Of all the goals on the top ten list, this is the one that I struggle with the most. If procrastinating could be a job, I’d be a professional at it. More then once I’ve found myself up at 2 in the morning working on some project that I could have done days or weeks ago instead of the last minute. I found it so much easier to put off later whatever I could do now.

But college started to change my procrastinating ways. During the last year, I was taking courses in my majors (telecommunications and English) and working on complex projects. I was doing a lot of video editing work and special effects which is very time-intensive. Even when I wasn’t actively working on a computer, the computer needed time to process and render out the final result. Plus, I was working on 20+ page papers for my English degree at the same time. Waiting until the last minute to do these projects was simply not an option. So I developed some techniques along the way that helped me avoid problems.

1. Break up a task into smaller pieces. By breaking a task down into smaller, more manageable bits, it makes it easier to see how to tackle a task. For example, here in the US it’s tax time. Taxes have to be filed with the government on April 15th. In order to file my taxes, I need to have documents from my employer and my bank, have a way to file them like through a tax program, and then use the program to file the taxes.

So by breaking this task down into smaller bits, it helps me to figure out what I need to do and when I need to do it. Instead of trying to do all my taxes in one day; I gathered up the forms needed one day; picked out a program the next day; and did the rest when I had a free afternoon. It made the process much easier and stress-free for me.

2. Set your own deadlines. Many times with big projects I’ve had just one deadline of when that project has to be finished. In many cases that deadline is weeks or months away and the project is too large to wait until the last minute. So after following step one of breaking down a task into smaller pieces, I then set a deadline that I need to finish each piece by. That way I have a timeline for the project and a way to gauge my progress and make sure I’m not falling behind on it.

3. Understand why you want to procrastinate. Sometimes my need for procrastination has nothing to do with organization, timelines or deadlines. I simply just don’t want to do it. This is usually because of either having to do something unpleasant to me or because I have to stop doing something I enjoy to take on the project. For example, I generally don’t like making phone calls to people that I don’t know. I’m afraid of misunderstanding the person on the other end or not being able to accomplish what I need to do in one phone call. But since I know I have this fear, procrasinating isn’t going to make it go away. Instead, I rehearse phone conversations in my head which makes it easier to make the call. And 90% of the time, the call goes well and it’s nowhere near as bad as I imagined it would be.

In other tasks, such as cleaning my apartment, I have to stop doing something I enjoy in order to do it. That’s where the next step comes in.

4. Reward yourself. By giving myself something fun at the end of a task, I’m much more motivated to not put it off. I like playing video games. So I won’t play any games until I finish a task like cleaning my apartment. That way, I can play the games guilt-free and I don’t have any tasks nagging at me.

5. Set up accountability. If all else fails, asking someone to hold me accountable to a task works nearly every time. I don’t like letting other people down, so just knowing if someone will ask me if I’ve made that phone call makes all the difference to me.

What do you do to avoid procrastinating?

This post is part of the Top Ten Life Goals series. Previous posts include the list of the top ten goals and  Goal #1- Losing Weight.