Let’s be honest about two things for a minute: 1) we all procrastinate sometimes, and 2) procrastinating has benefits.
When we procrastinate, we often work on things that are simply easier or more enjoyable than the things we’re putting off. Sometimes we play. Sometimes we nap. Sometimes we tackle another project that just seems more fun right now. These are all good things on their own.
I can procrastinate with the best of them. In the end, I almost always get the work done, but it can take some mental gymnastics to force myself to finish.
The worst thing about procrastination may actually be feeling bad about yourself because of it. The shame spiral that can happen when you’re not doing what you’re “supposed to be doing” doesn’t make the work more enjoyable, and it certainly isn’t good for your mental health.
What if instead of feeling bad about procrastination, we all decided to embrace it? The feeling you have of not wanting to work on the task in front of you is a valid feeling. Acknowledge the feeling. Accept it. Be realistic about it.
Procrastination is part of the process. Maybe you simply have too much slack in your schedule right now. Maybe this task isn’t really that important. Maybe you’re just bored with it because you’ve done it a million times. You can’t fault yourself for feeling this way.
But hold on, I’m not writing this to rally you around embracing procrastination. That could make an interesting post in itself, maybe for another day.
Today I want to talk about actually getting the work done. For as much as we acknowledge and accept procrastination as part of the process, in most cases we eventually have to buckle down and get the work done.
I’m recommending two steps. First, let the procrastination happen. Second, use strategies like the ones I’m about to share to make it as easy as possible for you to finish what you need to finish.
Keep some strategies and tactics like these in your back pocket, for when you really have to get down to work. Add to your toolkit as you find new ways of getting things done.
Here are five of my favorite strategies for getting work done when I’m procrastination prone:
1. Talk it through
Getting your brain in gear is often the only thing you need to do. Once your brain starts engaging with the task at hand, the dopamine kicks in and motivation flows.
Talking your project through with someone who can listen, ask questions and give feedback is a shortcut to getting your brain to focus.
If you work solo, this is a great reason to be part of a mastermind group. If you work on a team, simply ask a colleague for 15 minutes to talk through your project.
2. Outline it
Defining a structure is often the hardest part of completing longer tasks like writing a blog post or filming a video. Once you create an outline, the rest can be a simple paint-by-numbers experience.
This is one of the reasons why list posts (yes, including this one) are so pervasive online. Not only are they oddly gratifying to read, they’re also more straightforward to write because the outline is built in to the content.
3. Make it bad, on purpose
Perfection is the enemy of done. Worse than that, research shows that perfectionism correlates with depression, anxiety, eating disorders and other mental health problems.
Even if you aren’t trying to be perfect, simply trying to make something “good” could be enough to keep you from finishing.
When you’re procrastinating on finishing something, challenge yourself to finish it crudely, on purpose. Crank out the minimum viable version of this project. Once you finish, you can go back and make improvements if necessary.
4. Reward yourself
I have a confession. This very blog post is an experiment in the strategies I’m sharing with you now. Yesterday I had one of those “can’t-get-my-brain-in-writing-mode” kind of days. Instead, I procrastinated and worked on a different project.
Today when I sat down to write again, I still didn’t feel like it. I used two of the five strategies to finally write the post.
First, I outlined the post and wrote the intro. Then, I used another strategy: I rewarded myself for the mini-milestone of finishing my outline. I then took a break to go surfing. Now I’m back and the writing has been much easier because the outline is done and I’m not distracted by the prospect of going for a surf.
It may seem silly to reward yourself for a small milestone, but it can work as justification to get some of the heavy lifting done in a short period of time. With the outline done and your brain engaged, getting the rest of the work done is more likely.
5. Break it up
I find that when a project is spread out over too long a timeframe, it’s hard to get motivated to start. It’s as though I need the pressure of “crunch time” to get a project underway.
But crunch time isn’t always fun. When you wait for a deadline to get too close, it’s more likely you’ll be stressed out. When you finally finish a project under-the-gun, it’s easy to fall into a post-project depression, which starts another cycle of procrastination.
Instead of waiting for your deadline to loom, try this: commit to spending a small amount of time on your project every day, even if it’s just 30 minutes. If you stick to the 30-minutes a day schedule, by the time crunch time comes around you’ll be much further ahead and less likely to stress out.
I find that when I spend any amount of time working on a project each day, instead of ignoring it completely, I often get into a flow state on one of those days, which leads to most of the work getting done without even meaning to do it.
These are just five of my favorite strategies for getting work done when I’d rather be [surfing | playing | working on another project]. What are your go-to tactics for beating procrastination? Please share in the comments below!