Didn’t get to it? You’re not alone! A whopping 95 percent of us put things off, especially now, when we’re more distracted than ever. Thankfully, our experts reveal easy ways to stop procrastinating and finally check things off our to-do lists.
You’re not lazy! Ditch ‘perfect.’
A common misconception about procrastination is that it stems from laziness or lack of time-management skills. Not so! “In many cases, procrastination is about perfectionism,” says expert Laura Vanderkam, author and speaker. “People are often scared to put a lot of work into something only to do what they think is a mediocre job, so they’ll put it off.” Simply accepting that nothing is perfect the first time can spur you to get started. Just try looking at things from a scientist’s perspective: as an experiment. This mental shift gives you permission to try different approaches, so nothing is a “failure,” only an opportunity to learn on the way to succeeding.
‘Shrink’ the future.
The future is too ambiguous for our brains to envision — that’s why “shrinking” it down to a manageable chunk of time will help stave off a case of the delays. Instead of telling yourself you’ll start a task on Saturday, for example, ask yourself, “When on Saturday? In the morning. When in the morning? After breakfast,” suggests expert Piers Steel, Ph.D, author, and leading researcher on the science of motivation and procrastination. Specificity spurs you to act and limits your procrastinating tendencies.
Go for easy wins.
With confidence and optimism comes motivation. One easy way to boost your can-do? Trigger what Steel calls the “success spiral,” that is, “structuring a task to give you a few early wins.” If you’ve always wanted to start a journal, for example, rather than writing a few pages, which is too daunting, just jot down, say, three lines a day. When you hit manageable mini goals, your confidence grows exponentially.
Change up your space.
One easy way to beat procrastination is to let your environment energize you, says psychologist Christine Li, Ph.D., author and founder of Procrastination Coach. She advises creating two distraction-free zones. One might be a clutter-free desk, for example, and a second spot could be a pillow-packed corner on your couch. “When we get bored, our energy wanes,” she explains. Having two separate areas that you can toggle between revitalizes you, because even a slight change of scenery boosts motivation.
Reward yourself a lot.
When it comes to rewarding yourself, bigger isn’t always better: Small, frequent incentives are far more powerful. When Vanderkam decided to stop postponing doing her taxes, for instance, she took the first step of collecting statements. “Then I told myself I’d get to read a book for an hour.” Rewards along the way let you enjoy the process of completing a task.
Savor the moment.
Despite your best intentions, it’s natural to put things off from time to time. The key is to forgive yourself — make room for spontaneity, such as “leaving obligations to take a walk when the weather is nice,” urges Steel. Capturing what life has to offer in the moment staves off dread of the future, curbing any procrastinating habits over the long-term.
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.