Chapter 2: Overcoming Procrastination and How to Stop Procrastinating

==>Go back to The Causes of Procrastination

Anti Procrastination Tips That Will Get You Moving

Now that we know the underlying factors that make procrastination occur, we can use this information to start dealing with procrastination as it affects us in our day to day lives. Unfortunately, there is no one magic solution to procrastination that will fix all your problems, no pill or book or program that can help you banish the problem once and for all. However, there are absolutely tools and information that can help you during this process. You’ll have to make your solution truly your own, one unique and particular to your own issues and circumstances.

For this advice, I’ve organized these procrastination solutions according to particular problems you may be having. Procrastination can strike different people at different times and in different ways, so having multiple approaches to the problem will be best for you. Not all of these methods and ideas will resonate with you. Hopefully, however, at least one or more will “click” with you in a way that will get you moving.

Avoiding Procrastination May Better than Breaking It

  1. Probably the best way to stop procrastinating is to never start it in the first place. This requires you to understand your particular patterns and habits that put you in procrastinator mode. For instance, on what tasks do you usually procrastinate? In what ways do you procrastinate? (What things do you do to pass the time instead of working?) Where do you procrastinate? Once you figure out these triggers, do your best to avoid them – do that and you’ll avoid procrastination. For instance, if you find yourself burning time away in front of your computer, avoid the computer at all costs to prevent you from triggering your habit. If you find yourself procrastinating a lot on cleaning the house or the garage, structure your day so that you avoid wasting time instead of doing that activity. Avoiding this problem is a problem of self knowledge, ultimately, so you’ll really need to know yourself in order to best implement this. A good suggestion here is to get a notebook and create a procrastination log that will help you keep track of all the above aspects of your behavior.
  2. Giving yourself deadlines will probably not help that much for some people – it just gives them more opportunities to procrastinate before these deadlines, if they don’t ignore these self-imposed deadlines altogether. Still, some people may find it useful to set up these deadlines, especially if they have some external authority enforce them. This is called ‘pre-commitment.’ For instance, give your friend some money and instructions on when that money should be returned to you. For instance, if you don’t have a certain task completed before a certain date, your friend gets to keep the money. This will get you motivated to move more than you can ever believe!

I Can’t Get Started!

  1. Don’t let your rational mind take control and make you think you need the ‘perfect plan’ before you start. No plan, no matter how much time you spend on it, will be perfect, i.e. will not need to be changed or modified at some level. Instead, the best way to figure out what you’ll need to do to complete your goal or task is to start and see where it takes you. Only when you’re in the trenches can you figure out exactly what you’ll need to do in order to complete the task. Experience truly is the best teacher, so just get going and be ready to adapt as you go.
  2. At the same time, procrastination sometimes is caused by the fact that we’re unclear on what exactly we want to do. Thus, it may be fruitful to spend some time thinking hard, or even writing down, what exactly we need to do to accomplish the goal. Breaking down your project into multiple, clear, small steps may help you break your procrastination, as you have the ‘road map’ you need to get going. Sometimes, as stated above and below, all you need to do is just start on that first action step that you need to get done…
  3. Instead of focusing on everything you need to do to finish your task, just focus on determining the first action step. What is the first thing you need to do in order to begin the path towards your goal? It doesn’t matter if it’s a minor, quick 5-minute action or something that may take a little longer. Then, your first and only task is to just do that one single action step. Take as long as you need, but just make sure that step gets done. Don’t worry about anything else or finishing the entire project. Once you’ve finished that action step, assess how you feel. You will probably be feeling positive about your work, and you’ll probably want to move on to get more stuff done on your task list. However, if you’re still feeling the pulls of procrastination, don’t worry! Just repeat this step: what is the very next action step that you need to take? Complete that step and only that step. Reassess, rinse, repeat. Before you’ll know it, positive momentum will suck you in, or you’ll just finish by taking it step by step.
  4. Use peer pressure. If you have a friend who has the same goal or project as you, set up a little competition and cooperation partnership. You can then help each other when you start procrastination while also providing a little jolt of competition to really get your juices flowing. I don’t recommend large groups, mostly because it can be easy to ‘slip between the cracks’ and lose the accountability that such partnerships can offer.

