In a recent interview for a British magazine, I was asked for three tips to reduce procrastination. Given that readers of this blog may not read the magazine, I thought I would share these tips here.
First and foremost, "just get started." Don't waste more time planning and thinking about the task. Usually, that's just another way to avoid the task, while making yourself feel like you're actually doing something. Instead, get started on the task. Why? Because our research shows that once we get started on a task, our perceptions of the task change. Sometimes we actually end up enjoying the task (no kidding, research participants made that clear). At the very least, our perception of ourselves changes, and making even a little progress on our tasks boosts our well being which in turn fuels more motivation to work.
Second, expect that when you face an unwanted or undesirable task that you'd rather put off, you'll have lots of negative emotions. My advice is, "suck it up!" Yes, it's a hard-nosed approach, but procrastinators need it. Don't "give in to feeling good" such that you focus on short-term mood repair. Keep your focus on long-term progress on your goal. You should not try to make yourself feel better. You should get to work. No one enjoys getting down to an unpleasant task at hand. Successful people understand that once they get started (ah, the first major tip above), they must face some negative emotions. Once they get through these, there's no looking back.
Finally, my third tip is "be honest with yourself." Too often procrastinators justify or rationalize their procrastination saying things like "I'll feel more like doing this tomorrow" or "I work better under pressure" or "This can wait." . . . No you won't, no you don't and no it can't. Stop the self-deception. Instead of trying to reduce the dissonance between your belief that you should be working and your behavior, not working, recognize these thoughts as "flags" that signal your desire to procrastinate and go back to Tips 1 and 2.
Trust me, procrastination is not a time-management problem. It's a complex problem involving personality, situations and motivation. When you're looking for quick tips to help, the three above are well-based in research and will definitely reduce your procrastination.