In the Age of Anxiety

Panic, compulsions, phobias, and more

Get It Done in 2013: How to Overcome Procrastination

Four steps to make your productivity skyrocket in the new year.

2013 is now officially upon us, and for many, along with champagne and noise makers, a new year means New Year's resolutions.  If the past is any predictor, this year's list of most popular resolutions will focus on themes such as health, money, and family.  As we watch the ball drop in Times Square, we resolve to lose weight, spend less, and exercise more.  We envision 2013 with less stress, more time with our family, and a better job.  In the new year, we plan to travel more, drink less, and learn something new.  It's an annual tradition that's filled with wide open possibilities.

So...how good are we at actually keeping the promises we make at the start of a new year?  Not very good, unfortunately.  We know--perhaps from firsthand experience--that New Year's resolutions are broken at a fast clip.  We make our promises, then as January drags by, they begin to fall by the wayside.  After a while, we tend to give up completely, and come the next year, start all over again.  It's a dreary cycle.

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Why are we so bad at keeping our resolutions?  They sound simple enough.  Yet, our lists are often the same year to year, which suggests that we aren't making progress on the goals that seem most important to us.  When asked to explain why we didn't keep our commitments, we often come up with excuses, such as "I'm just lazy" or "Time flew by".  The main problem, however, may be that the root cause of our failure to change remains intact.  This root cause is often procrastination.

This year, why not make a changes that lasts and frees you to reach all your other goals?  Instead of rehashing the same old resolutions, defeat the problem at the core that holds you back from the life you desire.  Overcome procrastination and you might just find that your other goals fall right into place.

There are four keys to conquering procrastination.  Below, we'll walk you through these steps to more productivity in the new year.

1.  Get motivated:  Before you embark on defeating procrastination in 2013, you'll need to make sure that you're motivated to achieve this goal.  You'll need to feel confident that you have the ability to change, that you're ready to take this setp, and--perhaps most of all--that this change is important to you.  To take the first step, you'll need to analyze the pros and cons of taming your procrastination.  Do this:  Grab a sheet of paper and a pencil and make two lists:  one of all the drawbacks to procrastination and the other of all the benefits to taking control of your life by defeating procrastination.  Use these lists as motivation to propel you through the next three steps.

2.  Learn to set good goals:  The annual list of most popular New Year's resolutions is littered with examples of ineffective goals.  "Lose weight", "Travel more", and "Get that promotion" are nice ideas, but they don't have the structure necessary to help you accomplish those tasks.  If you want to get moving in 2013, you'll need to learn to set effective goals.  Effective goals have five key features.  They are:

  • Specific:  To conquer procrastination in the new year, make your goals as specific as possible.  Instead of "lose weight" as a goal, try "lose five pounds by February 1st".  The more specific your goal, the better.
  • Difficult:  Yes, you heard right--research shows that we actually do better when we set difficult goals for ourselves (Locke 2002).  It seems that the more difficult the goal we choose, the harder we work to achieve it.  Consider some of your recent goals or resolutions.  Have they been too easy?  So easy you might simply cast them aside for later?
  • Feedback:  Like a GPS that shows our progress along a route, we need some way to monitor our progress toward our goals.  Good goals allow the opportunity for consistent feedback.  Remember, if you can't easily chart it or track it, it's not a good goal.
  • Commitment:  Commitment means the willingness to work consistently over time to achieve a goal.  For maximum success, choose goals that you feel strongly committed to accomplish--ones that you find important and reflect your personal values.  Don't choose a goal simply because someone else wants you to or you feel you "should"--make sure your goal is important to you.
  • Achievable:  Be sure to select a goal that you believe that you can achieve.  While choosing a difficult goal helps in overcoming procrastination, choose something that's ultimately within your reach--even if you have to stretch for it.

         Do this:  Choose a recent goal that you set for yourself and re-write it using the five aspects of a good goal.

3.  Manage your time:  To fully defeat procrastination, you'll need to brush up on your time management skills.  Improve you ability to plan the course of your day and cope with time management setbacks, and you'll take a giant step forward in the battle against procrastination.

Do this:  Spend one week recording how you spend your time.  Be honest and accurate.  You'll be surprised how much time is wasted.  Once you identify your biggest time wasters, you can take control of your schedule and more effectively manage your time.

4.  Change your thinking:  If you tune in, you'll likely notice a parade of negative thoughts every time you choose to procrastinate.  Thoughts such as "It'll take too long", "I can't do it", "It's too hard" and--the ultimate procrastiantion thought--"I'll do it later".  Identify and challenge these negative thoughts, and you'll free yourself of this mental barrier to achieving your goals.

Do this:  Think of a task that you've been putting off for some time.  Now tune into the negative thoughts that come into your mind.  Take out a pencil and a sheet of paper and write them down.  Then write down responses that "talk back" to those negative thoughts.  For example, as you think of going to the gym, you might notice thoughts such as "I'll go tomorrow" or "It'll be too crowded".  Combat these negative thoughts with rational responses such as "Saying I'll go tomorrow means I won't go at all.  To meet my goals, I need to go today."

Now that you know the keys to overcoming procrastination, master these skills in 2013 and your productivity will soar--and your resolutions in 2014 just might be a lot more fun.

For more ideas on overcoming procrastination, see our workbook, The Worrier's Guide to Overcoming Procrastination.


References

Locke, E 2002.  Setting goals for life and happiness.  In Handbook of Positive Psychology, eds. C.R. Snyder and S.L. Lopez, 299-312.  New York:  Oxford University Press.

Kevin Gyoerkoe, Psy.D., is the co-author of 10 Simple Solutions to Worry as well as The Pregnancy and Postpartum Anxiety Workbook.

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