Everybody procrastinates from time to time, but if you have an important project due or need to study for a test, procrastination can be a huge barrier. Essentially, you know what you should be doing, but your brain decides that it would rather do something else and leave the less desirable work for later. This bad habit can lead to missed deadlines, poor academic scores, and other generally unfavorable outcomes. So, what can you do about it? What steps can you take to learn how to stop procrastinating?
The good news is that there are many simple and effective ways to overcome procrastination. More often than not, how you perceive a given task is just as important as how you choose to work on it. As a result, some of the best methods for overcoming procrastination require you to see your work in a new light. In any case, let’s take a look at 5 methods that will teach you how to stop procrastinating now:
Write a To-Do List
You might have a lot of little tasks to finish, or perhaps you have one big task that can be broken down into different steps. Either way, you should write out a to-do list that includes every step needed to reach your goal. If there are a lot of items, it may be a little overwhelming, so just focus your attention on one item at a time.
First, look at the easiest task to accomplish. For example, let’s say that you are studying for an English final exam or standardized test (like the TOEFL) that you will take in one month’s time. Your list might look something like this:
Rather than looking at the entire to-do list and thinking about how much hard work is involved, just take a look at one item. For example, let’s look at “take a practice test to gauge your level.” This is a good place to start, as it will help you find areas for improvement going forward. Additionally, unlike some of the other tasks, this one does not need to be repeated daily or made part of your regular routine. In fact, you can finish it in a relatively short amount of time. Once you start crossing items off, you’ll realize that the list wasn’t as daunting as it once seemed!
If You Don’t Have a Deadline, Set One
Not every project you’re working on will have a hard deadline. In fact, many goals are more general (like “learn how to speak English fluently” or “improve my writing abilities”), which can make it difficult to set specific deadlines and figure out how to stop procrastinating. However, without a close deadline, it is easy to procrastinate indefinitely, as the goal never feels like it is high-priority.
So, how can you set a deadline for broader goals? To figure this out, let’s look at the following goal: “learn how to speak English fluently.” This is not the kind of goal that you can finish in a week. In fact, it could take years for you to feel that you’ve reached it.
When you set your goals, it is important to set a realistic deadline. Let’s say that you want to learn to speak English fluently in 5 years. Perfect! You’ve set a realistic deadline for yourself. But what happens now? 5 years feels like a long time, so how can you stop procrastinating now and get motivated to study?
When you set specific deadlines that extend well into the future, you should also set a number of mini-deadlines, or milestones. This requires you to break your goal down into smaller parts. For example, you might make the following timeline to learn how to speak English fluently in 5 years:
Then, you can repeat this process (with different goals) for the remaining 4 years. This will also help you with time management for the long-term. Before you know it, you’ll sound like a native English speaker!
A common reason that people procrastinate is the fear of making a mistake. This can even spiral out of control, to the point that someone might ask themselves, why should I even bother at all, if my hard work will never be perfect? When you start thinking this way, it is nearly impossible to stay motivated and figure out how to stop procrastinating. Alternatively, staying positive has a number of proven benefits for your productivity.
So, how can you avoid negativity and stop procrastinating now? First, push yourself to focus on your priorities. Usually, we tend to procrastinate when we feel that a task is either unimportant or unappealing. If you think that a task is unimportant or unappealing, ask yourself the following questions:
In most cases, the answer to these questions will help you realize that what you’re putting off actually is important, but that doesn’t mean that everything has to be perfect. Additionally, you can use the last question to brainstorm ways of making the work more interesting. This way, you can have fun and be productive at the same time!
Focus On the Aftermath
The previous method is all about reframing the perception of your goals and desired outcomes. However, this method may not work in every case. Sometimes, a task is so undesirable that it is virtually impossible to get your brain on board.
When this happens, you should try to focus on the aftermath. Imagine how good you will feel once you’re finished and you don’t have to worry about it anymore. Our sense of motivation generally responds positively to rewards, and the feeling of relief associated with getting things done is a pretty great reward in itself.
That said, if relief is not enough to end your procrastination, you might also consider creating a reward for yourself that you only get if you finish a task successfully. For example, if you have an English paper due tomorrow, you’re probably anxious about getting it done on time (and getting a passing grade). To get motivated to write, tell yourself that you can only go hang out with your friends if you finish the English paper today. This way, you get to feel the relief of finishing the paper and the reward of seeing your friends!
Cut Yourself Off From Distractions
Distractions are one of the primary reasons that people procrastinate. After all, how can you stop procrastinating when you have a smartphone buzzing, a movie or music playing in the background, social media notifications, or other people chatting near your study space? Some people know how to stop procrastinating even with all of these distractions present, but for most of us, it’s just not that simple.
The best way to get rid of distractions is to make it inconvenient to access them. For example, many people get distracted by their electronic devices. So, turn your phone off and put it in another room. Unplug the TV and game console. If you need your computer, limit yourself to programs and pages that are absolutely necessary for accomplishing your task.
Finally, it’s easy to get distracted by other people. Most people are more focused when they work in isolation, but it may not be possible to completely cut yourself off from others. Don’t be afraid to tell those around you that you need to focus. If you still find that people are a distraction, consider taking your work to a quieter study space, like your local library.
We hope these 5 methods will help you learn how to stop procrastinating now! Just remember, improving motivation and productivity is a process. Nonetheless, when you approach your work with the right mindset, no task is too big to handle!