Have you ever sat down to work on a report, or your resume, or a speech you've been asked to give, and then realized it would be much less stressful to check the sports scores or play solitaire or surf Facebook? If so, join the crowd: 80 percent of college students are procrastinators, and at least 20 percent of the adult population as well — though, of course, many of them may have just never been motivated to actually complete the surveys. The point is, lots of people procrastinate — for the most part, to their detriment.
But there is hope for those of us who, like Herman Melville when writing Moby-Dick, need to be chained to our desks to complete a piece of work. Here are my top 5 tips for overcoming procrastination:
1. Start your day with the hardest task — if you're up for it.
This is the old Mark Twain advice to eat a live frog first thing in the morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day. Translated to modern times: Do the most challenging and difficult to-do item on your list before anything else, and you will have checked it off. It's good advice, but only if you're actually up for it. Some of us just might not be our best selves first thing in the morning and, in fact, might be better off eating our frogs in the afternoon or the evening, when we're at our peak performance level. So, the advice here is to realize when you're going to be your best self — and at that point, eat your frog.
2. Do quick to-do's super quickly.
I remember getting advice early in my career to keep all sorts of email folders to manage inflow into my inbox — folders telling me to respond tomorrow, or respond Friday, or respond next week. At the time, I thought how overwhelming and inefficient that sounded (and no wonder, since the advice came from someone who was himself quite inefficient). My best practice now is to make a super quick assessment of an incoming message, think about if I can realistically respond immediately, and then just do it. I can report that with this strategy, I currently have only 12 total messages in my inbox as I write this.
3. Make your intentions public (and be accountable to someone).
If overcoming procrastination is outside your comfort zone, as it is for many of us, make a pledge to take the leap — and, ideally, make that pledge public. You don't necessarily have to announce it to the world — especially if you're a private person and don't really want to share what you're working on. But find someone supportive to whom you can be accountable, and tell them. It might be a close friend, or a colleague, or a group you belong to. What matters is that the more accountable you are accountable, the more likely it becomes that you'll follow through.
4. Reward yourself for small wins.
Procrastination and "perfectionism" often go hand in hand. Those of us who are perfectionists and high achievers might not necessarily feel it's worth celebrating that we started to respond to a few more emails or were able to accomplish our most difficult task first thing in the morning, but these are achievements worth noting and celebrating. It's not easy to take the plunge and do something outside your comfort zone. Celebrate your small win and move onto the next one.
5. Remember: Not all procrastination is bad.
Adam Grant suggests that procrastination can actually serve a useful purpose, by allowing yourself to consider different ideas, think in original ways, and then come back to the task at hand. Of course, there is a really important caveat here — that you actually return to the task — because if you don't, then basking in the worthiness of procrastination becomes itself yet another tricky procrastination technique.
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A version of this article originally published at Inc.com.