At least from time to time, we probably all are tempted by the play-now, work-later mantra of procrastination. Putting off the tasks you need to get done for more enjoyable activities now is instantly rewarding, but obviously sets us up for headaches down the road when it comes time for deadlines and due dates. Here are five basic tips to help you end procrastination, manage your time well and stay on track.
1. Implement the timeless adage of first things first
“First things first” is a common expression that reminds us to carry out tasks in their proper order. Your favorite YouTuber may have just uploaded a new video that you’re dying to watch, but the reason you got on the Internet was to finish your English paper. Or, perhaps your temptation comes in a different form like when you’re driving to the gym for an evening workout, but you notice that a nearby clothing store has a big sale sign out in front of the shop. There are millions of options to choose from concerning how we each fill up our days so the trick is to put first things first, accomplishing what needs to get done before spending time on luxuries that aren’t essential.
Because procrastination is so prevalent in life, we often don’t even realize how undisciplined we really are in terms of time management. When you get home from work, you’re tired and just want to veg out for half an hour, but you may end up watching a whole movie without noticing the time that’s gone by. I certainly can relate to that on a personal level, but rather than letting ourselves take a long break and then trying to cram in everything else we need to get done by tonight, we can put first things first. We can come home from work and straightaway take the dog for his needed walk. We can put the laundry into the washer before we sit down for dinner rather than thinking after your meal is the optimal time.
Sometimes we’re choosing between multiple activities that are all valuable, but the timeliness of one task may suggest the order of how we should go about our day. If you don’t have any food in the house, going grocery shopping may be more urgent this evening then going to the gym even though both are important tasks. You may need to read a philosophy book this week for a class, but you may have a math test tomorrow that requires more immediate attention. With these cases, we sometimes trick ourselves into thinking that opting for going to the gym or reading our philosophy text isn’t procrastinating since we’re still doing what eventually needs to be done. Putting first things first, though, is about evaluating what the best use of your time is and not just settling for what’s an okay use of your resources.
2. Set up a motivating reward system
Since putting first things first might not come naturally, you can develop a reward system to help you get the essentials done. After you finish your paper is when you can check Twitter. After you take out the trash is when you can eat ice cream. After you clean your room is when you can call up your friend for a chat. We often give in to our immediate desires, rewarding ourselves with entertainment, rest and ease before it’s deserved. Although we do need a good balance between work and play in life so that we don’t burn ourselves out, playtime should come after we’ve worked hard.
Disciplining yourself to the mantra of earning recreation can cure procrastination. We need breaks throughout the day and we need fun times to look forward to so treat yourself accordingly, giving yourself short-term and long-term rewards to work towards. After you finish today’s workload, you can watch a rerun of your favorite television show. After you finish the big marketing project that you’ll be working on all month at the office, you’ll treat yourself to a new watch. Make your rewards proportional to the work involved, increasing the size of the treat to motivate you to accomplish those tasks that are the least pleasant in your mind.
3. Eliminate the possibility of distractions
When it’s really time to work, put away the distractions that get in your way. If you can’t handle hearing your phone go off without instantly checking who just texted, turn your phone on silent. If listening to the radio while you work decreases your ability to concentrate, turn the tunes off. Even if you have to be on the computer in order to finish your geography report, you don’t have to be on Facebook looking up your ex-boyfriend’s new love interest. When it’s work time, focus on the work that you have to do and don’t allow yourself to veer off course. Avoiding the desire to procrastinate takes discipline, but you have the power to mentally plug in and get things done.
Analyze what excuses you’ve used in the past to justify procrastination and nip those issues in the bud. If you have to leave the apartment because your roommates keep bringing you back into the conversation, then make a graceful exit and head for the library. If you know you’ll be hungry after twenty minutes of working, pack a protein snack that will keep you satiated until you finish your assignments. Do what it takes to create a work environment that is conducive to you accomplishing what you need to get done.
4. Map out your time effectively
In order to really put first things first and schedule in motivating rewards, you have to have an overall idea of what your day, week and month require. In order to really beat procrastination, you have to be organized and stay on top of your calendaring efforts. If you can’t do the dishes when the kids are running around downstairs unattended, maybe cleaning the kitchen is the pressing task to perform during their nap time rather than using that chunk of the day to fold laundry if the kids’ play room is visible from the washer and dryer. Similarly, if you have to run two errands but there’s a time issue because one store closes earlier than another, prioritize so that you get to each store when you need to. Look at the big picture and schedule your to-do list accordingly.
Create an organizational system that works for you. Maybe entering everything into a digital calendar app suits your lifestyle or perhaps posting a giant calendar on the fridge is what will keep you and your family on track. Try out a few different approaches until you find a plan that empowers you to do your best.
5. Don’t make excuses
Obviously, sometimes there are valid reasons to veer from your planned-out schedule. A family emergency that requires a trip to the Emergency Room isn’t going to be put off because you said you’d vacuum the carpets at three in the afternoon on Thursday. But, when you’re looking for wiggle room to get out of working like you had planned, don’t give in to the temptation and needlessly allow yourself to deviate from the workload that you know you are capable of. Good luck!