Do you keep putting things off even if you know you shouldn’t? In this post, we'll examine 7 steps that will enable you to stop procrastinating.
Yet, to make the most of these steps we need to understand what procrastination is, and why we tend to procrastinate.
PROCRASTINATION - DEFINITION
Behavior that leads to delaying an important action despite foreseeable future negative consequences.
“Procrastination is a voluntary delay of an intended act despite the knowledge that this delay may harm us”. - Timothy A. Pychyl Solving the Procrastination Puzzle.
In a nutshell, procrastination is opting for short-term gratification while missing out on long-term benefits.
No matter how well-organized and committed we are, we all do it!
Whether it is working on our goals, paying the bills, doing housekeeping, or looking after relationships we tend to procrastinate.
We waste hours on trivial enjoyable activities.
We turn to distractions that provide us with short-term gratification and grant us some stress relief.
Whether we watch TV, scroll on Social Media, do online shopping, or whatsoever, we sabotage ourselves from getting important things done.
As a result, we miss hitting our targets.
The difference between highly successful people and average ones dwells in the fact that the former work on pivotal tasks.
Instead, the latter spend most of their time doing trivial activities, but they keep putting off working on what makes the difference.
“We all put things off”, McCown - a pioneer in the study of procrastination - says.
“But when we put off things that are really in our best interest to complete and we do it habitually, then that’s more than just a bad habit or a lifestyle issue.”
MAIN TYPES OF PROCRASTINATION
1) POSITIVE PROCRASTINATION, occurs each time you procrastinate on doing low priority tasks, i.e. doing things that do not contribute very much to your major goals.
2) NEGATIVE PROCRASTINATION, occurs each time you procrastinate on your most important task, the one that if you get done moves you closer to your objective.
Since this often makes people feel guilty, they tend to disguise it by getting involved in replacement tasks; such an attitude is called productive procrastination.
3) PRODUCTIVE PROCRASTINATION, occurs each time you do something for the sake of feeling productive to then realize that what you were doing didn’t help you move forward but distracted you from hitting your goal.
This type is worth examining in detail by means of an example.
You might find yourself reorganizing some folders and you feel that you are productive, when in reality you are spinning your wheels. You are sabotaging yourself.
By thinking you are productive and you are not wasting time you avoid doing the things that you should be doing - e.g. phone calls, writing emails, articles, learning new skills, attending courses, and so on.
Any time you are about to do something ask yourself the following two questions:
“What impact will the accomplishment of this task have on my future”?
“Is how I am spending my time consistent with my major goal, or my high-payoff task”?
Answering these two questions can help you not fall into the sneaky trap of productive procrastination.
WHY WE TEND TO PROCRASTINATE
All human behaviors can be put down to two factors:
- Moving away from PAIN and FATIGUE;
- Getting closer to PLEASURE.
Thus, procrastination stems from the above two factors too!
On the one hand, we decide to put something off because something else more pleasant entices us.
On the other hand, we postpone something because we are not willing to pay the price of FATIGUE and PAIN that doing a task implies.
The more we find a task unappealing and difficult, the more likely we are to want to avoid it.
Therefore, the more likely we are to procrastinate.
In both the above scenarios we come up with excuses to justify our course of action.
OTHER SOURCES OF PROCRASTINATION
If you’re wondering what is causing you to keep procrastinating, look through the list you’ll find below.
Then, figure out which of these causes of procrastination apply to you.
But, let me warn you, don’t be in a rush, take your time.
Reflect on the sources of your procrastination and above all be honest with yourself.
Figuring out the underlying causes of you putting things off is crucial if you want to be able to successfully stop procrastinating.
So, now that you are mentally ready, let’s find out what’s holding you back.
- FEAR OF FAILURE,
in this case, the cause is a sense of inadequacy or insecurity.
Therefore, people avoid finishing a task, or they don’t even bother to get started.
The common motto of this kind of people is: “I am not good enough”.
- FEAR OF SUCCESS,
in this case, the root of the fear is not the success itself.
The fear centers on what achieving success might ultimately cost you.
- You might get extra attention, but you’re shy or introverted and uncomfortable with the spotlight;
- You might worry about leaving people behind if you move forward;
- You might worry that public success could bring social or emotional isolation;
- You might worry success could change you for the worse;
- You might worry that along with your success things will just get too complicated to handle;
- You might feel anxious about acquiring new responsibilities as the result of your achievements;
- FEAR OF JUDGMENT AND REJECTION,
we all want to be liked, appreciated, and be part of a group.
It’s ingrained in our DNA as I explained in my post - STOP CARING OF WHAT OTHERS THINK OF YOU: YOUR BEST CHOICE!
