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Have you been postponing actions or decisions that really need your attention?
I’ve been postponing going to see someone about the vein on my leg that’s been hurting and clearing out the hall cupboard that’s starting to resemble an avalanche. Oh, and also finishing writing the course that I just so badly want to be “right”.
Procrastination is something that many people struggle with. It steals our time, creates more stress in our lives and can lead to us feeling guilty and like we’re falling short.
I’ve heard many people say something along the lines of “I’m a procrastinator”, like it’s part of their identity. I understand it might feel like that and you might have plenty of examples of when you’ve procrastinated in your life, but procrastination is not part of who you are. By saying that it is, you’re pretty much guaranteeing that you’ll continue to procrastinate indefinitely. That story needs to be rewritten to give you a chance of breaking free.
Mel Robbins, author of “The 5 Second Rule”, says that procrastination is a habit. That is, something that you do often and regularly, often without even thinking about it.
Habits are created through repetition over time and they can be changed or replaced by new, more helpful habits. You can learn how to beat procrastination.
Why we procrastinate
Understanding why you procrastinate, will help you choose the best strategy to beat it.
Mel Robbins describes procrastination as a form of stress relief. It’s a way to avoid doing something that causes us stress, or avoid doing something because we are stressed already.
- Feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to begin.
- Are scared or anxious about the associated change, the unknown or the possible outcome.
- Don’t feel you have the capability to do it.
- Don’t have clarity and therefore don’t know how to progress.
- Are worried about being judged.
- Feel it is more acceptable to not start at all, rather than not doing it perfectly or right.
- Don’t believe that you deserve the possible outcome (e.g. you don’t start looking for a new job even though you want it because you think you aren’t worthy of it).
You might also procrastinate because:
- You don’t like the task you have to do.
- The outcome or benefit is too far in the future and you can’t emotionally connect with it in the present (e.g. it could be easier to allocate your money to a holiday later this year, rather than contribute to your superannuation).
- The task is not important to you (someone else’s priority).
- You’re generally exhausted and it’s hard to motivate yourself.
Which of these resonate with you, lovely?
How to beat procrastination
Once you know what you’re putting off and why, here are some practical strategies for beating procrastination and getting that task finished for once and for all.
1. Forgive yourself for procrastinating
A study showed that forgiving yourself for procrastinating relieved feelings of guilt, (which can be a trigger for procrastination), leading to less procrastination next time.
2. Notice your self talk
Is it positive and encouraging, or judgmental and critical?
Do you tell yourself you are a procrastinator, that you work better under pressure, or you like to leave things to the last minute?
Do you focus on how much you hate the task, or how it puts you in the worst mood?
These stories will lead to more procrastination because that’s who you believe you are. Change your story!
If you’re telling yourself “I have to” do the task, trying reframing this as “I choose to”, which gives you a sense of control and choice.
3. If appropriate, don’t do it or delegate it to someone else
Perhaps you really just don’t need to procrastinate anymore! Another option is to trade it for something better. For example, hire a cleaner for a couple of hours to clean those windows, or ask a friend to trade your errands for cooking a meal (or whatever you feel is a fair exchange).
4. Address the reason the task is causing you stress
- If you’re worried that you’ll make the wrong decision, take some time to identify the worst that could really happen. Often the reality is not nearly as bad as the story we create in our minds. We also forget that many decisions are not final and we can always make another decision later if needed.
- If you think you can’t do it, or are fearful of not doing it perfectly, create a new story about how you can learn new things and that mistakes are part of the process. Remind yourself of other times when you have worked something new out and how your worth is not dependent on how well you perform this task.
5. Create a reward for yourself, as immediate as possible
The reward can be little, as long as it is meaningful. For example, reading your book, going for a walk or having a cup of tea. You could also incorporate the reward into the task to make it more enjoyable, for example, only listening to your favourite podcast while exercising.
6. Get clear on your priorities
This way, you’ll be able to identify when you’re spending time on less important things. Imagine and allow yourself to feel what it will be like to have your priorities all sorted! Your brain doesn’t differentiate between a real experience and an imagined one, so use this feeling as your motivation.
Additionally, try focusing on your highest priority alone, until it’s done, before moving to the next priority. When we do one thing at a time, we tend to complete things more efficiently, effectively and with less errors.
7. Break it down into more manageable steps
Large tasks with lots of steps or actions can be overwhelming. Focus on 1 step at a time.
8. Schedule it
Getting everything out of your head onto your schedule makes it feel less overwhelming and clears your mind to allow you to focus on getting things done.
If you’re creating a to-do list, try to stick to 1-3 items per day (keep that mile long to do list out of sight!) so that it feels achievable and you set yourself up for feeling successful at the end of the day.
Consider scheduling the task you’re procrastinating on when you’re more productive and energetic, or first in your day so you can get it out of the way and move onto things you enjoy. If it helps, create a deadline for the task in your schedule.
9. Use the Pomodoro technique
This involves setting a timer for 20 mins and being completely focused on your task for that time. Knowing there will be an end can make it easier to focus, and once you start to experience progress, you’ll probably feel more motivated.
10. Remove distractions
Take a drink of water with you, or make sure you aren’t hungry so that those things won’t become a distraction. Organise something (or someone) to occupy the kids if necessary. Turn the TV off, put your phone out of reach and out of sight, turn off your wifi connection, uninstall the apps that distract you or whatever else it takes.
11. Use Mel Robbin’s 5 second rule
From the moment you have an idea or think of something you need to do, you have 5 seconds to take action before your brain will talk you out of it (by telling you things like “you don’t have time”, “you don’t really feel like it”, “you can’t do it”, etc). Write it down, schedule it, start the task. You’re much more likely to finish it or keep going. Research shows that when we start something, 80% of us will keep going. Don’t wait for the mood to be right – just get started. Mel suggests counting backwards from 5; 5-4-3-2-1, and then taking action!
12. Find someone to hold you accountable
Some people are great at holding themselves accountable and others need someone else to do this. Find someone who cares about your success, and ask them to check in with you about your progress.
Ok, let’s beat procrastination, starting right now!
- What’s one thing you’ve been procrastinating on?
- What’s one thing you can do to beat procrastination and take action today? (remember even just one small step counts and as soon as you think of that one thing you’ve got 5 seconds to act on it!)
You can do this!
Do you have any other strategies for beating procrastination? I’d love to hear them! Leave a comment below to tell me.