You know the feeling. You have 20 unread emails, the reports are piling up and you could really use a lunch break. Two hours ago you said you’d take care of it in five minutes.
If this sounds like you, you are far from alone. In fact, you’re simply suffering from one of life’s most ubiquitous woes: procrastination. Most of us have likely been guilty of it at some point, but some of us struggle with it daily. If you suffer from chronic procrastination, you likely repeat “I’ll do it later” like a mantra. That is, until all that put-off work comes crashing down like the contents of an overstuffed closet.
This begs the question—why do we do it? Why do we put ourselves through so much extra stress just to prolong the inevitable? As it turns out, procrastination might be something that’s hardwired into our brain—but that doesn’t mean we can’t beat it. Let’s take a look at some methods of quitting this nasty habit once and for all.
Where we procrastinate
According to research published in Frontiers in Psychology, participants were most likely to engage in procrastination in health maintenance (41%) and leisure (28%), while only “1% of… respondents reported high general procrastination.” Additionally, about a quarter of respondents indicated engaging in a high level of procrastination in at least four life domains, with “procrastination in health (14%), career and education (12%) [and] romance and family (11%)” exerting a greater influence on their lives than “procrastination in other life-domains.”
How to overcome chronic procrastination
So, how do we beat procrastination? Let’s look at two scientifically proven methods:
1. Just start.
Simply getting started on a project can actually be the hardest part for procrastinators. But if we manage to make it over that hump, we may actually find ourselves more compelled to keep working. Why? Because our brains are susceptible to a little something called the Zeigarnik effect. Essentially, we are more likely to remember a task we haven’t completed than one we have. But the only way to gain the momentum the effect may elicit is by taking the first step and actually getting started.
2. Break down big tasks to beat chronic procrastination.
That’s all well and good, you may think, but my problem is with getting started. We may put off big tasks because we just know they’ll consume all of our time, leaving us no room to do the things we really want to do (like relax on the couch with popcorn and Netflix).
Luckily, there’s a trick to overcoming your fear or avoidance of starting: Take a big task and break it down into smaller steps. Instead of committing to a single big task, you’re focusing on two or three smaller ones, which may make it easier to manage. Like we said above, getting started builds momentum and before we know it, the entire project is complete and we end up with more free time than we would have if we let chronic procrastination get the better of us.
The most effective way to beat procrastination is to use these two tips in tandem. By breaking down big projects into smaller steps, you’ll find yourself more motivated to get started, and ultimately you will build enough momentum to see a project through to completion.
How do we know it’s so effective? Well, it worked for me writing this article—so hopefully it will work for you, too.
This article was updated July 2023. Photo by DimaBerlin/Shutterstock
Rhett Power is the author of The Entrepreneur’s Book of Actions: Essential Daily Exercises and Habits for Becoming Wealthier, Smarter, and More Successful and co-founder of Wild Creations, an award-winning start-up toy company. Learn more at rhettpower.com.