Let’s face it, procrastination sucks. It’s exhausting, stressful, and it can do a number on your self-esteem.
Even though you eventually finish most of the unpleasant tasks you put off, you pay dearly for having postponed them. It takes lots of extra energy to avoid doing something you know you must do. The famous psychologist, William James, put it best when he said, "Nothing is as fatiguing as the hanging on of an uncompleted task."
If you’re a chronic procrastinator, learning time management techniques can be, well, a waste of time. That's because time management is like dieting. It's not enough to know what you really should do. To get results, you have to actually do it. You probably already know that it makes sense to tackle unpleasant tasks right away. But when a truly unpleasant task is staring you right in the face, doing what makes sense is no match for the powerful urge to put it off.
Although chronic procrastinators may assume that their brains are wired entirely differently from the brains of people who make a habit of jumping in right away and doing whatever needs to be done, I disagree.
Procrastinators and non-procrastinators are more alike than you think. We all do what we’ve decided we should do only when we actually feel like we must do it. When faced with an unpleasant task, we don’t get moving until we reach the point where leaving the unpleasant task undone actually feels worse than doing it. In other words, in a very real sense, we all wait until the last minute. The only difference between non-procrastinators and procrastinators is that for non-procrastinators, the last minute comes sooner!
If you’re willing to think about procrastination as the result of being slow to reach the "Get Moving" point, I have good news for you. There is a solution. The way to stop procrastinating is to make the last minute come sooner. By making the last minute come sooner, you can dramatically reduce the amount of time and energy you'd otherwise waste avoiding an unpleasant task that you'll eventually have to do anyway.
Suppose there's a report that you absolutely dread working on that's due in a month. You estimate that the report will take several extremely unpleasant hours to complete. You have the time available, and you tell yourself that you really should just tackle the task right away and get it off your back instead of letting it nibble away at you for the next few weeks.
Yes, that's what should happen. But you know yourself well enough to know what actually will happen. Despite your good intentions, you'll end up putting off the unpleasant task until the very last minute − maybe a couple of days before its due − and in a panic, with the clock feeling like a knife in your back, you'll get the report done on time − like you always do.
But suppose this time, instead of just relying on your good intentions, you deliberately change the situation to make the last minute come sooner. You do it in a way that at first glance seems nearly insane. You write out a check for $5,000 to a political party you absolutely despise. Then you give the check to your assistant with strict orders to mail it next Tuesday unless you show up with the finished report before then.
Now that you're in the new situation that you created, you still dread doing the report. In fact, you still put it off until the last minute. But this time, the last minute comes much sooner! Because you reach the "Get Moving" point sooner, you won't have to wait so long or suffer so much to get the pesky job done and off your back. And you'll have a delightfully smooth ride through the rest of the month.
To defeat procrastination:
• Realize that what eventually gets you in gear is the pressure of the last minute.
• Treat pressure as your friend rather than your enemy − as the solution rather than the problem.
• Be willing to deliberately create situations that make the last minute come sooner.
Dr. Levinson is a clinical psychologist, author ("Following Through") and inventor ("MotivAider") who specializes in helping people follow through on their own good intentions.