Procrastinating is a habit that builds over time and becomes reinforced by repetition. You procrastinate enough times, and you become a procrastinator. Some people have been procrastinators for so long that they feel like they are almost incapable of completing any task unless they are under the gun.
For better or worse, habits work just like muscles. They strengthen or weaken over time depending on your discipline level. And just as you wouldn’t be able to one day bench press 200 pounds after months of not lifting, you won’t be able to break your procrastination habit in a day or two.
The solution lies in setting small goals and building momentum. To start the process of breaking free from your procrastinating ways, identify small tasks that you routinely leave for the last minute. Maybe you avoid folding the laundry and leave clothes in the dryer, fluffing and re-fluffing five times before you actually pull the clothes out and fold them. Maybe you’re still packing the kids’ lunches as they’re heading out the door for the bus stop. If you’re a true procrastinator, there are probably tens, if not hundreds, of daily tasks that you procrastinate on.
Don’t tackle them all at once! Instead, on day one of your battle against procrastination, pick just one of those tasks to focus on. Your goal is to do the job well in advance of when it actually needs to be done. So, in the example of packing lunches, force yourself to set aside time the night before to prep and pack lunches. Do this task for three nights, and then add another task that you often do at the last minute. After three more days, add another. By selecting smaller, more manageable tasks, you’ll build positive momentum that will fuel you to get a better handle on other tasks that you’re leaving until the last minute.
As you begin to build the momentum in getting things done, you’ll need to move on to the harder tasks, those that take a little more effort or brain power. Adopt a strategy of trying to complete your most difficult tasks first. Without those more challenging tasks looming over your head, you’ll feel freer and better able to tackle the rest of your day.
If you’re a visual person, you might benefit from creating charts or using planners to list out tasks to keep you on track. Identify everything that needs to happen in a given day, and prioritize the more challenging task. The act of marking the completion of these tasks can be hugely satisfying.
And, finally, don’t forget to reward yourself!
No, not for every single task you get done. But after a week of knocking out the majority of tasks that you’d otherwise have stalled on, take time to acknowledge your progress. Celebrate your accomplishments by scheduling a massage, or going to a movie with a friend. You’ll be surprised how much more time you’ll have on your hands once you don’t have to spend time justifying your procrastination.