Procrastination can strike virtually anyone in any context. And it can take several forms: You might avoid work entirely, deliberate so much over work decisions that you don't actually get anything done, feel so much self-doubt that you're incapacitated, or tell yourself you can't work until a series of perfect conditions align (which, of course, will never happen).
Putting off work might seem satisfying, but it's actually self-sabotaging. Procrastination can provoke feelings of guilt, stress, and shame. It can also derail your professional reputation and opportunities for professional advancement.
First, you need to acknowledge you have a procrastination problem and stop believing you're incapable of changing it. Then it's time to adopt strategies that facilitate your own productivity. It takes some work, but utilizing the following hacks can help you let go of procrastination and embrace productivity instead.
1. Ruthlessly eliminate distractions.
Procrastinators will take any excuse to turn away from whatever project they're working on. So minimize the number of available excuses by using apps that block Web browsing, silencing your phone (and putting it in another room), logging out of email, working in a quiet space, and so on. If you're more likely to be distracted by thoughts than by gadgets, jot down whatever's on your brain to get it onto paper and out of your mind.
2. Try the (10+2)*5 rule.
Don't worry, no one is asking you to relive high school algebra. Instead, this technique involves working for 10 minutes, taking a break for two minutes, and repeating this pattern five times. Over the course of an hour, you'll put in 50 minutes of work. But because you only need to commit to 10 minutes at a time (and you know you're guaranteed a break soon), it can make larger commitments feel less daunting.
3. Assign a false deadline.
As Parkinson's Law maintains, tasks expand to fill the time allotted to them. So it stands to reason that the less time you allow for a task, the quicker you'll get it done. Make a habit of writing down deadlines for yourself that are in advance of when a project is actually due. You'll give yourself less wiggle room and help ensure you aren't holding up the process for your co-workers.
4. Make yourself accountable.
If your own willpower just isn't cutting it, solicit the help of a friend, family member, co-worker, or app to help you stay on task. This could take several forms: an afternoon status update, a morning pep talk, or even imposing a consequence for failing to be productive. For example, you might commit to donating $5 to a charity of your choice for every hour you spend procrastinating.
5. Work out.
This might seem like an odd suggestion: How can you be more productive at work when you aren't working? The productivity benefits of exercise occur after a workout has taken place, in the form of increased focus and reduced brain fog. If you're struggling to stay on task, consider taking a quick workout break. A jog around the block, a few jumping jacks, or 20 minutes of weightlifting can clear your head and help you get back in the productivity game.
6. Give yourself a (timed) break.
The procrastinating mind wants to do all kinds of things other than work--post on social media, browse Reddit, compulsively check emails, play with the dog, get a snack...opportunities for distraction abound. Or maybe you're just feeling stressed and anxious and it's preventing you from focusing on your work. If you're having trouble concentrating for any reason, tell yourself to go ahead and surrender to whatever's distracting you--but only for 20 minutes. Set a timer, let yourself get fully absorbed in the distraction, and then turn your attention back to work as soon as the timer goes off. No excuses.
7. Start over.
Just like dieters who think that because they've eaten one slice of cake, they've ruined their diet and might as well eat the whole thing, procrastinators tend to view their own failure to get things done as a justification for further procrastination. The thinking goes, "I've already wasted most of the day, so why bother doing anything now?" Break this defeatist cycle by starting your day over at 2 p.m. every day. Set an alarm and use it as a reminder to refocus and commit to making the most out of the hours you have left in the day. Even if you played Candy Crush all morning, a lot of productivity can still happen between 2 p.m. and the end of the workday.
8. Provide an incentive.
There's a reason parents promise treats to kids who do their chores. People respond to alluring incentives--and adults are no different. If you can't stand the idea of tackling a given work project, sweeten the pot by promising yourself a reward once you're done. This can take whatever form is most appealing to you: an early happy hour, a massage, an hour of vegging on the couch...whatever most motivates you to get it done.
Above all, remember to be nice to yourself. Calling yourself lazy, incompetent, and so on is only going to erode your self-esteem--which will make it that much harder to get motivated. Instead, try to adopt a positive attitude. The more you believe in yourself and these strategies, the more effective they'll be.