Stop Putting Things Off: 7 Steps to Defeat Procrastination and Achieve More

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Written by OpenMinds®

What is Procrastination?

Procrastination is the act of delaying or postponing tasks or actions, usually to a later time or date, often without a valid reason or excuse. It is the tendency to put off important tasks or responsibilities, and instead engage in less important or pleasurable activities, which leads to a failure to accomplish goals or meet deadlines. Procrastination can also result from feelings of anxiety, overwhelm, or lack of motivation, as well as from a lack of clear priorities or effective time management skills.

What are the psychological factors to procrastination?

The avoidance of negative emotions stands as a key psychological factor fueling procrastination, often acting as a coping mechanism for individuals with feelings of overwhelm or anxiety related to a particular task. By postponing the task, individuals temporarily shield themselves from the emotions associated with it, such as the fear of failure or sentiments of inadequacy. However, this avoidance behaviour ultimately boomerangs, leading to a downward spiral of negative emotions.

Another psychological factor that contributes to procrastination is the need for instant gratification. Individuals may prioritise short-term rewards, such as watching TV or scrolling through social media, over long-term goals, such as completing a work project or studying for an exam. This preference for immediate rewards can make it difficult to stay focused on long-term goals and can lead to procrastination.

In addition to these psychological factors, perfectionism can also contribute to procrastination. Perfectionists may be hesitant to start a task if they feel that they cannot complete it perfectly or if they fear making mistakes. This fear of imperfection or inadequacy can lead to delays in starting a task and ultimately lead to procrastination.

While procrastination can be problematic, it is important to note that it is a behaviour that can be changed. Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is a commonly used approach to treating procrastination. This therapy focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns and behaviours that contribute to procrastination. By addressing the underlying psychological factors that contribute to procrastination, individuals can develop healthier habits and overcome procrastination.

In a nutshell, procrastination is a behaviour that is influenced by a variety of psychological factors, including the avoidance of negative emotions, the need for instant gratification, and perfectionism. While procrastination can be problematic, it is a behaviour that can be changed through therapy and the development of healthy habits. By addressing the underlying psychological factors that contribute to procrastination, individuals can overcome this behaviour and achieve their goals.

7 Steps to Defeat Procrastination and Achieve More

Step 1: Recognize the Problem & Identify the Root Cause

The first step to overcoming procrastination is to recognize that it is a problem. Many people deny or minimise their procrastination, believing that they work better under pressure or that they will have more time later. However, this approach can lead to unnecessary stress, missed deadlines, and decreased productivity. It is important to acknowledge that procrastination is a problem and that it can be overcome.

After that, we should identify the root cause. This may involve exploring underlying emotions or beliefs that contribute to procrastination, such as fear of failure, lack of confidence, or perfectionism. It may also involve examining external factors, such as distractions, lack of organisation, or unclear priorities. By understanding the causes of procrastination, it becomes easier to develop strategies to overcome it.

Step 2: Break Tasks Down into Smaller Steps

One of the main reasons individuals procrastinate is due to feeling overwhelmed by the size or complexity of a task. Breaking tasks down into smaller, more manageable steps can make them feel less daunting and easier to complete.

Step 3: Set Realistic Goals and Deadlines

Setting realistic goals and deadlines can help individuals stay on track and avoid procrastination. It is important to set deadlines that are achievable and to break goals down into smaller, more manageable steps. Having SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Time-bound) goals is essential to completing the tasks.

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Setting SMART Goals (Credit to: Hydrate Marketing)

Step 4: Eliminate Distractions

Distractions, such as social media or television, can be a major contributor to procrastination. Eliminating distractions and creating a dedicated workspace can help individuals focus and be more productive. This involves removing or limiting distractions, such as social media, email, or other notifications, during times when focus is required. By minimising distractions, it becomes easier to maintain focus and avoid becoming sidetracked by unrelated tasks.

Step 5: Prioritise Tasks

Prioritising tasks can help individuals focus on the most important tasks and avoid procrastination. It is important to identify tasks that have the highest priority and complete them first, before moving on to less important tasks. Fixing eyes on the more urgent and important tasks first can help to prioritise tasks.

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Urgent & Important Matrix (Credit to Rhino Consulting)

Step 6: Use Positive Self-Talk

Positive self-talk is a technique used to encourage positive thinking and self-affirmation. It involves intentionally changing negative thoughts or self-talk into positive, encouraging ones. This technique can be used to boost confidence, reduce stress and anxiety, and improve overall mental health.

Positive self-talk involves replacing negative or critical thoughts with positive and affirming ones. For example, if someone is struggling with self-doubt, they may use positive self-talk to tell themselves that they are capable and have the skills needed to succeed. Alternatively, if someone is experiencing stress or anxiety, they may use positive self-talk to reassure themselves that everything will be okay and that they can handle whatever comes their way.

Overall, positive self-talk is an effective technique for boosting confidence, reducing stress and anxiety, and improving overall mental health. By intentionally replacing negative thoughts with positive, encouraging ones, individuals can change their outlook and approach to challenges, leading to greater success and happiness. This can help overcome the negative feelings involved in procrastination.

Step 7: Develop a Plan & Take Action

The final step is to develop a plan and take action. This involves creating a schedule or to-do list that outlines specific tasks, deadlines, and milestones. By developing a plan, it becomes easier to stay on track and avoid procrastination.

When the plan is ready, it is essential to take action. It is important to take the first step, no matter how small, and build momentum from there. Starting a task can be the hardest part, but taking action can help individuals overcome procrastination and achieve more. This involves actually completing the tasks outlined in the plan, even if they are difficult or unpleasant. By taking action, it becomes easier to build momentum and avoid falling back into old habits of procrastination.

In conclusion, procrastination is a common habit that can be overcome by recognizing it is a problem and identifying the root cause, breaking tasks down into smaller steps, setting realistic goals and deadlines, eliminating distractions, prioritising tasks, using positive self-talk, developing a plan and taking action. By following these seven steps, individuals can defeat procrastination and achieve more in their personal and professional lives.

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