But when we start to rely entirely on what other people think of us, and we make their opinion pivotal to our success, we get into trouble.
We start tailoring our lives to fit the expectations of others; we try to fit into what is considered “right” by society.
In other words, we try to please everyone, but we end up pleasing no one.
is another cause of procrastination.
When you need everything to be perfect, you won’t start anything, because perfection doesn’t exist.
People who have too high standards are often unable to accept weaknesses, limits, and faults.
Besides, they cannot contemplate failures.
Therefore, they deviate towards simpler and less important tasks.
- FEELING OVERWHELMED,
people sometimes procrastinate because they feel overwhelmed about the tasks that they need to handle.
Such a feeling can occur due to a variety of reasons.
It can occur due to a single task that feels huge in terms of scope, or, due to a large number of small tasks that add up.
When one of the two mentioned situations happens, a person might simply decide to avoid the tasks.
- LACK OF ENERGY,
people are more likely to procrastinate if they suffer from low energy levels, in terms of physical or mental energy.
Someone who feels exhausted after working all day might find it harder to exercise self-control when they are back home.
Therefore, they opt for instant gratification.
Instead of building a side hustle - e.g. an online business that can over time enable them to quit their job - they waste time in trivial activities.
- LACK OF SELF-DISCIPLINE,
this is the skill that enables us to take action even when we don’t feel like it.
It’s the ability to maintain goal-driven behavior in the face of obstacles.
A lack of self-discipline makes people more likely to procrastinate.
Especially when it comes to finishing tasks that they’ve already started working on.
A lack of self-discipline could cause you for instance to stop working on your side hustle.
When the first challenges get into the way you feel overwhelmed, and the most reasonable thing that comes to your mind is quitting.
If you realize that you lack self-discipline don’t forget to check out my previous post -WHY SELF-DISCIPLINE IS IMPORTANT TO YOUR SUCCESS.
In it, you’ll learn the 11 tips to build lasting and solid self-discipline to achieve any goals you set for yourself.
- LACK OF CLARITY AROUND YOUR GOAL,
people are more likely to procrastinate when their goals are vague or abstract, compared to when their goals are concrete and well-defined.
For example, goals such as “get fit” or “start exercising” are too general, and are more likely to lead to procrastination.
Conversely, a goal such as “build muscles at the gym every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday by doing a 45-minute anaerobic workout” is a well-defined goal.
Therefore, you’ll be much more likely to take action and achieve your objective, i.e. build your muscles.
If you don’t know how to set concrete and well-defined goals make sure you check WHY HAVING A SMART GOAL MAKES THE DIFFERENCE.
In this post not only do you understand how important having goals is, but above all, you learn the main features any goals must have to be effective.
“A man without a goal is like a ship without a rudder”. - Thomas Carlyle
- LACK OF REASONS,
in order to do anything, we need to have reasons, i.e. a strong WHY.
We can be excited about something for a short period of time.
Yet, we won’t keep working hard, getting kicked in the face, and getting up from each temporary setback unless we have a strong WHY.
When we rely on this powerful driving force there’s nothing that can hold us back from starting something or from finishing what we have already started.
Whenever you figure out what your goal is, ask yourself:
“What is my WHY? What is my strong emotional attachment to the goal I set for myself”?
7 STEPS TO STOP PROCRASTINATING
STEP 1: ACKNOWLEDGE THE SOURCE OF YOUR PROCRASTINATION
Awareness is the first step to overcoming procrastination.
And by now you should already be aware of what is the source that is holding you back from taking action.
Naming the emotion behind the need to procrastinate can help address it.
STEP 2: FIND OUT WHY YOU NEED TO STOP PROCRASTINATING
Is it because it is the only way to change your current situation for the better?
Is it because you want to be the kind of person who keeps their words and gets their things done on time?
Is it because you want to enjoy your free time without overthinking about what you should be doing?
What positive impact will the accomplishment of the task you are postponing have on your future?
What are the negative consequences if you keep putting off something you should do?
By asking yourself these questions you are able to switch your focus.
Instead of focusing on the obligation, i.e. the hassle, you start focusing on the opportunity that tackling a task entails.
What’s more, you use the fear that arises from the consequences of you not doing what you should be doing as a driving force to take action.
STEP 3: REMOVE DISTRACTIONS
We live in an interruption-based culture that can get into the way of getting stuff done.
Browsing the web, checking email notifications, and texting friends are just a few examples of distractions we all encounter.
So it’s our responsibility to make sure our environment is conducive to productivity.
Start designing your new environment by removing all sources of distractions.
For example, you can start by turning off your black mirror and putting it far away from you.
As a result, you won't be tempted to scroll on social media or answer messages.
