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Do you procrastinate? Do you get frustrated by your inability to just get things done? Have you ever sat down and worked out how much you’d earn if you didn’t procrastinate?!
If the answer to any of those questions is yes, you’re very definitely not alone. In fact, studies suggest you could be in the majority.
I’ve procrastinated. I’ve done it about everything from work projects to relationships – and frankly, I’ve wasted significant chunks of my life facing the consequences of not just ‘getting on with’ whatever task is at hand.
Here, I’d like to tell you a bit about what I’ve done to (almost) overcome procrastination. I’m not an expert, but I have tried a LOT of different approaches. Before we start – I’d like to tell you what I’ve discovered about procrastination, and why I think it’s important to understand exactly what’s going on in your brain when you’re procrastinating…
What is procrastination?
There are a lot of ideas about what procrastination is – and commonly, people will simply explain it as ‘putting things off’ or letting other, less important tasks, detract from what it is you’re currently trying to achieve.
This is accurate, but it’s only really part of the picture. In actual fact, procrastination has a lot to do with our inability to consider how we’ll feel the future – or, in a lot of cases, how we prioritize short-term gratification over long-term well-being. So, procrastination has a lot to do with self-control.
You’ve got a project you’re working on – but there’s a game you just don’t want to miss? Or a friend calls and asks if you fancy a couple of drinks? Or your bed just feels too good to get out of?
The truth of the matter is, procrastination often boils down to a lack of discipline. The good news is, poor discipline is really just a habit – and it’s one that can be broken.
This is how:
1. Get real
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One of the biggest motivations behind procrastination is the feeling that the task you’re approaching is going to be so unbearable that even getting started will be painful. In such situations, it’s obvious therefore that anything else is preferable (which is why I’ve sometimes found myself reorganizing my wardrobe rather than start certain projects).
In a strange twist of fate, the consequences of not performing the task at hand are often more painful than simply getting on with the task.
So, tip 1 is this:
Think about what’s going to happen if you don’t get this task done. Consider the fact that this feeling of impending dread is going to hang over you until you get started. Then, get on with it. It’s not going to be your favorite task, but when it’s done, you can kiss goodbye to worrying about doing it.
2. Get organized
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Not being organized a sure-fire way to keep a steady supply of procrastination excuses stocked up for when you need to convince someone (or yourself) that your bad habit is perfectly reasonable.
- “I haven’t had time today”
- “I didn’t have everything I need to get started”
- “The phone didn’t stop ringing”
Here’s the thing. No one’s got time to do anything – yet there are people out there who aren’t as smart as you who speak 4 languages, teach themselves to play the piano, and train for marathons alongside a full-time job and a family.
If you want to get things done, you need to be organized. Allocate time for specific tasks and stick to it – which leads us on to the next tip…
3. Fill your diary
Some procrastinators tell themselves (and others) that they purposefully leave tasks until the last-minute because they work better under pressure.
Now, I’ve used this line many times – and it has some truth to it, but actually, that truth is only really that I’m capable of really great work when I just get on with it. The thing is, the pressure is in your head – so does it matter if you’re doing the work 40 minutes before a deadline? Or 2 weeks before a deadline? No – it doesn’t – you’re still smart and talented, it’s just that when there are only 40 mins to go, you’ve got no choice but to apply yourself.
If you can’t trust yourself to work without pressure, fill your diary up with work so that you simply do not have time to do anything but apply yourself every waking hour. You’ll quickly learn that you’re capable of a LOT – and that if you create some structure, you can enjoy some of your time too.
4. Break it down
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If you look at a task and think it’s going to difficult – then you’ve just made it difficult.
Your brain is easily conquered – especially if you’re a perfectionist. Perfectionists will often procrastinate as a tool to avoid getting started on a seemingly difficult task – and they do it because, when only the best is good enough, avoiding a task altogether is more palatable than coming up short.
If we look at tasks as an overall, then they look impossible. Climbing Everest? Writing a 5,000-word report? Tackling adjustments on those 500 images? Forget it – but when it’s just a few steps, or 300 words, or 10 images – well, it feels more do-able.
If you can’t handle the idea of these seemingly insurmountable tasks, then break them down – and just tackle them a tiny bit at a time.
5. Kill the distractions
Distractions are the enemy for procrastinators – and the trouble is, they’re just so tempting.
Apps like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram monetize your attention – i.e. the longer you spend looking at them, the more attractive you are as a consumer. Since all social networks make a ton of money because you’re staring at your screen, you better believe they do everything they can to make you hit that app button when you pick up your phone.
If you can’t be trusted to avoid them (and let’s be honest, few of us can) – then shut your notifications off when you’re trying to work.
6. Don’t beat yourself up
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We need to make something totally clear here – you’re not a bad person for procrastinating – nor are you stupid, unwise, destined for failure – or any of the other things that you might consider when you’re giving yourself a hard time for not getting on with the work sooner.
In actual fact, you’re totally normal. A ‘Procrastination in Daily Working Life’ study suggested that 60% of people consider themselves chronic procrastinators.
Procrastination can, in a strange way, be a good thing – but only if you’re aware of it. When you realize that you’re procrastinating and ask yourself why, as long as you answer honestly, you’re giving yourself an exceptionally insightful look into how your brain works.
It’s useful to keep a notepad near you when you’re working (or avoiding working) and note in it what you’re feeling when you’re avoiding doing something. Think about what your brain is saying, how your stomach feels, what excuses you’re giving yourself – and so on.
Procrastination isn’t easily fought off – but, the process of getting to grips with it can help you shed light on bad habits and insecurities that might be impacting your life elsewhere. As is often the case, the biggest part of the challenge when you’re dealing with your brain is to drag the issue you’re facing into your awareness and take a good long look at it.
Don’t be tempted to finish reading this and go back to procrastinating. You can be anyone you want to be tomorrow – but that story starts with action – right now.