Do You Procrastinate? First, Blame your Parents. Second, Take these Five Steps.

I’ve always felt that procrastination is in my blood, running through my veins with the pot of coffee I drank earlier. In fact, I’m presently writing an article that I intended to finish yesterday while sitting on a couch that I meant to clean two days ago and running a load of laundry full of three-weeks-old clothes. I’m an avid delayer; if I could somehow procrastinate later, I would.

I have always been like this; I even entered the world three weeks behind my scheduled arrival. In high school, I perfected the art of the hastily-written paper, starting and finishing assignments the night before (and still pulling off As). In college, I was known for stuffing a semester of work into one espresso-filled eight-hour session and making due. For my marketing class, I came up with the idea of caffeinated pork in a tin square can; I called it “Cram”. The teacher asked to keep it as a sample for future students.  

Procrastination has always been my jam. And, now, it turns out that I can blame my parents for dancing to this tune.

Delaying is in the DNA

Procrastination is believed to be moderately inherited, meaning a genetic predisposition for delaying passes down from generation to generation at least to some degree. Scientists believe that this is a result of our ancestor’s tendency to hole up in caves, fearing predators and biding time until the wolves and saber-toothed tigers went on their way. They believed their weapons weren’t good enough, so they stayed inside, sharpening their spears over and over. And – wa-la – the art of procrastination was born.  

It’s tempting to use the above in our careers, telling our bosses that we didn’t finish that proposal or respond to their email because we were honing our spears into finer, more piercing points. But learning how to avoid procrastination might be the better option for the ol’ checkbook.

Five Ways to Put a Pin in Procrastination

So, how do we sidestep this? How do we stop procrastinating when “later gator” has always been our motto? A few of the tricks to try include:

Distract yourself from distraction: Facebook, Netflix, the next-door neighbor performing an interpretive dance on his front lawn – distractions are all around us. And they’re one of the biggest reasons we delay. Shutting them out is often key to getting things done.  

Make a checklist: Getting organized helps with procrastination by listing out, front and center, what you need to finish. While it sounds silly, checking things off your list does come with a sense of satisfaction. Choose whatever color marker you want to cross off your items – hot pink, red, black; just think of all the power you’ll have! 

Start early: The law of inertia tells us that objects in motion stay in motion (so, up and “atom”!). There’s no need to jump out of bed at five a.m. and go for a four-mile run (and don’t wake us if you do), but getting an early start on the day is one of the most effective ways to stay in perpetual movement, getting tons done in the process.

Set a deadline: Even if you don’t have a true deadline (i.e., your work is due sometime between “whenever” and “take your time”), set a deadline anyway. Set one for yourself and plan not to take a break until you finish whatever you intended to get done. Then, and only then, watch an episode of Road Rules. You’ve earned it!

Maintain achievable goals: When goals are out of reach, we don’t want to stretch for them and we justify the lack of effort. Small, achievable goals, on the other hand, are easy to accomplish and that makes them motivating. It makes them addicting too; like potato chips, we’ll rarely stop at just one.