Conquer Your Fears to End Procrastination

  1. As stated in chapter 1, sometimes fear is at the root of procrastination. We fear failure, we fear success, and we fear ‘pain’ and discomfort that we may eventually fear while doing the task. If this sounds like you, then maybe some work needs to be done to unpack and untangle these fears so that they no longer have a significant impact on your behavior. If you fear failure, for instance, realize that by not doing anything at all, by procrastinating, you’re simply staring a massive, dreadful failure in the face. Not trying or not doing something isn’t “not failing because you didn’t try,” it’s just failing in the most spectacularly pathetic way possible. So don’t buy into that set of fears! We only truly learn and grow when we make mistakes and get new experience anyway.
  2. Listen to the truth that you hold inside. You probably know that you have to get started, you know that you have to learn mistakes, and you know that you have to get experience, but somewhere down the line your rational and emotional brains conspire to keep you back. Instead, listen to your productive, positive instincts, and trust them. Don’t let your fears and negative side (we all have them) take you over and rule your life.
  3. Another thing to keep in mind: the tasks that you think will be unpleasant may turn out to be not so bad after all – in fact, sometimes you can actually get pleasure while doing them! This takes a bit of a reframe of your attitudes and beliefs, but it can be super powerful when implemented. The reason behind this is that we are more uncomfortable when we think about upcoming discomfort than uncomfortable when we are actually doing the activity. Again, this is all just because we are well motivated to avoid perceived pain than to seek reward. Understand this natural human response and subvert it.
  4. If you suffer from low self confidence or low self-esteem, realize that you’ll only improve these qualities in you if you actually get stuff done! It’s a vicious cycle – your low self-confidence will prevent you from actually starting, but the only way to improve this self-esteem is to actually get started and finish something productive! Thus, realize that this is a vicious cycle and work hard to just start. As you complete a project and become more productive, you will find that your self-confidence will increase, not only because you’re doing something positive but also because you will have less time to brood and ruminate about all your problems.
  5. If perfectionism is an issue, realize that you’ll never get something perfect, no matter how hard you’ll work. Also realize that you make something better after a lot of revision and reworking, so perfection, if it ever were approximated, is a long term project. Thus, get comfortable with just starting on something and beginning to sketch out the boundaries of the project that you are completing.

How to Stop Procrastination With Your Environment

  1. Environment truly matters in many ways. Where you are and who is surrounding you can have a significant impact on your procrastination habits. For instance, think about your peers. If you want to get stuff done, surround yourself with people who don’t procrastinate. Where you are will also have significant effects. If you work at home and are having trouble focusing, it may be because there are too many things in your environment that make it hard to fight procrastination. Instead of fighting these urges, just remove yourself from that environment – for instance, many students find great success when they work in a library rather than trying to work at home. Find your own personal ‘work zone’ and get it done!
  2. If you can’t leave your particular environment (such as a home office or real office), consider small but significant ways to increase your productivity and overcome procrastination. For instance, make sure your desk is clear and free of distractions. Put up inspirational quotes and pictures on your wall, or play some relaxing (or energetic) music to get you in the zone. Minimize distractions from other people by closing your door and putting up a sign during your focusing hours; cut off your internet access during your work time if that’s a particular problem for you.

