Procrastination. No matter how motivated how your mornings, how caffeinated your cold brew or Bulletproof Coffee, how energizing your avocado toast, procrastination comes for all of us.
Even Aristotle, the Greek philosopher, struggled with procrastination. He filed it under “akrasia,” or moral weakness.
While the ancient Greeks had their own temptations, we have our modern distractions: Facebook. Snapchat. Texting. Cleaning and reorganizing every closet in the house before sitting down to work.
Here’s how to stay focused and work efficiently instead.
Identify what type of procrastinator you might be
In a 2010 study published in The Journal of Social Psychology, researchers divided them into two types— “active procrastinators” and “passive procrastinators.”
Active procrastinators were categorized as people who do so in a “positive” manner, who delay projects on purpose because they like working under pressure. Passive procrastinators are people who are debilitated by their hesitation and don’t meet deadlines as a result.
“The present results showed that although active procrastinators procrastinate to the same degree as passive procrastinators, they are more similar to nonprocrastinators than to passive procrastinators in terms of purposive use of time, control of time, self-efficacy belief, coping styles, and outcomes including academic performance,” the research said.
Figuring out how you kill time when there’s work to be done could help you pick the coping mechanism that’s right for you.
Plus, there are so many reasons why we might do so— a 2015 document on motivation and procrastination from Whitman College lists exact reasons why, including: fear of failure, anxiety, lack of knowledge, perfectionism and lack of purpose.
Remind yourself of your mission
Part of the problem with procrastination is a loss of perspective: either the task looms too large, or the idea of finishing all the little parts of it seems impossible. That leaves room for plenty of worrying and fears: what if your work isn’t good enough? What if the project doesn’t matter?
That fear can be intense if you let it. It doesn’t take much to turn something you were excited about into an exercise in powerful self-doubt.
Luckily, you can also flip that. Acknowledge the fear — write it down if you have to — but don’t let it take over. Reframe the situation to help you do something constructive instead.
If that happens, remind yourself of why you started the project: to show you can do great work, to tell the world something it doesn’t know, to change people’s minds, to clarify something that was muddy before. If you procrastinate on your finances, think of your mission of saving money or being more financially responsible, or having a better life or more adventures. If you put off going to the gym or exercising, think of how good you’ll feel and look afterward.
Trust us: Keeping the mission in mind will keep you going when the process seems too complicated and too scary.
Tell someone else what your project is
There’s power in letting people help you reach your goal.
“Enlist a support team or an accountability partner or, as I suggested in Stop Playing Safe, recruit your own Personal Board of Advisors to help keep you focused and on track. Set up a time to check-in regularly and let them know ways in which they can help. For instance, to remind you of past accomplishments, and why you set about making these changes in the first place,” Warrell wrote.
Accountability like this is most useful if you have people who will understand your goal, so choose wisely and aim for a small group of supportive people rather than blasting your goal to the world at large.
Keep your eyes on a (literal) prize
How to stop procrastinating: lean in to the urge, using distractions as rewards. By giving distractions a scheduled place in the day, you know you can always have them and you can stop spending all your mental energy in resisting them.
“During the day, set goals and rewards. Each time you hit a goal, you earn the reward: a short break, a hilarious YouTube video, or some other incentive. It’s important the goals are realistic and the rewards are in proportion. Make sure you select a time to review your progress and adjust your targets accordingly,” Bailey wrote.
It makes sense: no one wants to plug away grimly with no end in sight. Having something to look forward to, every hour or so, can go a long way towards getting work done. And don’t worry that the breaks will take time away from finishing: if you don’t take breaks, the likelihood is that it will take you longer to finish anyway. Consider the breaks an investment in working faster.
Get started, using the five-minute rule
In the end, the best advice to end procrastination is “just do it.” Getting started, in any way, is an important first step. Clinical psychologist and professor Andrea Bonior wrote about the five-minute rule.
Bonior noted that procrastinators frequently find that beginning a task is the most difficult part. There’s a trick she suggests to overcome that: start, for just five minutes.
She explains, “if you conquer them — doable in just a couple of minutes — and then you force yourself to stop after just that incremental progress, your energy and momentum will have started to flow. You might not even want to stop. And — here is another reason why the rule is so great — it will make you much more likely to come back to that task when you try for another five minutes (or perhaps you allow yourself 10 or 20) in the next day or so.”
We’ve tried it, and this works with a lot of things: going to the gym, or making dinner after a long day, or (of course) writing that big story. You might be inspired enough to keep going after five minutes are up.
Everyone’s fallen down a procrastination hole at work before, but there are ways to move forward. Try these tips the next time you’re tempted to delay on something big, and see how your fears melt.