Time management: Five tips on how to stop procrastinating

13 June 2017

David Arnott, Principal Teaching Fellow in Marketing & E-Business, gives his five top tips on how to stop procastinating and get on with your work.

For some people procrastinating is an engrained part of their personality and so is harder to change, but the causes of can range from stress, anxiety, or depression to fear of failure, poor time management, feeling overwhelmed, perfectionism and an inability or unwillingness to tolerate short-term discomfort for long-term gain.

Ultimately, it comes down to effective and efficient management of time and gaining control, the setting of and adhering to priorities based on urgency and importance of the various tasks to be accomplished. 

Most strategies start with recognising and accepting that you are procrastinating and then trying to work out why and when you are most likely to procrastinate. 

This may be uncomfortable, but honesty with oneself and admitting you have a problem is essential. Here are five strategies to end the procrastination.

1 Take time out to plan

To do lists are a start, but then categorise or prioritise which ones are important. Also, schedule specific time to each task and stick to it, so it is important to set realistic goals that are time-bound.

Recognising and understanding what is important - especially in a professional working environment - is a critical factor. Tasks important to your boss or to the business or for achieving your goals should be the priority. 

So highest priority should be important and urgent, then important but not urgent, then urgent but not important and the last option - not important and not urgent - can often be ignored unless it rises up the ladder.

2 Break it down

For each major task create an action plan and break it down into smaller tasks. Start with some of the quicker tasks as this makes you feel you are progressing, but not to the exclusion of the bigger bits.

Tasks perceived to be unpleasant are rarely turn out to be as unpleasant as first though, so just get on with it Getting started is one of the biggest problems for procrastinators so the only answer is: jump in and get started. Once over the shock, the task usually starts to progress. 

3 Surveillance and negative thoughts

A good trick to get yourself motivated is to identify the negative consequences of not doing the task. Then you need to be aware of any distractions, however fascinating or tempting, and put them out of reach or switched off.

Another way to stay motivated is to ask people to check on your progress and even arrange meetings with significant people, ie those you would not wish to disappoint like your boss after each deadline has been reached.

4 Give yourself a pat on the back

Once the task has been broken down into small bite-sized pieces and you have given yourself a reasonable time limit then once it has been completed reward yourself for achieving your goals. 

Set-up a timed task and self-reward structure (a break, a walk, a coffee with a friend) and plan in some personal time. Procrastinators often find that tasks intrude into personal time and then they become frustrated, stressed or even depressed, which simply exacerbates the problem of feeling overwhelmed.

5 Just say no

Related to time management and in a working context, learn to say no, or if you cannot say no, negotiate about the priorities of the output.

David Arnott teaches Marketing through Social Media on the suite of MSc Business courses, Marketing on the Full-time MBA and Markets, Marketing and Strategy on the Undergraduate programme.