We've all been there--sitting at our desks scrolling through Facebook as we avoid the task in front of us. It's called procrastination and it can take many forms, from frequent coffee breaks to small talk with co-workers.
Procrastination is often chalked up to poor time management, but the source of it runs deeper. It delves into our fears, emotions, and mental processes. Once we understand what really causes procrastination, we can find real solutions to help overcome this common roadblock.
Here are five ways to avoid the pitfalls of procrastination.
Define your goals
When we don't know where we're going, uncertainty can cause us to procrastinate and keep us from taking measurable steps forward.
Before starting a task, write down exactly what you plan to accomplish and your reasons for doing so. If you want "to learn more things," clarify how and why. For example, you might decide to read 12 books about startups to learn more about building a company.
Further defining your goals and attaching specific targets reduces uncertainty and allows you to take the next step.
Break big goals into smaller milestones
Sometimes the sheer size of a goal can be paralyzing. Instead of viewing a goals as one big milestone, take a cue from elite performers who break big goals into smaller, less intimidating tasks.
Schedule out small tasks like dominoes and notice how accomplishing one can lead to the next. This method helped me read 15 books in one year. Initially, the goal seemed daunting, but not after I broke it down into reading just eight pages a day.
Overcome your emotions
Elite performers don't let their emotions dictate their work ethic or ability to complete a task. They overcome negative emotions and march toward their goals.
It isn't realistic to wait for "the right mood" before you starting working. Sometimes you have to put your head down and work through negative emotions. If you find yourself feeling suboptimal, take a moment to acknowledge those feelings. Maybe you feel overwhelmed or uncertain. Define the feeling and then work through it.
In most cases, your attitude will improve when you feel the satisfaction that comes from working through a feeling and accomplishing a task.
Think long term
Do you ever feel like you're running at full-speed with everything hinging on your next task? This can result in putting unnecessary pressure on what is immediately in front of you and cause you to lose sight of the big picture.
To quote Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, "Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in 10 years." Elite entrepreneurs take a long-term perspective that reduces stress in the short term and allows them to stay focused on executing over a longer time span.
If you do many small things right, over time you'll build something significant. The entirety of your success doesn't hinge on your next task, so avoid putting too much pressure on it and instead stay focused on your long-term vision.
Build new routines
Our brains rely on habit loops (routines) that dictate our actions. It's a part of our DNA. You can't fight biology, but you can examine your habits.
Without realizing it, we create routines that positively reinforce procrastination, like opening Facebook as soon as we sit down at our desks. Elite performers have the awareness and self-discipline to replace bad habits with good ones. You can do this yourself by understanding how habits work and creating new routines.
Putting it together
If procrastination were really the result of poor time management, we'd have solved it a long ago. Unfortunately, the reasons we procrastinate are more complex.
To optimize your chances for success, focus on one of these tips and incorporate it into your daily life. Over time, your procrastination will diminish and your output will increase, allowing you to make the most of the time you have.