When faced with a long list of competing priorities at work is your first instinct to check your Facebook feed or head out to lunch?
Yup, you are a procrastinator.
Almost all of us procrastinate sometimes—putting off a difficult task by substituting another activity that may be more enjoyable or distracting.
But a reported 20 percent of us are habitual procrastinators, delaying doing something time and time again, all the while knowing a lack of action can be self-sabotaging, according to research from Joseph Ferrari, PhD, Professor of Psychology at DePaul University.
The consequences can be career limiting. Ferrari’s study of over 22,000 adults found chronic procrastinators are less productive, have lower salaries, and are more likely to be unemployed.
Biology is partly to blame, say experts. Sneaking a peek at YouTube instead of bearing down on a challenging assignment can trigger a chemical response in the brain that feels better in the short-term, says Timothy A. Pychyl, Professor of Psychology at Carleton University. The high, though, is often short-lived, generally followed by more destructive feelings of guilt and shame.
If you find yourself experiencing this kind of emotional roller coaster more often than you’d like, it may be time to take action.
The good news is that procrastination is, in fact, a mind game, so there are plenty of techniques you can use to trick your brain and get back on track.
Visualize yourself having already completed the task. Research confirms visualization can help positively alter your decision-making choices. Picture your future self and the relief and satisfaction you will feel, along with the praise you might receive, as a result of finishing a task. Refer back to that mental image to stay on track with your goals and to-do lists.
Establish deadlines … on other people’s terms. Self-imposed deadlines reportedly do not help chronic procrastinators begin work any earlier. What may work better, however, is establishing several non-negotiable deadlines with your boss, set at evenly spaced intervals, to produce quality work – all with more time on your side.
If it can be done in 2 minutes or less, do it now. The premise of the “two minute rule” is to knock out all of your simple, short tasks ASAP without wasting additional time prioritizing them or writing them on a list or ruminating over their importance with others on the team. If it can be done quickly, then just do it—and move on.
Stress production over perfection. Many people never start tasks because they worry that the end result won’t be perfect. But the reality, of course, is that perfection is an impossible standard to achieve, so instead, replace your worry with production, knowing that you can perfect your work product along the way. Put your ideas into motion, create something tangible, then analyze and adjust.
Make a list. This tried and true approach to getting things done really works. Putting pen to paper, says productivity expert Paula Rizzo, makes it 33 percent more likely that you will actually achieve a goal. Writing something down, she says, solidifies the goal and makes it more attainable.
Blame yourself, not your circumstances. Explains psychologist Edward Hirt in The Atlantic, don’t confuse your not having done something on time with your inability to successfully do it at all. This thinking only justifies your procrastination, he says.
Find value in your work. Procrastinators may simply be dealing with a lack of passion, says Peter Voogd, a contributor for Entrepreneur. Drafting up a quick list of reasons about why you’re doing something in the first place and why performing certain responsibilities adds value to your life may help motivate you to act.
Download an app. Yes, there’s an app for that. Whether it’s the no-explanation-needed Yelling Mom app or one more like Finish, which helps you prioritize an ongoing slew of tasks, there are a variety of mobile solutions that can politely pester, kindly encourage, and inspire you to work smarter—and harder.
Be accountable to others. Announcing to your colleagues how you plan to meet that big deadline means you have to answer to more than one person if you fail to stay on task. Not wanting to suffer workplace humiliation may be all it takes to help boost your confidence and drive.
Reward yourself each step of the way. Whether it’s watching the next episode of your favorite show, finally buying that new tech gadget you’ve been eyeing, or taking yourself out for a simple meal, set intrinsic or extrinsic rewards to ensure you keep momentum strong, especially when working on a longer, or more complicated task.