Thus, you will be more likely to get your tasks done.
STEP 4: BREAK A LARGE AND OVERWHELMING TASK INTO SMALL AND ACTIONABLE PIECES
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
You need time to digest otherwise you're going to make yourself sick.
In other words, instead of considering all the things you need to do as one big obstacle, you break down tasks into lots of small bite-size manageable segments.
Write down what you're going to be doing to tackle the major task hour by hour so that the elephant will become a lot less daunting.
Remember: reward yourself for getting done each small task, rather than waiting till the very end to reward yourself.
Let me give you a practical example of how I deal with an elephant.
Writing a post like the one you are reading can be overwhelming.
Yet, when I break it down into phases such as:
- (1) Researching,
- (2) Deciding the topic,
- (3) Creating the outline,
- (4) Revising,
- (5) Editing,
- (6) Scheduling,
- (7) Posting,
suddenly it becomes manageable and not frightening.
The way I operate then is to focus on the first task and get it done to my best ability, without thinking about the following tasks.
When I finish, I move on to the next.
STEP 5: MAKE A LIST
If you make a list before you begin any task or job you immediately improve your chance to get things done.
Writing down what you need to do is the first step in evaluating how to proceed.
So, write down all the tasks you need to complete.
Your list should include both short-term tasks, which you need to finish by the end of the day or week, and long-term ones, which could take months or even years to complete.
Seeing them on paper will help you plan the course of actions you need to take to achieve them.
A list highlights what is more important, what is relevant, what can be delegated, what can be delayed, and what must be done straight away.
Make your list for each day the evening before so that your subconscious works on your list while you sleep and it comes up with ideas when you wake up.
As a result, you’ll start your day on the right foot.
Another reason why having a list is a game-changer dwells in the power of ticking a task.
Each time you tick something off your list, it gives you a feeling of accomplishment!
STEP 6: SURROUND YOURSELF WITH PEOPLE WHO INSPIRE YOU TO TAKE ACTION AND GET THINGS DONE
“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with”. - Jim Rohn
So, we can say that If you surround yourself with 5 go-getters you are most likely to become the sixth.
The people you spend the most time with have a huge influence on your beliefs, feelings, expectations you have of yourself, and ultimately the action you take.
Remember: To get used to getting things done, you must surround yourself with people who not only inspire you but also challenge you.
It isn’t always easy, but it’s worth the extra effort.
STEP 7: DO IT KNOW
At the end of the day, what makes the difference is taking action.
You can do all the planning, but if you don’t take action, nothing is going to happen.
That’s why you want to make sure you apply the following 3 strategies:
1) “Do it now” is a methodology invented by W. Clement Stone, who built a billion-dollar insurance company from nothing.
The core principle of his methodology is to repeat the phrase “do it now” every morning over and over again.
Repetition becomes habit and habit becomes action!
Instead of telling yourself that you’ll do it later, ending up skipping what you are supposed to do, start telling yourself that you’ll do it now.
It is as simple as that to reprogram your brain and stop procrastinating, but please, do not underestimate its effectiveness.
Whenever you catch yourself procrastinating, program your subconscious mind with this automatic, conditioned command, “do it now”.
2) The 5 Second Rule is a methodology invented by Mel Robbins.
In her book, The 5 Second Rule The Fastest Way To Change Your Life Mel Robbins argues that much of what holds you back in life has roots in those few precious moments between when you have an idea and when your brain gets in the way of acting on that idea.
Mel Robbins explains the rule as,
"The 5-second rule is simple. If you have an instinct to act on a goal, you must physically move within 5 seconds or your brain will kill it. Hesitation is the kiss of death. You might hesitate for a nanosecond, but that’s all it takes. That one small hesitation triggers a mental system that’s designed to stop you. And it happens in less than - you guessed it - five seconds.
When you feel yourself hesitate before doing something that you know you should do, count 5-4-3-2-1-GO and move towards action”.
3)Eat the frog is a methodology invented by Brian Tracy.
It consists in getting the most important and tedious task, i.e.the frog done and eaten by the end of the day.
This is the task with the greatest positive impact on your productivity, hence on your success.
In his book, Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time, Tracy pinpoints what you should do to eat your frog.
To save you time from reading his book, I wrote a post that summarizes the most important and precious lessons.
However, considering you want to stop procrastinating and get things done reading his book will be an excellent starting point.
Now that you are equipped with an arsenal of knowledge and tips, get out there and get done what you know you should be doing, but you have been putting off.
Then, come back and share with me and other readers what tips have had a major impact.
And why not, share also other tools, tricks, or hacks you use to stop procrastinating.
Let’s pool our efforts and help each other out.
Teamwork makes the dream work!
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