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Are you a procrastinator? Many of us have the tendency to put things off, and no matter how often we beat ourselves up over waiting to the last minute to pack for a vacation, book a flight, or file our taxes, and therefore struggle to get it all done in time, we keep doing it again and again.
If you’re ready to finally beat procrastination and get ahead of the game, then you’re in the right place!
Over the course of seven short sections, I’m going to share my best tips and strategies for overcoming procrastination with you… and we start today… with Forgiveness.
I know it seems like a strange place to start, but it’s an important first step.
Here’s the thing. Procrastination is a coping strategy, and there’s nothing you can do about the past except learn from it. Beating yourself up about not following the plan you made for reaching a goal does you no good. Quite the opposite actually.
There was obviously something about the task that compelled you not to do it. Whether you deemed the task as too hard, too boring, too emotional, too insurmountable, too whatever. It was what it was, and you dealt with the situation by putting it off.
And now you feel guilt, stress, shame, disappointment, or a slew of other emotions that are making you mentally worse off.
Obviously, if you engage in negative self-talk you make it worse. Those feelings of anxiety may actually enforce your habit to procrastinate again the next time.
The next time you find yourself procrastinating, tell yourself that it’s okay. It’s not the end of the world. Say it out loud and then promise yourself to try to do better.
Trying is the important keyword here. It’s ok to try and fail. In fact, you should dare to fail, but never, ever, don’t try at all.
If you’re working on mastering a new skill and changing a habit then it takes time. It takes practice. And of course, practice implies failing. It’s part of the learning process.
Sure, you may feel frustrated at times about your lack of progress. That’s normal. If you can, tap into that frustration and use it to motivate you. Vow to try again and do better. Look at your mistakes. What caused you to procrastinate this time? Learn from it and you will start to do better.
Maybe there’s a big task and you started strong, chipping away at it a little at a time. Then you missed a day, and another. That’s okay. Not great, but okay. You did well for a while.
It’s all good practice and maybe this particular experience taught you that you can’t allow yourself to skip more than one day on an ongoing project because then your procrastination compounds and you do it more and more because it becomes easier and easier.
There’s always something new to learn whenever we fail at something or slip back into a bad habit. At the very least we figure out that something isn’t working for us. Maybe you do better with three or less to-do’s per day. Maybe you need twenty-five so there’s always something to check off. You won’t know until you try.
Forgive yourself for procrastinating so you can move on and practice some more.
Getting over procrastination takes action. There’s no getting around this, and of course that is easier said than done, but today I’m going to share a simple three-step process with you that will help you get off your butt and get more done than you ever thought possible.
It all starts with a goal. You have to know what it is you want to accomplish.
If you don’t know what your goal is it’s hard, if not impossible, to know what you should be doing first or what you should be doing right now to move in the direction you want to be heading.
What do we do when we don’t have a goal? Anything other than the work we know that needs to get done.
Your goal is simply this: putting into words that which you know needs to get done.
A good goal has defined parameters and a set deadline. And it doesn’t have to be complicated.
Here’s a simple goal we all strive to accomplish: We have to file our taxes by April 15th. You have a pretty good idea of what paperwork you need, would forms you need to fill out, and where you need to turn them in. You also know what your deadline is. In other words, you have a well-defined goal when it comes to filing your income taxes. And yes, I realize most of us still procrastinate when it comes to this particular task. That’s why the remaining steps are just as important as the first one.
For now I want you to think about one thing you need to get done and turn it into a goal.
Write it down. I don’t care if you find a random scrap of paper, use your favorite notebook, or type a note to yourself on your phone. The important part is that you put your goal into writing.
This does two things. First of all, it helps you clarify what your goal is. You have to get pretty specific when you try to put what you want or need to do into words.
Secondly, writing it down gives you something to look back on. It serves as a reminder and as a tool that you can use when you are tempted to procrastinate.
Last but not least, it’s time to get started. That’s often the hardest part, isn’t it? You’re tempted to skip your workout until you lace up your shoes and get started. Once you’re off and running, it’s much easier to keep going. And that’s the trick because mood follows action. Said another way, don’t think, just do!
Once you have your goal written down, think about something you can do right now to move you in the right direction. Go do that. Then come back and do something else. Each morning, start by looking at your goal and challenge yourself to take action.
Before you know it, you will have made some serious progress, and you’re already starting to beat procrastination.
Try one of these seven simple hacks to motivate yourself into action. Give them each a try over the coming days and weeks and find the ones that make the biggest difference for you.