Building Momentum

  1. We are creatures of momentum. This means that we continue to do what we’ve been doing, while resisting change to that path (in physics terms, we have inertia, in this case psychological). Thus, the main force required in our lives is that force required to overcome inertia or friction. Thus, if you are stuck doing something unproductive, and if you want to start beating procrastination, realize that it’s just another state of momentum. Focus all your energy on shifting your momentum – don’t think about having to use your energy to sustain your productive activity, because you won’t have to! Once your momentum is pointed in a particular direction, your natural inclination to remain in that activity (i.e. momentum!) will propel you to your goal.
  2. The bad thing about procrastination is that it gets worse and worse as time goes on the longer you put off the task. There is some sort of positive feedback loop that operates here – as you procrastinate, the task at hand seems more onerous and potentially painful, which means you put it off further, which makes it look worse, which increases your procrastination…and thus begins the vicious cycle that is truly hard to break out of. You need to break out of this momentum cycle as soon as possible, because if you think it’s hard now, it will just be harder tomorrow and the day after that!
  3. One great way to get yourself moving through the day is to focus on getting the hardest thing done first. This may seem counterintuitive, but think of it this way – all your energy and momentum and willpower should be directed towards finishing this one major task for the day. Brian Tracy calls this ‘eating the frog’ – once you do this, every other task will seem easy in comparison. You’ll have the momentum and energy to plow through the rest of your tasks. You’ll be shocked at how much you can accomplish during your day when you start with just that one super difficult task. Best of all, if you get nothing else done during the day for some reason, you’ll sleep easy knowing you accomplished something truly productive!

How to Keep Going: Persistence

  1. Of course, just starting is one thing – many procrastination help guides don’t acknowledge that getting started is not the only piece of the puzzle – sometimes ‘keeping going’ is just as critical! This is especially true for tasks that will take many days, weeks, months, or even years to complete! Sustaining action over this long period is a different problem altogether, as the energy you get from ‘getting started’ will not sustain you forever. There is no magic formula here – just break down the ‘war’ into a series of daily ‘battles’ over your internal momentum. Each day, the fight will begin anew for you to channel your natural propensity towards staying in motion – i.e. your inertia and momentum. Just as you don’t try to finish your project in a single burst of activity, don’t try to ‘get started’ all at once. Instead, take it all day by day.
  2. An interesting metaphor to think about here is a staircase. Imagine that you want to get to the top of the stairs, but only the step in front of you is illuminated. Thus, the only place you can go is to step up on that next step, though it may not be getting you to your destination in one final leap. However, as soon as you move to that next step, the step after that one will be illuminated, lighting your path moving forward. Beat procrastination one step at a time!
  3. Motivate yourself with rewards. As discussed above, you could set up ‘punishments’ (i.e. losing money) by not getting stuff done. You can also take a more positive approach – give yourself ‘rewards’ when you do get stuff done. Then you’ll be working for these small rewards, not for some long term, nebulous reward. You could have a friend or family member administer these rewards to you.
  4. Avoid multitasking. You may think that you are being more productive when you try to tackle more than one thing at the same time, but in reality you are being terribly inefficient. In addition, ‘multitasking’ may just give you more excuse to continue to procrastinate. For instance, some people like to surf the internet or watch TV while they are doing their work, thinking that they can do both at the same time. Instead, it’s just a convenient way to mix procrastination with actually getting something done. Instead, focus on one thing at a time – when you finish that task, you can move on to the next one or do something for fun – but not at the same time!
  5. Finally, make sure you finish what you start. We may be able to get started and keep our momentum going, but many people have half and near complete projects sitting around. Get into the habit of finishing what you start – the closure and accomplishment you feel will propel you into your next task with renewed vigor, making it easier to start, keep going, and finish.

Combating Procrastination by Observing and Knowing Yourself

  1. If you are currently procrastinating, take a look at what you’re doing instead. You’ll probably find that it’s something either itself pretty boring and onerous, or something utterly pointless (like aimless web surfing). Do you really want to be spending your life doing this, or would you rather be doing something more positive and productive? Make sure you constantly observe the things you are doing (sometimes mindlessly) during your day – did you choose to do those things? If not, what can you choose to do instead that may be more fulfilling in the long run?
  2. Scientists have found that much of our behavior is automatic – it’s just stuff that we’ve done and will always do simply because that’s what we’ve always done. Couple the ‘stickiness’ of these habits with the mindlessness that we usually use to travel through our day and you have a recipe for massive procrastination. Thus, you’ll want to keep on the lookout for these automatic habits that help you procrastinate. For instance, perhaps you are addicted to checking a social networking site once per hour. Whatever it is, identify the behavior and work to eliminate it.