and self-confidence. For solicitors, your colleagues and your clients are relying on your to get the job done so much of your workload is time sensitive. Within the legal profession, procrastinating can have a serious consequences which can result in you appearing unreliable and unprofessional to your clients. So in this article, we going to dive into what causes us to procrastinate and we share some great tips on fighting procrastination.
First, what is Procrastination and why do we do it?
Procrastination is the act of delaying or putting off tasks until the last minute or past their deadline. It should not be confused with laziness, as when you procrastinate, you are engaging in an active process of choosing to delay the task or working on other tasks to avoid a particular one.
Before you can begin to tackle your habit of procrastinating, you need to figure out why you are engaging in this practice. And there are many reasons why people procrastinate.
For some, it’s that the task is boring or unpleasant and therefore they are unenthusiastic about starting work on that task.
Another reason is poor organisational skills, which leads to tasks being forgotten about until the very last minute.
Lack of confidence or feelings of being overwhelmed can also lead to procrastination. Particularly for perfectionists, if you feel you don’t have the skills to do the task, you’d rather avoid doing it rather than completing it imperfectly. The fear of failure can really affect our confidence in carrying out tasks. So often when we have doubts about our ability to complete a task or project, we maybe choose other tasks that we know we can achieve. This then leads to the more important or urgent task being pushed further and further down on our list of priorities. And the longer we leave it, the harder it becomes to tackle it head on.
But in most cases, procrastination is not a serious issue. It’s a common habit that so many of us give in to. However, there is ways of fighting these tendencies of procrastination, especially once you’ve figured out why you’re doing it. So read on to discover some handy tips to help you stop falling into the procrastination trap.
So how can you stop procrastinating?
Get organised with your time
People who are disorganised with their time tend to over estimate how much time they have to complete a task. This is a classic form of procrastinating – thinking you have more time to finish the job until the last minute, which results in a chaotic dash to complete.
You can avoid this practice by making sure you’re being more organised with your time. Set clear goals and deadlines, and arrange your tasks in terms of priority. Having specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals can help you stay focused and motivated.
You should also consider the time of your working day you are more productive or focussed. For some, it could be in the morning, or perhaps after your lunch break. Tackle your most challenging or urgent tasks then and get them off your list.
There are some great project management tools at your disposal to help you keep track of your tasks. From Google Tasks, Trello to Procraster, there’s a tool to suit everyone, whatever the scale of your workload.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the sheer scale of your task list, break tasks into smaller, manageable chunks. Rather than thinking of a large project as one overwhelming task, break it down into smaller, more manageable steps.
We have all been there – you’re about to start that task you’ve been avoiding and you pick up your phone just for a minute. Suddenly a whole hour has passed and you’ve fallen down a rabbit hole on your favourite social media platform. Our mobile devices can be a huge distraction and if you’ve been neglecting a job that needs doing, it doesn’t take much to divert your attention elsewhere.
So you have to be more disciplined with removing any potential distractions. Whether it’s turning off notifications on your phone or closing out your door to the hustle and bustle of the busy office. You can also alert your colleagues that you have a time sensitive task and you would prefer not to be disturbed. In a nutshell, create a quiet and simple place to get your work done. Anything you can identify as a distraction that’s going to hinder your progress, remove it before you start your task.
Be kind to yourself
Particularly when we are at our lowest, we can find it difficult to forgive ourselves for past behaviours. Don’t allow yourself to beat yourself up for procrastinating previously. When you practice self-forgiveness, you start to feel more positive about yourself and your ability and therefore you reduce the chances of future procrastination. Think about it – you can’t change what has happened in the past, you can only change the path for the future.
And remember overcoming procrastination takes time and practice. So be patient with yourself and keep trying different strategies until you find the one that works best for you.
If you’ve struggled with procrastinating in the past, try to recognize the warning signs. Pay close attention to any incoming thoughts of procrastination and do your best to resist the urge.
Practicing mindfulness is a good way of keeping yourself focussed on the task at hand as well as helping you manage stress levels, particularly when the pressure is on. We shared some great tips on relaxing your mind in a previous blog, Training Your Mind to Relax: 5 Top Stress Busting Techniques.
A timer can help tackle procrastination
A simple timer is a very handy way of keeping your focus firmly on the task at hand. Set your timer for a specific amount of time and focus on a single task until the timer goes off. You might want to use a traditional clock with an alarm or you could also use the timer on your phone. The only downfall of using your device to set the timer is that you might be more tempted to have a quick scroll, which will delay your progress.
Another option is to use a time tracking tool such as Toggl which will present a record of how you are managing your time and how long tasks are taking you. This could certainly help you when it comes to organising your time in the future and making sure you’re allowing yourself enough time for specific tasks.
The author of the book “The Procrastination Cure: Seven Steps to Stop Putting Life Off”, Jeffrey Combs suggests tackling tasks in 15 minute bursts of energy. This strategy could be useful in helping you tackle the smaller tasks on your list, and getting this completed will make you feel productive and motivate you for the remaining jobs on your list.
Reward yourself and celebrate the small wins
When it comes to motivating ourselves, it’s important to have goals to work towards. One way of motivating yourself is to give yourself a reward once you’ve completed a task. Whether it’s taking a walk or a trip to the cinema or a glass of wine with your friends. You’ll enjoy the reward so much more when you know you’ve earned it with your hard work. Not to mention the relief at having completed the task that has been weighing down on your shoulders.
Even if you’ve completed some of the smaller tasks on your list, give yourself a pat on the back. Although they may be only the tip of the iceberg, these ‘small wins’ will give you a sense of achievement and encourage you to tackle the bigger tasks ahead with confidence and a more positive mindset.
Ready to stop procrastinating?
The good news for regular procrastinators is that there are ways to break the habit and we hope the points we have shared will help. And remember we all procrastinate to some degree, so think about strength in numbers. Is there a colleague who struggles with the same issue? Perhaps you could consider being each other’s accountability buddy? Find a friend or mentor who can hold you accountable for your goals and progress and will help motivate you to complete task.
If you would like to know more about staying focused on your goals and achieving success, then you will definitely be interested in our webinar “Get Your Year in Gear”. In this webinar, Flor and Martin talk you through the essentials for planning, measuring and evaluation for your personal, professional, financial and business wellbeing. You can book this webinar and many more on replay here.
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