That thick file has been on your desk for a week. Unopened. Ignored. A constant reminder of the work ahead.

Procrastination is just a waste of time. Unfortunately, many of us are easily distracted, tackling the smaller tasks that deliver success – tasks we can cross off the to-do list, and tasks that make us feel good about ourselves right away.

However, instant gratification isn’t going to motivate you to open that thick file collecting dust. It’s days ­– or weeks – of work, and the successful completion of the assignment is somewhere off in the distant future. No instant gratification here. Just days of grueling work on a fat file that just won’t go away.

Why We Can’t Get Traction on the Tough Jobs

We all like to feel productive – like we’re getting work accomplished. So, we often turn our attention to the small stuff. There’s an email in your inbox, so you respond. You get the instant gratification of a job well done. Unfortunately, you aren’t focusing on tasks that are more important.

That email reply could’ve waited while you tackled that work, but it’s easier and more fun to cross off five small tasks than to slog your way through the long-term project that time forgot.

Why do we procrastinate? We’re all different, but we also have similar drives and motivations that can keep us stuck in neutral while those big jobs pile up.

We procrastinate – put off the tough jobs – for a variety of reasons:

  • The satisfaction and gratification of a completed job is way in the future
  • We lack organization
  • We believe we work better under pressure
  • We’re afraid of failing to successfully complete the difficult assignment
  • Too many distractions
  • Depression and the accompanying fatigue

Or, maybe you experience a combination of these factors. However, it’s more important to be productive than it is to be busy, so here are some suggestions to gain some traction on that thick file over there.

1. Create a list of work tasks and prioritize them. Which job is most critical, and which can wait? Don’t even think about instant gratification. Think about how good you’ll feel when that gigantic job is finally off your desk.

2. Break big jobs into bite-sized pieces. Take that monster job and break it down into smaller segments and objectives. You’ll feel that much-needed gratification as you reach each rung of the ladder until the job is, indeed, finished.

3. Log off and hang out the “DO NOT DISTURB” sign. There are distractions everywhere, and a distraction sometimes becomes a reason to lose focus on the real work at hand. Log off. Forget your email for a few hours and stop logging in to social media to see what friends had for lunch.

4. Work someplace else. A change in your work space may be just the motivation you need to finally dig in. Work at home where you can start early, concentrate on your work, and get more done without the routine interruptions experienced in the workplace.

5. Regularly evaluate your work habits. Take a look at your schedule and that evolving to-do list. Which jobs do you keep putting off and which jobs get top priority? Ask for help on the jobs you keep putting off. Working with a helpful co-worker can get the job done faster, boosting your productivity.

6. Be accountable to someone else. Find a colleague you respect, tell them about the project, and commit to getting it done by a set date. You’ll look bad if you don't come through, which will give you an incentive to keep on task.

7. Pat yourself on the back. That project was work that you were expected to do, so you may not get a lot of feel-good compliments from managers or higher-ups. No problem. Pat yourself on the back. Reward yourself for ignoring distractions, putting that instant gratification on hold, organizing your approach to that big job, and facing the fear of uncertainty. You know what you did and just how hard it was to do it.

Procrastination is just a waste of time. Now’s your chance to tackle that big assignment you’ve been putting off.