Maybe you tell yourself you perform better under pressure. Or that the work you do when you're not feeling in the mood to work isn't very good. Or you think that you can't do anything well unless you're feeling at the top of your form.
Uh-oh, you've got the earmarks of a procrastinator. Of course, you've got lots of company. Twenty percent of people identify themselves as chronic procrastinators. These are people who don't pay their bills on time, who miss opportunities for buying tickets to concerts, who leave Christmas shopping until Christmas Eve. Let's not even talk about income taxes!
Procrastination in large part reflects our perennial struggle with self-control as well as our inability to accurately predict how we'll feel tomorrow, or the next day.
Procrastinators may say they perform better under pressure, but more often than not that's their way of justifying putting things off. The bright side? It's possible to overcome procrastination—with effort.
Mark Twain once said that if you eat a live frog first thing in the morning, you know that the rest of your day will be better because the worst is behind you. After all, you’ve already eaten a live frog, what’s the worst that could happen?
You can apply this same theory to productivity and business. But of course instead of “eat a frog,” we mean “complete your worst task. By "worst" we mean "most important," and by "most important" we mean the task you're most likely to procrastinate on. The deadline you're dreading, the slides for the presentation you're terrified of giving, the research you're sure will turn up information you don't want to know. Do it, before you do anything else, before you have time to think about it too much.
This can be an assignment you’re dreading, a major project with a tight deadline, or a high-priority task that’s giving you anxiety. Whatever it is, do that one thing right away.
“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” – Mark Twain
It’s hard to focus on other tasks when there’s something else in the back of your mind that’s stressing you out. Getting your most dreaded assignments out of the way first thing gives you a sense of relief, and the rest of your day will be more productive as a result.
Disciplining yourself to start with the big stuff not only helps you focus on other tasks, but it’s also better for personal productivity. Research suggests that we have more willpower in the morning . As the day passes, you get more tired and exert less self-control. Willpower is a finite resource, so mornings are the optimal time to tackle big assignments.
Don’t trust yourself to swallow your frog? Here’s how to prepare your mornings for maximum productivity:Identify the task you’re looking forward to the least. Write it down the day before and gather all the materials you need so you can jump right in the next morning. It’ll help you mentally prepare for the day ahead. Tell yourself that it’s just one task and then your day will be infinitely better. Make it your mantra – do this one thing and you’ll be invincible.
And if you have more than one task you’re not looking forward to? Take the frog metaphor a step further. As Brian Tracy says, “If you have to eat two frogs, eat the ugliest one first.” In other words, if you have multiple projects, start with the biggest, most complicated ones first and work your way down. As your self-control dwindles, you’ll have already tackled your biggest assignments.
Swallowing your frog, or finishing your most dreaded or important assignments first, will give you a productive boost you need to get it done. And not worrying about it makes the rest of your day more productive, too.
Getting things done is a habit, and if you start every day by accomplishing something important, you'll get more done than 90% of the people in the office.
Other helpful tips and strategies for overcoming procrastination include:
1. Make a list of everything you have to do.
2. Write a statement of intention.
3. Set realistic goals.
4. Break it down into specific tasks.
5. Make your task meaningful.
6. Promise yourself a reward.
7. Eliminate tasks you never plan to do. Be honest!
8. Estimate the amount of time you think it will take you to complete a task. Then increase the amount by 100%.
Procrastinators also actively look for distractions, especially ones that don't take heavy-duty commitment on their part. Checking e-mail is just about tailor-made for this purpose. The dirty little secret is that procrastinators distract themselves as a way of regulating their own emotions, such as fear of failure.