This article originally appeared on Forbes.
Like many modern professionals, I have a habit of putting things off: emails I don’t want to send, calls I don’t want to make, conversations I don’t want to have, a floor I don’t want to sweep, etc. More often than not I pull myself together and do them, usually in an effort to avoid the one thing I really do not want to do, the thing I have anxiety about when I wake-up, while I get ready, and while I complete every other item on my to-do list in order to avoid it.
I’m sure the thing you’re avoiding came to mind as you read the last paragraph, and if you’re not careful this habit can snowball into extreme procrastination. There are plenty of articles that explain the psychology of procrastination, but what exactly should we do about this is the bigger question. Here are a few ways you can stop putting off that thing you need to do and get it done today:
Just Get Started
Author and entrepreneur James Clear developed a technique called “the 2-minute method,” which helps develop a new habit. In his book Atomic Habits, Clear breaks down the method: for any new habit you are trying to adopt, do it for two minutes. As a result, the larger goal you want to accomplish becomes a very simple task. He writes, “’30 minutes of yoga’ becomes ‘take out your yoga mat,’ ‘study for class’ becomes ‘open my notes,’ ‘fold the laundry’ becomes ‘fold a pair of socks,’ ‘run three miles’ becomes ‘tie my running shoes.’” He calls them “gateway habits.”
Stop Demanding Perfection
Voltaire, the French writer and philosopher wrote, “The best is the enemy of the good.” Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg wrote in her book Lean In: Women, Work And The Will To Lead that, “Done is better than perfect.” They both make the same point: perfection prohibits completion; so don’t get caught up in perfection just keep working until you’re finished.
Have Self-Compassion—No It’s Not Self-Indulgent
Research suggests that giving ourselves a break and accepting our flaws not only is the first step to better health, but also to more discipline and therefore productivity. It contradicts what many doctors and self-help books argue that resolve and self-discipline are the keys to success in any field. In an interview with the New York Times, Kristin Neff, an associate professor of human development at the University of Texas at Austin, a pioneering researcher of self-compassion said, “I found in my research that the biggest reason people aren’t more self-compassionate is that they are afraid they’ll become self-indulgent,” said Dr. Neff. “They believe self-criticism is what keeps them in line. Most people have gotten it wrong because our culture says being hard on yourself is the way to be.”
Manage Your Excuses
If you find yourself getting distracted by less important tasks, social media, whatever distracts you from doing that difficult and uncomfortable thing you need to do, start managing it. If you go on social media or shopping online when you should be working, use software such as Freedom or SelfControl to block those websites. If you look at your phone, turn it off and put it away. If you keep prioritizing less important things then delegate them to co-workers, or if they’re personal then a partner or a friend, or pay to have something delivered, etc. Once you get into the habit of focusing on the most urgent prioritizes and completing them, you can take ownership of the lesser priorities again, and complete them later on in the day.
Do not let yourself: check social media, check your text messages, play that game on your phone, shop online, binge that tv show, do that one thing you’d really like to do but do not have to do until you have completed the necessary tasks. Do not let yourself become distracted, incentivize yourself to focus until you have completed your priorities.
Frances Bridges is a twentysomething freelance journalist, writer and blogger in New York City.