Nearly everyone has faced an unpleasant work task and pushed it off to a later date. That's fine if you have the discipline to pick it up well before it's due and get it done.
In many cases, though, workers simply keep putting off the unpleasant task. You might make excuses, or simply do other work instead. But whatever the reason, you procrastinate -- and that can get you in trouble.
Unless you have tremendous personal discipline, it's important to have a strategy to help you defeat procrastination. It's not hard; you just need a plan to hold yourself accountable before you come up on deadlines.
1. Schedule tasks before they're actually due, and hold yourself to the deadline
Jason Hall: This is something I've personally struggled with, and what's made the difference for me is very simple: Schedule a set time to accomplish a task before it's really due, and don't let any excuse keep me from doing it. This has proven especially handy for things that don't have a set due date already, and when I have a multitude of things all due at the same time (such as end-of-month dates for articles).
It may sound silly and arbitrary to just create random times and dates to accomplish things, but for me, that's been enough to get far more things done ahead of time. And it has also made a huge difference when the "real" deadlines come, since I don't find myself inundated with a dozen things to do today that I can't reasonably accomplish in less than two days.
Don't get me wrong: I still find myself burning the midnight oil on occasion. But simply scheduling an earlier deadline than a task may actually have -- and then refusing to talk myself out of putting it off -- has made a big difference. By making this a habit, I now find that I don't even think about the real due date for a task. The date I've scheduled to do it is when it must get done.
2. Reward yourself for small milestones
Maurie Backman: A major reason many of us procrastinate is that we know we have a long haul ahead of us. Maybe your boss has tasked you with a lengthy presentation, and you know you'll need to spend hours putting together slides for it. The idea of doing that might seem daunting, and so rather than dive in, you're inclined to put it off as long as possible.
That's why I find it helpful to set small, attainable goals when dealing with larger projects, and reward myself for meeting them. This way, I'm less likely to procrastinate.
Say I'm looking at a five-part article on a topic I'm not that interested in. I'll tell myself I get to take a break after each section is done, which means I'll be more apt to start hammering out that first section, knowing there's a light at the end of that portion of the tunnel.
If you're faced with a task you don't want to do, give yourself an incentive for getting parts of it done so that you're not waiting until the end of the task to reap a reward. At the same time, make your ultimate end-of-task reward a big one, because by then, you'll have earned it.
3. Just do it first
Daniel B. Kline: I was a terrible student, at least partly because of my willingness to procrastinate. I put off homework and studying until the last minute, and did a sorry job of it (if I did the work at all) as deadlines came and went.
Working at my college newspaper, however, showed me that some deadlines matter. If we turned in the paper late, it published late, and readers and advertisers were mad. The same rules applied during much of my career working for magazines, newspapers, and websites.
Understanding deadlines did not make me any less of a procrastinator. It's still my natural inclination, but I fight it by simply not allowing it to happen.
When I have a task I don't want to complete -- maybe a story that takes more research than usual -- I complete it at the first available opportunity. I aggressively fight my instincts by making not procrastinating a rule that moves unpleasant work to the top of my pile.