There is nothing more annoying than procrastination, especially when there are things that you know you should be doing. But for me the word ‘should’ tells me a great deal about my own procrastination.
Whenever I think I ‘should’ be doing something, that’s when I stop and decide whether the task or project I’m putting off is something that I know definitely needs to be completed or whether it is something that I ‘think’ needs doing but without a clear goal or reason for doing so. Understanding this helps me to evaluate why I am doing a task and whether it is truly important.
I’ll show you what I mean. Make a list of a few things that you just couldn’t get done in the last 6 months because of procrastination. Now look at that list and see whether they were things that you really had to do, or whether they were things that you ‘thought’ you should do, but without having a clear goal or outcome in mind. I’ll bet they were either things that went away because they weren’t really important or they were things that you just weren’t clear about and that prevented you from getting started.
Most times, if you actually begin and complete one task (no matter how small) that usually gets you to a point very quickly where you either see clearly what needs to be done and begin your journey, or you decide that the task doesn’t actually need doing at all, or you can see that perhaps an alternative approach would be better.
Here are seven tips to help you stop procrastinating:
The task just feels too big and you don’t know where to start. Overwhelm is one of the biggest ways of stopping you in your tracks, and usually that feeling of overwhelm is your thinking, rather than fact. Your thoughts tell you that the goal is just too big and you’ll never manage it, but that’s only because you can’t see how to get going.
Think about what it is that you want to achieve and then break that down into small, clear tasks. Keep breaking the tasks down until they are single line items and then get started. Smaller tasks are much easier to accomplish because they should be clear and unambiguous. Once you get started the feelings of anxiety, or not being good enough will disappear as you start ticking items off.
Priorities and dependencies. All too often we write a to do list and then pick off the low hanging fruit – the things that are quick and easy to do, but often give you the least value. Look at what you need to accomplish: do things need to run in a particular order (e.g. do certain tasks have dependencies?)
Have you ever heard of eating the ugliest frog? This relates to looking at your to do list and always starting with the hardest thing first. The idea is that once you have completed the hardest thing, everything else is easier by comparison and often quicker and more pleasurable to undertake. Furthermore, the feeling of accomplishment that you get from rising to the challenge is a powerful motivator.
Are you the person who thinks “I’ll definitely do that tomorrow”, plans accordingly, but then never gets started? Then try this: Take a few minutes to list out everything ‘you were going to do tomorrow’ on a blank sheet of paper. Look at your list, pick one thing, and start it right now. Instead of using your energy to continually put things off, direct it instead to now – this moment. Taking that first step is extremely powerful. If you really can’t get started now, then pick a time today to begin your tasks and stick to it. Set aside a specific time period, e.g. 30 minutes, to work on whatever it is that you would otherwise leave until later/tomorrow.
Stop striving for perfection. Some things in life do absolutely need to be perfect with life depending on it, but let’s be honest, how often is that the case for us? It is so easy to put things off because you think something needs to be perfect but then you don’t believe you have the skills/time/money/resources to make it so. What I have found to be true, and for so many of the people I work with, is that perfection is subjective and many times you can get away with producing something good enough. I’m not saying produce poor quality work, but is your version of perfection worth the extra effort? Consider what you accept from others: Is every interaction/item/service perfect or is it acceptable, and are you okay with that?
Habit is the key. Did you know that if you can do something consistently for 66 days it becomes a habit? Taking action, no matter how small, will propel you forward. And if you can do a little something every day, it will start to become habitual and then become easier and easier to do.
Play around with ways of working – what time of day do you have the most focus and energy? Are there specific hours or days that you can dedicate to the task in hand? Where is the best place for you to work undisturbed? Who do you need to support you? When are they available? What might get in the way? Use these questions to decide how you will be most productive and what you need to get going. Be realistic about how much time you can spare. Create a regular schedule and STICK TO IT. Prioritise this time. It doesn’t matter if you have unproductive days, but if you are consistent you will absolutely see progress and can watch the excuses slip away.
Be really clear on your goals and what you are looking to achieve. I know you know this, but just about everyone I know creates non-specific, vague goals (and I can also be guilty of this). In our heads we have an idea of where we are going and what it will look like, but when questioned, find we are unable to drill down into the detail and what we will get from doing it. This is so important. If we can honestly say that we know exactly what we want and we know what’s in it for us, then we usually always have the drive to make it happen one way or another.
When I coach clients, once they have got specific about the goal, they can decide to either do it or ditch it. If you can clearly visualise the end result you will instantly know whether it feels right and you want to do it, or whether you want to take a different approach, or to abandon it altogether! Ultimately, the obstacles start to fall away.
Communication. So often our reasons for delaying taking action are imaginary. We worry what people will think, or believe that we can’t do it, or dread having that sales conversation, or letting people know when they haven’t delivered to a good standard. Lack of communication can turn molehills into mountains. Talk to people! Decide to take the bull by the horns and go to see the person you need to speak to, and do it non-confrontationally. Speak face to face if you can. Hiding behind emails and texts won’t build rapport, and if you can’t speak to someone face to face then try calling. Take the emotion out of all communication and stick to the facts. It really makes a difference and will save you lots of negative energy in the process.