Procrastinators can change their behavior. The difficulty is that it is an unpleasant task and this is exactly the thing that procrastinators are not good at completing. However, with hard work and some guidance on how to accomplish it a procrastinator can learn to live a different kind of life.
Identify your personal procrastination patterns. Being willing to look at the problem and honestly examine your own behavior is the first step towards changing it. Being aware that you are procrastinating usually starts the process. Then examine why you are procrastinating. Understanding your motivations better enables you to address them directly. Procrastination is often only the symptom. To be successful in stopping it, you have to address the cause.
Break it Down
When you are faced with a daunting task, either because it is unpleasant, or difficult, or requires great degrees of concentration, break it down into smaller more manageable segments. I was one faced with tiling a kitchen floor. After laying a section of tiles I was absolutely worn out and quite daunted by the idea of having to do the entire kitchen. Then, I broke it down into smaller, less daunting tasks. Cut the tiles to the right size, then stop. Lay the tiles I have cut, then stop. Grout those tiles, then stop. This may not be correct tile laying procedure, but it got the kitchen floor tiled. I could handle just cutting the tiles or just laying the tiles, but not the entire process at once. Use this method for large or overwhelming tasks. Paying bills? Just organize the bills in order of priority. Then just pay one bill, then another, then another. Perhaps put a deadline on it. I’ll prioritize the bills tonight, then stop. I’ll pay one bill tomorrow night, then stop. Soon they are all paid, and in order of importance.
Lay Down the Law
Make rules for yourself which are not negotiable. (This may be ineffective if you don’t respond well to authoritarianism. Try the other methods first.) Decide that you will go to the gym everyday, without exception. Make a rule that you will pay one bill every night – no exceptions. Be very specific and use a deadline if it makes it more manageable. Make a rule that you will walk around the building everyday at lunch for four weeks. Make it long enough to be effective, but short enough that you will be able to complete it successfully.
Hire an Accomplice
Explain your goals to a friend you trust and have them call you on it when you start to slack off. You can use a family member, a friend, or a therapist for this, but be sure it is someone who will tell you the truth and truly confront you when you lag.
Remember the Consequences
This is especially necessary when you are procrastinating because you don’t like the task which has to be done. I hate dealing with insurance claims, but I remember the three years it took to resolve a simple $200 lab bill while having to negotiate back and forth between the lab and the insurance company. Three years of being on hold and then having to deal with “customer care” people. This memory motivates me to avoid a more unpleasant task by doing the less unpleasant task.
Organize the most crucial tasks which have to be done, or the most unpleasant. Then, when you do get something done, you get the most important or the worst thing done. The pleasure of having taking care of an important task or cleared away a particularly nasty one will motivate you to tackle the next task more readily.
Stop Making Excuses
Learn to identify which excuses are your favorites. “I’m too tired”, “Someone else will do it”, “I’ll get to it later” are a few examples. Once you identify the excuses you prefer to use, make up your mind to stop using them. You’ll quickly realize when the statement, “I’m too tired” enters your consciousness you’re probably avoiding something you should be doing. The harder you work to identify your excuses the more adept you will become at shooting them down.
Make a “To Do” List
If you are a neatnik or a little bit compulsive make a “To Do” list and mark off each item as it is completed. Be sure to assign a deadline or it will always be marked for “tomorrow”. Checking off each task and looking at a completed list at the end of the day can be quite satisfying. Beware of making the list so long or formidable that you avoid it all together.
Be an Early Bird
Research has shown that people who do their workout the first thing in the morning are more likely to maintain their workout commitments. This is true of most everything. The further into the day we get the more likely we are to become distracted or tired. The earlier in the day you commit to doing the task you have set for yourself, the more likely it is to be completed.
Bet on It
If you tend to be a bit competitive, place a bet with someone about how quickly you can do the task, or how completely. Bet your spouse or partner that you can have all the bills paid before the end of the week. Or team with another competitive procrastinator to see who can get their bills paid the quickest. This makes the task a game rather than a burden and you’ll be amazed at how quickly those bills get paid. Be sure to make the best worthwhile, but not so high as to be frightening. It’s also important to place a bet with someone who is competitive enough to follow through.