Of all the things people hire me to help them with, procrastination tends to be the universal through line. Putting things off. Stalling. Rationalizing why it’s not that important now. I have no scientific evidence to prove this, but I’m sure that if we invested just one tenth of the time and energy we spend avoiding things into actually doing things, we could check off every to-do list dating back to 1950 and still have an hour left for scrolling through Instagram.
For people, who find themselves really stuck or just hung up on one particular task, here are five things to try to overcome your procrastination. I recommend doing them in order.
Step #1 Embrace your humanity.
Procrastination is normal for people. It is perfectly natural to avoid things without an immediate and guaranteed reward. Even if it seems like everyone else is a productivity genius, it is more likely they are equally racked with guilt over all the things they are putting off, but they are slightly more savvy at social media. EVERYONE PROCRASTINATES!
Many times, people procrastinate on things that make them uncomfortable and vulnerable or when the task at hand is very difficult and the chance of success is unknown. If this is the case, take a moment to acknowledge that you are doing something challenging and it is reasonable to feel resistance.
Step #2 Do a reality check.
Not having a realistic understand of how big (or small) the goal is can translate into more fear and anxiety, which makes procrastinating oh so appealing. Do yourself a favor. Sit down and map out the scope of the challenge. Don’t worry about actually taking an action. Just create a game plan for if/when you decide to start. If the goal is bigger than you thought, then you can start by breaking it down into manageable pieces or ask for help. If it is much smaller than you thought, YAY!!! Get ‘er done!
A couple months ago, I purchased a new grill tank, and I left the empty and expired tank next to the grill to be dealt with later. I talked about how I needed to get rid of it and learned the landfill won’t take it. I imagined all the trouble I would have to go through to dispose of it. I complained to some of my co-workers, and they advised me to poke a hole in it and throw it in the mental bin at the dump. “Just make sure it’s empty.” (No thanks.) Finally, I put it in the back of my car and drove to the gas station where I had purchased my new tank. I asked at the counter, and guess what? They would be happy to take the old tank off my hands for the bargain price of $5. Gee, Janet. Was that so hard? A 5-minute phone call would have given me all the information I need to take care it.
Step #3 Consider quitting.
It’s is amazing how much “should” ends up on our agenda. I should talk to this person. I should get that done. I should make this happen. Once someone puts an item on their to-do list or sets a goal, it rarely occurs to them to consciously decide to just let it go. I don’t know who needs to hear this, but I give you permission to cross things off your list that you have no intention of completing.
If you have been putting something off for a long time, seriously consider just scrapping the whole thing. When you do this, one of two things will happen. Either you will decide that the goal is just not that important to you anymore, or you will realize that it is something that you need and want to get done, which will give you a new sense of purpose and motivation.
Step #4 Lower your expectations
So ,you’ve acknowledged your humanity, done a reality check on what you are trying to accomplish, and, after considering quitting, you’ve decided to move forward. Yet you are still feeling overwhelmed. Now it is time to make the goal manageable. What is a fail-proof amount you can get done today? What is the first step that you can take to move the ball forward? Sometimes just starting will give you some momentum and motivation.
Last summer, my boyfriend and I had been planning to go kayaking, but first we needed to hose down his kayaks, get them loaded into or onto a vehicle, and transport them from his yard to the beach, where we could lock them up for the summer. We finally decided on a Saturday morning to get them to the beach and go for a paddle, but of course a few things came up and we got a late start.
We took a breath and decide to lower our expectations: Let’s just get them to the beach and lock them up. We can take them out in the harbor another day. With a smaller goal on our plate, we felt less rushed. We took our time, getting them cleaned out properly. We discovered that instead of trying to tie them securely to the roof of my boyfriend’s car, we could fit them in my van. Once we got to the beach, we still had enough time to do a quick tour of the harbor after all. By simply, making the goal a little more realistic, we tackled the problem instead of putting it off for another week.
Step #5 Create a stick.
Assuming you’ve gone through all the other steps and you’ve built up some momentum, this final step will prevent the procrastination from coming back. Creating a stick refers to the carrot and the stick method of training. The carrot is the reward you’ll receive when you accomplish the goal, and the stick is the cost of getting stuck or not moving forward.
In this specific case, the stick provides accountability to ensure you stay on task by creating a meaningful cost for not reaching your goal. The stick could be financial, emotional, psychological, or physical. The only requirement is that it needs to hold a real meaning for you. If you are not financially motivated, loss of money probably won’t create the kick in the pants you need.
In 2017, I wrote the first draft of a book. After all that work, I really wanted to self-publish it so it wouldn’t get put on the back burner and forgotten about. I need a reason to see it through to the end. I decided to create a crowd sourcing page to raise money for the printing costs. I knew that as soon as one person pre-ordered the book I would be determined to finish the book. (And I knew that one person would probably be my Mom, but still.)
It worked! I soon had a dozen people pre-pay for their copy, and I had the accountability I needed to finish the book.
To recap Procrastinating is human. Be honest about the size of the goal. Consider scrapping the whole thing. Find an achievable first step. Create accountability to keep you on track.
Go on and get out there!