I can only imagine how many goals have never been reached, books never been written and lives have been half-lived because of the phenomenon that is procrastination. It happens to most of us from time to time, so if you are reading 10 Ways To Stop Procrastinating, you can congratulate yourself on taking action!
What causes us to procrastinate?
To start to address the issue, it is helpful to first look at the reasons why we procrastinate. There are a many! Feel free to add to this list: feeling overwhelmed, un-prepared, lacking in knowledge to do a task, not sure exactly what is required, perfectionism, fear of failure (or success!), but probably most of all our thoughts at the root of it, leading us to ‘not feel like it’. ‘Not feeling like it’, I am quite sure, has shattered many dreams but what can you do to turn it around?
1. Understand that you may never feel like it!
Enemy number one has to be our feelings. Have you ever wanted to do something, you know you need to do it, and the consequences of not doing it are potentially serious but you just cannot get started? We know what we should do, but time and time again we talk ourselves out of it. Did you know that your own self-talk determines how you feel?
I highly recommend The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod – this will enable you to set an intention for your day and put you in such a mental state that it will be highly likely that you will follow through on your plans. (Check out The Morning Habits of Successful People.)
However, as a procrastinator, that is probably a bit of a stretch for you (I completely understand!) and recommend that you start with some affirmations first thing in the morning along the lines of ‘I am just as worthy, deserving and capable of living the life of my dreams as anyone else on earth’ (thank you Hal Elrod!), ‘I am the sort of person who gets things done’, ‘today is going to be a great day – I am excited about making things happen’. If you are too uncomfortable to give this a go (it really works!), there are also some excellent guided meditations on YouTube to set you up for success.
Take a moment at the start of your day to close your eyes and picture yourself doing the tasks, being full of energy and excited about the progress you are making. Also, get a good picture of the end outcome when you have achieved your goals. Include sights, sounds, smells – anything that makes it real for you. This takes a bit of practice but it is something that is really enjoyable and effective so hopefully it won’t be one of the things that you put off!
3. The 5 Second Rule
This is the most wonderful philosophy from the Mel Robbins, coach, author, TV presenter and motivational speaker. I first heard Mel’s story on YouTube. She had hit rock bottom – her career, finances and family life were as bad as they could be – and she had taken to hitting the snooze button on her alarm too many times.
It was as though it was the only thing she had control of, except she desperately wanted to change – to get up and set about putting her life straight but the harder she tried, the more she hit snooze. Then one night just as she was about to switch off the TV, there was an image of a rocket launching along with the 5-4-3-2-1 countdown. She thought ‘That’s it, I’ll launch myself out of bed tomorrow…like a rocket. I’ll move so fast I won’t have time to talk myself out of it.’ And it worked! This also helps if you have got into the ‘I don’t feel like it’ groove – you take action before you realize it! In this video she explains how it works.
I have since got the book which is absolutely wonderful (note to self – do a review soon!).
4. Prioritize your actions
Often it’s when you are overwhelmed and don’t know where to start that you put things off. Go through you list of to dos and see what is going to give you the biggest win. It may be a big or small task but whatever it is, that is what to prioritize. It is so tempting to clear up some small tasks that will have no impact but don’t be tempted. Sort your list in order of what will make the most impact and make those your ‘must dos’. Just as an aside, I have discovered that a small change of language helps and instead of ‘must’, I now use ‘want to’, and have been amazed at the difference it has made.
Once you get started working on your ‘biggest winner’ it will give you momentum to keep pressing forward. (Did you know that 20% of your actions will be responsible for 80% of your results?) Robin Sharma (author and expert on all things productivity related) has yet another rule! I couldn’t bear to leave this out as it is so powerful.
Now, it will depend on the sort of projects you are working on but he says that if you devote the first 90 minutes of your day for 90 days to the 1 best opportunity in your life, you will be streets ahead of your competition. This sounds so powerful, I am going to commit here and now to doing it myself! Watch this space to find out how I get on. Check it out directly from Robin too. He also says that your focus is better in the morning and you are much less easily distracted. Speaking of which…
5. Turn off all distractions
Believe it or not, it is actually possible to switch off your phone! Do you ever just go to check you emails quickly to see if anything needs you attention but you notice a YouTube notification with a ‘how to……’ which is something you are really interested in, and before you know it 20 minutes have passed? The good news is that awareness is half the battle.
I recommend that you block off the time that you are going to work on a particular project and keep your phone switched off and any notifications turned off on your laptop (or whatever device you are working on). If you need to let people know that you are unavailable, do that too. Apparently it takes in the region of 25 minutes to refocus after being distracted so you have very little chance of getting anything done if you do not do this.
6. Know what you are doing!
it may be that you have taken on a new role or have started a new business venture and have found some gaps in your knowledge which is causing you to put off what has to be done. It is worth taking the time to get up to speed with the missing pieces so you can crack on with completing the work. Never has there been a time to be able to find anything you need to know online, or get instant access to books, or in the case of a new job, make use of your team who will be able to advise you..
7. Take Breaks
There is nothing worse for creativity and indeed for your health than sitting working on something for hours without a break. Getting away from your desk and taking a walk will get your blood flowing again and will help brain function. Small snacks are also good (a piece of fruit or some nuts) just keep off the donuts or sugary snacks which will give you a quick fix of energy followed by the desire for a nap and don’t forget to drink plenty of water.
8. Accept that you won’t get everything done
This is huge. We so often stress about the length of the list of things which have to be done when it is simply impossible to get everything done. If you have prioritized properly and advised anyone waiting for work from you of where you are with it, you will be able to focus on the important parts and not get unduly stressed.
9. Forgive yourself!
Had a bad day? Don’t think that you are all washed up because you can’t talk yourself into massive action every day. You can’t go back and fix yesterday, but you can take action right now on the main thing. Get yourself back in the groove by summing up the emotions of how you will feel when your task is complete.
10. Reward yourself
Last but not least, as you make progress through your tasks, decide in advance what you will give yourself as a reward. This could be something as small as a coffee break for maintaining your focus and finishing a small job, or taking your bike out for a spin to taking a holiday for achieving a significant milestone. Pick something that will perk you up and make you push on when you are feeling sluggish.
All of the above methods work to either get you going or keep you going, however, at the core of it all is the personal commitment you make to yourself to hold yourself to a higher standard. Getting started is without a doubt the hardest part but even the smallest amount of action creates energy which creates results and excitement and is therefore everything. I would love to hear how you have overcome procrastination in the past and what the results were – or indeed how you didn’t overcome it and you missed opportunities.