Whenever you find yourself procrastinating, come back to this list and employ one or several of these hacks. Your productivity will soar.
One of the big reasons we procrastinate is because something feels overwhelming. There’s too much too do, so we choose to forget about it for a little while. It’s a coping mechanism, just not a very productive one. Instead, pick one thing, something small that you can do right now to move you in the right direction.
This hack creates momentum and forces you to take action.
Another hack that works like a charm is to set a timer. Your phone has one built in, as do most smart watches. Set it for fifteen or twenty minutes and chip away at a task you’ve been procrastinating on. After all, it’s only 20 minutes. Easy, right?
This works just as well for decluttering your closet as it does for filling out those dreaded expense reports. If twenty minutes feels too long, start with ten.
Again, the goal is to start and do something.
There’s nothing wrong with bribing yourself if that’s what motivates you. Work on a home improvement project for an hour and then watch an episode of your favorite show. Or promise yourself a new gadget or pair of shoes when you finish painting the living room.
Come up with something that motivates you and go for it. Remind yourself of the prize at the end of the project whenever you’re tempted to put things off for another day.
Find someone else who’s either trying to be more productive or beat procrastination themselves. Check in with each other daily. Share what you want to accomplish and what you will get done today. Knowing you have to report to someone else makes you take action.
It’s also motivating to see the other person do the same. Try it.
When you’re working on something long-term, like losing thirty pounds for example, it can be tempting to procrastinate because it doesn’t seem like you’re making much progress. Instead, prove to yourself that you are getting closer and closer by tracking or measuring it.
Make a chart, use a spreadsheet, keep a journal. Find a way to measure your progress and use it to motivate yourself to keep going.
There’s a reason you’ve decided to do that thing you keep putting off. Think about why you want to get it done. Is it so you get your tax refund? So you can run around with the kids? So you can find the clothes you actually want to wear? Find out your why.
Write your why down and then keep it front and center. Look at it every day before you get ready to get to work.
I’ve saved the best for last. It’s the easiest but also the most powerful. Hear this. Just get started. That’s right, sometimes all you have to do is just get moving in the right direction. Do something. Do anything. Even if it’s something super small.
As mentioned above, mood follows actions, so just start moving in order to get over that initial hump of inertia and start to build some momentum.
You wake up in the morning motivated and ready to tackle whatever it is you’ve been procrastinating on. Or maybe you’re excited about a new project. You drink your coffee, get dressed, and get ready to get to work. Then something happens…
Maybe you open your email, or worse, Facebook, and get sucked into spending the next few hours on your computer.
Maybe a good friend calls and asks you to go shopping.
Or you get an alert that your favorite TV show dropped on Netflix.
It doesn’t matter what it is, the point is that there are people and things that will try to distract you into procrastinating. And it works really well, if you let them.
There’s a simple strategy you can use to keep this from happening: make the important project you’ve been procrastinating on a priority and working on it first thing every morning.
The whole process starts the night before. Before you call it a day, sit down and make a simple plan for what you want to get done the next day. Identify the three most important tasks. This will be things that start to move the needle. Maybe they are all focused on one main project, maybe it’s several things you know you should be getting done.
Write these three things down. They don’t have to be anything big. In fact, I find it helpful if they are all items I can take care of in an hour or less.
Now, when you get up in the morning, or get to your office, look at your list first, before anything else, and work on these three most important tasks before you do anything else.
Don’t look at email.
Don’t start playing on your phone.
If possible don’t even answer the phone or attend meetings before these three tasks are taken care of.
Make them your number one priority.
This alone will make a huge difference in how your day goes, how productive you are, and it of course keeps you from procrastinating on those projects. Putting them off until the end of the day when you’re too tired to do anything is no longer an option.
Aside from that, simply being more aware of what things, devices, and people tempt you to procrastinate is helpful.
When you find yourself putting something off, look back and see if you can pinpoint what caused it. Then take action towards preventing it from happening in the future.
Beating procrastination can be hard. We do well for a few days, but then old habits set back in, or we get frustrated with our lack of apparent progress. Nothing goes fast enough. If you face a small setback at this point, it may be enough to stop working on what you wanted to accomplish in the first place.
Thankfully there’s something you can do to greatly improve your chances of success. Accountability.
Start by tracking what you do. You can do this via a simple habit tracker. Use a box for each day of the week and check it off or fill it in when you do the thing you told yourself you would do.
