The thing about procrastination is how sneaky our own minds can be. For example, one copywriter might procrastinate by doing endless research on a project. She’s not sitting around twiddling her thumbs. She’s not playing Candy Crush. She’s doing vital work for her project, and her project is on her mind.
But she hasn’t started writing—and she should have started writing two days ago.
She’s procrastinating. And in this case, her procrastination trigger probably has to do with self-confidence. She finds the subject intimidating or too technical. She doesn’t know how she’s going to spin a simple subject into an entire eBook; or her client for this particular project is difficult to work with, and she’s dreading the interaction. Three different problems, apparently—but if you take a closer look, they all stem from a lack of confidence.
Is the way she’s coping with it “bad”? No. She’s not avoiding the project itself, she’s merely avoiding putting pen to paper. Research can help, when you’re not familiar with a subject (and also when you are familiar with it)—but there’s such a thing as too much research.
People who want to write books often go through a similar procrastination routine. They endlessly research, write snippets of content, scrap them, write more, edit them, etc…
And then there are those who have phobias. They don’t make telephone calls because they feel uncomfortable talking on the phone. They don’t make videos because they are self-conscious about some physical feature or what viewers will think of them.
On top of the differing reasons for procrastinating, one also has to take into account learning styles and preferences, as well as personality traits and conditions like ADHD, chronic or acute health issues, past traumas or learning challenges.
We all do it. We all procrastinate for different reasons. We have different trigger points. And we all procrastinate in different ways.
While there are common causes and reasons for procrastination, there are even more “cures”. Pick through these ten ideas to find strategies that work for you.
If you’ve been a procrastinator since childhood, it may have been made worse by overly-authoritarian parents or teachers. Procrastination can also be a type of avoidance behavior, where those who feel habitually powerless take back personal power in the only way known to them—procrastination on tasks they are ordered to do.
Along with avoidance-based procrastination unfortunately comes its offshoots—guilt and shame. We hear the voices of those authority figures telling us that we “blew it again”, “can’t be depended on”; even all-or-nothing statements like “you’re a complete failure” (usually accompanied by comparisons to a perfect sibling or neighbor)—long after we’ve grown up and supposedly left all childhood voices behind.
Guilt and shame have no place in working on becoming the person we were born to be. One good dose of shaming (especially from yourself) and you’re likely to revert to the one defense you’ve truly mastered—the mental equivalent of curling up in the fetal position in a darkened room—procrastination.
Learn to banish guilt by using cognitive reframing. Replace those excoriating self-lashes with phrases based in reality. For example, instead of saying to yourself, “I did it again. I’m a complete screw-up!” try stating just the facts. (“I spent an hour of `me’ time. Now it’s time to put that aside and go to work.”)
It feels much better when you take the blame-and-shame out of your procrastination habits, and focus on realistic solutions.
We’ve all seen our kids (or we’ve BEEN the kids) who never, ever clean their rooms or put anything away. What happens? It all piles up—and pretty soon what was once a simple task is overwhelming and feels insurmountable.
As adults, we learn to put away things as we go—we take our plate to the dishwasher, put our clean socks straight into the sock drawer or take the meal bar wrapper straight to the kitchen trash can.
Keep this tip for the small stuff. While you’re in the hardware store, just buy that new $2.99 bathtub plug the moment you discover the old one has broken, instead of letting water leak endlessly from the old one and run up your water bills. If someone writes you a short email with an urgent question you can instantly answer, just do it now. When you get the mail, just toss the junk mail and sort the necessary mail immediately.
The trick to using this approach successfully is to pick tasks that you will procrastinate over if you try to follow conventional advice and “schedule later”.
Choose tasks you can do quickly and simply, in just a few minutes. This will get you started off on the right foot—and create the habit of reducing clutter.
Keep an eye out for “time stealers”—small tasks that nibble away minutes and eventually hours from our days. These usually turn out to be tasks such as checking email, checking Facebook, answering the telephone while you’re working, answering the door, getting up to make a cup of coffee… It doesn’t matter what you stop working to do: Record it!
Keep a log for a few days, and see where you are spending too much time on one particular distraction (for example, you may discover you actually get up to make six or seven cups of tea or coffee during the day, when you were sure it was only three or four).
Repetitive behaviors can become procrastination habits. Tame them by setting a limit to how many times per day you can indulge in that particular activity; or set a time limit—for example, “ten minutes only for checking email”. Make sure you actually use a timer though so you will stick to it!
(Use a simple timer with an audible alarm such as TickCounter to help you manage your new time limits.)
If you’re a compulsive message-checker or texter (<<btw, not a real word, according to spell-check), don’t even leave your mobile in the same room.
Unless you’re waiting for news of earth-shattering importance (a grandchild about to be born or a status update on a critically ill relative), the world won’t end without you checking your messages.
And you’ll be training people who don’t respect your work hours that you really do have boundaries.
You may be the sort of person who says, sincerely, “I never procrastinate!” Yet, somehow, the day ends, you’re behind on deadlines, you didn’t do the big task that needed doing and you forgot to mail that card to your grandma in Maine.
If this sounds like you, track your time. Simple apps like Toggl or My Hours will do the work of tracking for you—and you can:
See which tasks are real time wasters—and decide what to do about them
Decide which tasks could have been done instantly—and didn’t get done
See where you procrastinated
[bctt tweet=”Big task? Focus on only performing “the next step”.” username=”mirandamerten”]
If a task seems overwhelming, break it down into its smallest steps. Then focus on only performing “the next step”.
You’ll find you are more easily able to start even the most overwhelming task if you can identify and take that all-important first step.
Break it into steps, but if you end up with ten steps, focus on no more than three top priorities—and congratulate yourself if you get one done. Use the daily planner sheets to keep your ideas in order.
(If you have perfectionist tendencies, put the sub-title “Optional” over priorities #2 and # 3—that way, you won’t feel you’ve “failed”.)
Only when you’ve cleared the priorities should you add more tasks or actions to your list. Keep adding 3 more tasks until you’ve completed the big picture.
When you are actively changing habits, recognize there may be a “honeymoon” period early on, where you are all freshly fired-up and motivated, and you are feeding on early success.
Then comes Reality. You miss a day of practicing your new habit. Your world crashes down. You feel disillusioned and guilty. You start with the negative self-messages.
Don’t catastrophize! Reframe your disillusionment: “Well, I missed a day. I’m human. But tomorrow it’s back on the horse! I can absolutely do this.”
We don’t have to get a formal “accountability” partner. It’s better with some tasks or actions to simply team up with a buddy.
For example, if you always put off that morning walk, find a friend who is equally motivated to develop a healthy lifestyle, and arrange to take that walk with her. Don’t over-complicate this. Because then you’ll get so stressed out about it that you’ll actually procrastinate on getting a partner and you’re back to square one.
Sometimes the simplest strategies are the best strategies of all. Gretchen Ruben, best-selling author of The Happiness Project, shares this tip:
“On the top of a piece of paper, write, “By the end of today, I will have __________.” This also gives you the thrill of crossing a task off your list.”
Along the same lines, the Chrome dashboard extension Momentum, allows you to input “What your focus is today”. You’ll see it every time you open a new tab and when you complete it, you can check it off.
The urge to procrastinate can never totally be eliminated—it does serve a purpose. It’s usually a sign something isn’t right with us. But know what that purpose or reason is, when you procrastinate, and know that it’s your right to develop effective strategies to totally bust it, every time.
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