Why procrastinating feels so good (in the moment)
Break down to-dos
The biggest issue that leads to procrastination is that the task is too big, says Parikh. “Even when people think they’ve broken down a project into tasks, often the tasks are still too big, especially for those who are prone to procrastinating. For example, if you want to organize the garage, that’s your project. Often, people break that into three steps: Declutter, organize, donate the extras. But those are still huge tasks. A better first step, instead of just decluttering, might be getting the empty boxes and bags ready to collect junk and donations, or organizing one drawer or box. For people prone to procrastination, tasks have to be doable and easy. You may do more than one task at a time, but keep each action small.”
Balance your to-do list and your calendar
Most people are calendar people or to-do list people, but Parikh says the key to beating procrastination is to have a balance between the two. Your calendar should have your deadlines and appointments, while your to-do list is alongside it to keep you moving on longer-term projects. “The combination is where the magic happens,” she says. “This is how you can really get a clear expectation of how much you can get done: You can see on your calendar what you have today and how long it will take, and then you can move things off of your to-do list into the empty spaces on the calendar. For most people, there's a big gap between what we believe we can get done and what we can actually get done. A calendar helps you get a better handle on how you’re spending your time.”
Check your lingering to-do list
Part of the reason we procrastinate, Parikh says, is because we have a to-do list that simply never ends, so it’s hard to get motivated to start. To help make your list feel actually manageable for a change, Parikh suggests looking at your lengthy to-do list and getting rid of lingering tasks. Lingering tasks are the ones that seem to never get crossed off: Things like organizing your family photos into albums, learning another language, writing that novel… For tasks that you never get around to, she suggests being really honest with yourself by getting rid of the ones you know aren’t going to happen because they aren’t important and be realistic about the ones that are lingering but must be done (like your taxes), put them on the calendar for the date you actually intend to tackle them.— that will get that task off of your current to-do list.
Trim your daily tasks
Why do we procrastinate even more when we have more to do? It seems counterintuitive, since you’d think the busy days would be the ones when we get to work and hustle. But those long lists can overwhelm us, leading us to not getting enough done because we don’t know how to start. “A long list that you can’t realistically get through in the day really can impact your identity and who you think are,” says Parikh. “It's a constant reminder that you're not getting something done. So then it’s easier to get even less done.”
Avoid project paralysis
Big projects like doing your taxes or figuring out your household finances aren’t just tough because of the time that they may take, but they’re also projects that we tend to catastrophize and that anxiety causes us to avoid them at all costs. “All the stories and all the drama that we make up in our head before we've even taken one action can paralyze us,” says Parikh. “Before we even get started, we're stuck in our tracks. But in almost every case, the drama we’ve created around the task is overblown. The longer we procrastinate, the more dreadful and more terrible we make this task seem. But if you can take that first tiny action step, you can usually see that it’s not nearly as bad as you thought.”
There are ‘positive’ ways to procrastinate
“I was really neat when I was younger. And then I learned to be more organized. But I eventually realized that being neat or organized really wasn’t the same as being productive,” says Parikh. In fact, we often have these ‘positive’ ways of procrastinating from the hard stuff that feel like we’re accomplishing a lot, but leave us feeling behind. “My kitchen is never cleaner than when I need to work on a big project,” jokes Parikh. While a spotless kitchen is great, getting your work report turned in on time is probably more important.
Make positive procrastinating work for you
If you truly need a break from what you’re working on and you’re not under an intense deadline, then having a list of ‘positive’ tasks to procrastinate with can be helpful, says Parikh. This might be doing a load of laundry, cleaning the bathroom, clearing your inbox — mundane tasks that will give your brain a break while still making progress on tasks that have to get done. But consider setting an alarm to remind yourself that you need to get back to the task at hand after 15–30 minutes, especially if you know you tend to go down a rabbit hole of mundane work or household tasks.
Waiting for a procrastinator? Help them flip the switch
You may be reading this and wondering how to get your boss or your partner to stop procrastinating so that you can get a project finished. Often, our own procrastination isn’t the only problem, we’re stuck waiting for other people to get moving, too. “In general, when you're trying to persuade someone to do anything, it's really helpful to frame your request in terms of what the benefit is for them." So if you’re asking your partner to help organize the garage, you could mention that you want to make space for her home gym setup — usually, that’s enough to spark some movement.