Keep tracking until it becomes a habit (or until the project is done).
For larger projects that you may or may not work on a daily basis, it helps to write down your goal and then break it into milestones.
Record your progress and how much closer you’re inching to each of your goals.
Write out a list of everything you want to get done for the day.
I find it helpful to do this the day before. Play around with how many items you put on that list. You don’t want it to overwhelm you, but you do want to challenge yourself to get more done.
The list holds you accountable because you can see in black and white if you procrastinated or not.
If there’s something you’ve been struggling to get done, tell someone else about your plans to finally tackle it. Call a friend, tell your spouse, or announce it on social media.
Encourage the people you’re sharing with to check back with you on how you did. It may be the little extra push you need to stop procrastinating.
Last but not least, find someone else who’s procrastinating and start holding each other accountable.
This could be as simple as checking in once in the morning to declare what you each want to get done, and then again at the end of the day to see what happened. Knowing someone else is right there with you can be super motivating.
Give each of these procrastination beating strategies a try and see which ones give you the best results.
Like anything else, procrastinating is a habit and you can get out of it and turn yourself into the motivated and productive version of yourself you want to be… by developing the habit.
Something we haven’t talked about yet is that little voice in our head that either encourages us to go do something else – thus procrastinating, or the other one… the critical one… the one that tells us how much we suck because we didn’t get the things done we set out to do.
Why is it important to listen to those voices? Because they have an impact on your life both on a conscious and a subconscious level.
Let’s start with that negative voice because I think in the long run it’s the most destructive of the two. Back on day one of this seven day challenge to beat procrastination we talked about the importance of forgiving yourself. To quickly recap, it does you no good to beat yourself up over past procrastination and that you should expect to “fail” by procrastinating again here and there. Nobody is perfect. We all have good days and bad days. The important part is to show up and try your best.
That little negative voice in your head doesn’t help you do that. Become aware of it and when you hear it, defuse it. You can do this by responding to it out loud or in writing (via a journal). Or go up and do something else. Do whatever it takes to silence that voice.
A great option is to prove it wrong by doing something productive. Over time that voice will speak up less and less unless you indulge it by paying attention to it and letting it ruin your day.
Next it’s time to tackle the voice in your head that tells you it’s much more fun to do just about anything other than what you should be doing. We all have that voice. It’s why we come up with terms like procrasticleaning and procrasticrafting.
We can get pretty innovative when it comes to doing anything but the thing we don’t want to work on and that little voice is feeding us suggestions and cheering us on.
The best way to diffuse this particular voice into something more productive is with “yes, and” statements. “Yes, playing video games sounds like a lot of fun and I’m going to play for an hour or so after I get this task done.”
Use the suggestions this voice gives you as bribes if they sound like something fun. Ignore them otherwise, or put them off (procrastinate with them…) until tomorrow.
It’s hard to believe but we are coming to the end of our seven day challenge to get off your butt and finally beat procrastination. I hope you’ve been following along and, more importantly, that you’ve been making progress on at least one of the things you’ve been procrastinating on.
We end today with the most important piece of advice and the main lesson I want you to take away from all this.
Make progress every single day!
Of course, that’s easier said than done. That’s why I’m leaving you today with three simple hacks or strategies to help you. Give them a try and see if you can’t get into the habit of being productive every day instead of procrastinating.
It’s easy to make progress every day when you know exactly what you should be working on next. Make a plan and then decide what you will do each day of the week. Write it down in a planner and adjust daily as needed.
In the morning, you can see at a glance what it is you should be doing. Then get to work on it first thing before the day gets away from you.
I find it helpful to have my planner sitting right in front of me at my desk, keeping me on track.
There’s something to be said about a chain or a streak. Record every day you don’t procrastinate on something. You can mark it on a monthly calendar, or create a chain of sticky notes, stickers, or even one of those paper chains you used to make in preschool.
The goal is simple: Don’t break the chain. Once you have a few days under your belt, you’ll be motivated to go the extra mile and do that one thing you need to do to avoid breaking the streak.
As you start to make progress on the things you know you need to be doing, you should feel your anxiety reduce. Instead you will feel your confidence go up. Don’t be surprised to feel proud of your accomplishments.
Use those feelings to propel you forward to more procrastination free days.
Procrastination is a habit. It’s something you learned to do, which means it’s something you can unlearn. Stick with it, make progress every day, and enjoy those feelings of accomplishment.
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