We all have deadlines that we have to meet in our lives. They can be giant red circles on a calendar or a simple note scratched on a sheet of paper telling you not to forget. However, we do forget sometimes and other times we simply ignore these due dates until the very last minute and work in one stressed-filled burst that causes the quality of our work to suffer and make us regret our procrastination. When faced with a due date we often feel that we can delay beginning a task until some future point in time, essentially kicking the can to our future selves. The problem with this is that we don’t account for all of the other things that might come up and we rob ourselves of meeting our highest potential by not buckling down and putting forth the effort.
Think of how much time is wasted during the day on things like television or surfing the web. Sure it can be classified as your leisure time but do you always need a break if you really haven’t done any work? I’m guilty of this behavior myself and I’ve noticed that it does take constant vigilance for me not to delay the things that I have time for now. This behavior doesn’t just apply itself to school assignments or projects from your job but to our very hopes and goals. You may have often fantasized about becoming a published author but what has stopped you from sitting down day after day and putting the story down on paper? You may have delayed it to the future thinking that you will have more time then and that your situation will be so improved that you could really focus on your writing. This attitude is a fallacy, in all likelihood it will not exist because in order for your life to improve you have to seize each day you are given and put in the work. Thus while everything around you changes you never do and things just keep piling up and simply never get done.
Tasks are not going to go away simply because you wish them to and there isn’t going to be some magical solution to your problem that will fall out of the sky and save you from a boring job or a bad relationship. You need to take matters into your own hands and develop the resolve necessary to get things in your life done, here are some ways how to do just that:
1. List Your Tasks Daily in More Acceptable Portions
During my years in college I have often been faced with the prospect of a long research paper at the end of some semesters. We all know that assignment, the one that gets assigned the first week of September but isn’t due until December and we start on it a night or two before it is supposed to be turned in. Sometimes we can get away with it and score an A or a B and other times we fall flat on our faces. What I found that works well for me is to break it down into smaller portions over the semester. For example, spending an hour or two each week in the library doing nothing but combing through books for source material and then gradually adding more time each successive week. By the time it is time to write I’ve accumulated so much information the paper becomes a breeze and the majority of my time is spent in editing and getting the professor to critique it.
I do this with other tasks as well. Food preparation is a really good one to break down. Instead of cooking things right before you eat or running to get fast food, set aside some time each week and make batches of food that you know you will commonly eat. This is an extremely helpful way to stick with a diet because there is no thinking involved you have pre-made containers of food you simply pop in the microwave and eat. Taking the time once or twice a week to prepare food is much easier than trying to wing it each and every day and gives you more time to focus on other work.
2. Start Immediately
What are you putting off or what do you have plans to do? Why can’t you begin this instant? It doesn’t need to be complicated or satisfy the entire task but any little thing will help push you towards the larger goal. If you want to start a new workout routine to lose weight but you’re putting getting a gym membership, find a gym online right now and then drive there and sign up. If you want even more immediacy get on the floor and start doing push ups and other simple exercises. Just start what you have to do right now! The opportunity might not be there for you to start tomorrow or more time may be occupied by other events in your life. Stop keeping yourself down and step up your focus and intensity with immediate action.
3. Set Aside the Time
I’ve had conversations with a few friends about this very point. In the course of our talks with each other they will mention something that they want to do but always complain that they haven’t the time to devote to it. They say how stressed they are with their part time job and school course load (which is often just 4 classes). “Well are you setting aside time to do it?” I may ask. “What time?” is their usual response.
If you take a hard look at the lives of most people there is plenty of time to accomplish exactly what they want while still meeting their responsibilities. It is just that they may lack the ability to plan effectively and stick to an actual schedule. There’s nothing wrong with taking a break but how much time do you spend every day doing nonessential activities. Perhaps you want to read more books and really explore classic literature. Well, why not look into audio books and listen to them while walking around, driving, or at the gym? Get yourself a planner and be specific by giving everything you need to get done that day a time slot. It may seem rather mechanical to answer emails from 5-5:15 but when you assign your tasks a specific time you tend to get them done and in actuality because you have discipline it ends up giving you more free time.
4. Stop Being “Tired”
We can’t always be at our peak energy levels all day and night. However, we can fight through the lulls and still accomplish what we need to. Much of the time when we are feeling tired it isn’t really something that requires us to go fall asleep, most of the time it is something as simple as being hungry or having a sugar crash. If it is a consistent problem for you to conjure up some energy throughout the day then you should consider revamping what you eat. Heavy processed foods tend to make you feel lethargic and depressed two things that are absolute killers to getting anything done. Exercise really helps to raise your energy also. I often find that after a morning full of classes and time spent in the library studying I don’t even feel like going to the gym for a workout. I have taught myself to recognize that my body isn’t really as tired as it feels and once I’m in the middle of my workout I feel revitalized and ready for whatever. So remember to fight through the crashes and negative feelings because they are only temporary parts of your day.
5. Explore why you’re Putting It Off
Procrastination can stem from any number of reasons from laziness to letting it slip your mind. Sometimes though it is based on fear or anxiety about something and you’re only putting it off because you’re afraid of what is going to happen when you start. I once worked in an office where my main job was to do computer work and handle customers’ orders online. I knew that I would eventually have to help man the phones but I kept putting off having to do it. One day I asked myself what was so bad about answering the phones? Sure, some customers can be annoying and I’m not always the most talkative person but is there any real reason I shouldn’t be able to just listen and answer questions? The root of me not wanting to perform my new job was some form of social anxiety that was totally irrational and stupid. I never did like answering the phones because I had other things to do but I never felt anxious about it again after my first few calls.
The thing is if we don’t understand exactly why we aren’t working on something in our lives then it isn’t ever going to get done. We can go with a larger example and question why you haven’t broken up with your significant other when you know that it is doomed to failure. Sure some problems could be worked out but the two of you would never be happy together. What’s causing your procrastination? Fear of being alone? Not wanting to start a fight? Anxiety about hurting their feelings? You’re not promised any amount of days on this Earth so if you want to live a fulfilling life you must take control of it and mold it to your liking. Otherwise you put off ending a miserable relationship and continue it indefinitely when you could have spent time building a more meaningful one.
Life requires action and if we don’t act then we relegate ourselves to lives of untapped potential, missed deadlines, and general unhappiness. Procrastination isn’t just something that plagues research papers and studying for exams, it can cripple your larger goals and kill off any chance of you reaching your dreams. Ask yourself right now what do I need to be doing that I am not?