It's natural to put off the work we least want to do. But procrastination can become a problem -- when it leads to rushing through or not completing the put-off tasks.
It's possible, though, to manage your way out of being a procrastinator. Doing so requires admitting that you have those tendencies and being willing to hold yourself accountable. That's not easy for most people, but accepting that you have a problem is the first step toward fixing it.
Not every solution works for every person, and for most people, a mix of these ideas will work best. No matter what you do, it's important to break the cycle and take action.
1. Do the worst first
In high school and college, I made an art of procrastination. I regularly threw papers together the morning they were due and did my studying on the way to class.
As you might imagine, that didn't always produce great results. It led to shoddy work, angry teachers, and an undue amount of stress.
Adult me approaches work differently. Each day, after I clear up any timely things on my to-do list, I tackle whatever I want to do least first. I simply don't allow myself to put off smaller, less-pleasant projects. I get them done before letting myself move on to work I'm happy to do.
2. Break off small chunks
Not every project can be completed in one day. When I'm facing a time-consuming item on my to-do list, I divide the bigger task into smaller chunks and make sure to complete one or more each day, finishing at least a few days before the deadline.
In many cases, it would be easier to simply take all your medicine at once, but often other work demands don't make that possible. Sometimes it's more productive to put off this type of longer-range job, but it's important that you maintain steady progress.
3. Make a schedule
In the summer, I have more demands on my time. My 14-year-old isn't in school and wants to be entertained. I'm fortunate to work from home with a schedule of my choosing, but balancing work and family becomes a bigger challenge.
During times like this, I become very regimented about not just work, but everything I need to do. If, for example, I'm taking my son to a theme park on Thursday and Friday, I schedule work hours for the weekend and give myself specific quotas.
Sometimes, I schedule tasks for off days knowing that I'd have to get up early or stay up late. After a day of adventures, work is the last thing I want to do. Despite that, I'd make myself do what I had scheduled because that's the agreement I made with myself.
It's about discipline
Sometimes people who procrastinate in some areas are very productive in others. That's still a problem. In reality, however, it doesn't matter why you put off work, as long as you take the steps to fix the problem.
All of the solutions above require discipline. There's no way around it: You stop being a procrastinator by being proactive. The good news: It's not as hard as it seems, and it can relieve stress as the work you want to do least gets done sooner, freeing you up to tackle more-pleasant tasks ahead.