You know what you need to do. But you haven’t done it yet. So you promise yourself you’ll get around to it tomorrow. You know what they say about tomorrow though…tomorrow never comes.
So that thing, that thing that you really need to do – it doesn’t get done. Yep, procrastination strikes again.
What is procrastination?
Procrastination is nothing more than putting things off.
It’s delaying, avoiding or ignoring something that you think is unpleasant.
You might be putting it off because you think it’s difficult, stressful, challenging, or maybe you think it’s just plain boring.
Basically, it’s avoiding something now, on the pretence that you are going to do it later.
Tim Urban explains procrastination wonderfully in his entertaining and insightful TED talk.
The most common way you avoid something unpleasant is by doing something else. It’s usually something you think is more enjoyable.
You replace what you need to do, with something you want to do. So you still feel like you are doing ‘something’ it’s just that the ‘something’ is not the thing you really need to be doing.
You might trick yourself into believing that the task you are doing now, is not actually procrastinating because it’s something that actually needs to get done!
Like cleaning. You might convince yourself that you shouldn’t sit down and do your taxes because it’s really important that you clean your oven – right now. And the linen closet really needs sorting too!
That’s not just ordinary procrastinating – it’s procrasti-cleaning!
I know I’ve been guilty of it many times. It’s easy to fall into the procrasti-cleaning trap because it’s so easy to justify.
So, how can you overcome procrastination? How can you move from avoiding to accomplishing?
It all comes down to getting started.
The first step is always the hardest. And it can be painful to do the hard thing. That’s why you put it off.
The irony is you procrastinate because you want to avoid unpleasant feelings, but the more you procrastinate the worse you feel.
Avoiding something doesn’t stop the unpleasant feelings – it just creates more unpleasant feelings. Feelings like guilt, frustration, panic, disappointment and regret.
7 Strategies to help you stop procrastinating and get started
1. Focus on your future-self.
It’s often easier to think about ourselves in the present moment – our present-self, and what our present-self wants to do, rather than our future-self.
It’s easy to lack the motivation to get started if you can’t see the consequences of procrastination in your immediate future. The further away you are from something, the easier it is to postpone the tasks you need to do to get there.
So when you find yourself putting off something yet again, think about your future-self. Think about how pleased your future-self will be once you’ve completed the task. Or how relieved they will be to have finally put it behind you!
2. Write down what you need to do & allocate time to do it
Seeing what you need to do in black and white makes it harder to ignore.
When you know that between the hours of 10 and 11 am you are going to work on your task it’s harder to argue with yourself about whether now is the right time to get started, or whether you should wait till you ‘feel like it’.
Trust me, you will never ‘feel like it’.
Tip: Allocate time to do it when your energy is highest
We all have times of the day when our energy levels are highest. For many people it’s the first thing in the morning, for others it’s in the evening. If you’re an early bird, schedule time to do the task early in the day. If you schedule it for when your energy is at it’s lowest you’ll be much more likely to try and convince yourself that it can wait another day.
While you’re at it, schedule time for a reward for when you’ve completed the task!
3. Give yourself a deadline
While there’s no limit to the things we can procrastinate about, the consequences of procrastination are worse for things that don’t have a deadline.
As Tim Urban explains above in his TED talk, the panic monster only appears and spurs you into action when there is a deadline, and when that deadline is drawing near. When there is no deadline there is no sense of urgency. And without a sense of urgency, you’ll keep procrastinating indefinitely. You’ll feel as though you’ll never fulfil your goals or reach your dreams.
If you need accountability, tell someone else your deadline and ask them to hold you to it.
4. Break it down into manageable chunks
Often the reason we delay starting something is that it seems so large and overwhelming. If it seems like a big mountain to climb, break it down into smaller tasks and just concentrate on starting the first one.
Once you take action, with that small step it will be easier to use the momentum to continue.
Every step, no matter how small, is a step forward.
5. Use a timer
Challenge yourself to work exclusively on your task, for a set amount of time. Even if it’s just for 10 or 15 minutes. You can do anything for 10 minutes, right? Treat it as a game and see how much you can get done.
The Pomodoro technique is a very popular and extremely effective time management technique where you use a timer to work on a task in 25 minutes chunks with 5 minute breaks in-between. Not only will it help you beat procrastination, but it’ll also help you stay focused and be more productive as well!
6. Minimize distractions
Distractions make it so easy to procrastinate. There always something else more interesting, or seemingly more urgent, vying for your attention.
If technology is your biggest distraction keep your phone out of arms reach. Put it in a drawer, or in another room.
Do you have a ton of tabs open on your computer? Close them all down, except the one you are working on.
If you find yourself distracted by chores or other things that you can see need doing, move yourself to another location. Go to another room or another part of the house.
Or get out of the house completely. Try working in a library or a coffee shop.
7. Ditch perfectionism
Perfectionism can stop you from doing many things, including getting started.
Do you put off starting because you feel you are not quite ready? Perhaps you convince yourself that you just need to do a little more planning, or a bit more research? Do you feel like there’s no point getting started if you can’t do it properly?
That’s perfectionism raising its ugly head. If perfectionism is holding you back, here are some strategies on how you can ditch perfectionism
Yes, planning is important, but if you want to actually get it done you need to take action. You need to stop planning and start doing.
Don’t wait for the perfect time to start. There will never be a perfect time. Get started now.