This is a guest post by Mike from Living Skillfully: Change Your Life.
Do you put off doing things that would bring you closer to your desired goals? I know I do. But why are we so foolish?
It has something to do with how our daily responsibilities overwhelm us. In the midst of all the important things we know we need to do, we somehow convince ourselves that none of these things need to be done right now. In other words, we decide that some peace and relaxation in the short term is what’s most important.
So we take another break, read another blog post, watch another TV show and just kick back and relax. And life is blissfully dandy… for a little while.
But then suddenly the inevitable deadline has arrived. Ahhh! It’s panic time!
So here are 7 common causes and proven cures procrastination. I’m hoping these tips help you avoid that insane moment of panic.
1. Fear of the outcome
Sometimes we’re afraid we’ll fail. Sometimes we’re subconsciously afraid we’ll succeed and then we’d have to deal with all the disruption (growth) and change that follows success. And other times it’s our fear of rejection or simply our fear of looking like a fool.
The best way I’ve found to defeat fear is to stare it down. Connect to your fear, feel it in your body, realize it and steadily address it. Greet it by name if you have to: “Welcome, fear.”
If you are conscious of it, soon it becomes shy, hangs its head, and mooches off, scraping one shoe on the ground.
2. Helplessness in the face of complexity
We look at a task at hand and feel intensely un-resourceful. It may remind us of something we had to do when we were younger, before we had the skills to conquer it (even though that’s no longer the case). Or it may actually be a daunting task at our current skill level. Either way, the task seems far too complex, so we try to avoid it.
This time the solution is to break it down. Take that complex task and break it down to its bare essential components and then tackle each one of those components one at a time.
Sometimes it’s also helpful to recall one of your previous successes with conquering a complex task just to get yourself in a positive mindset. Think of a time you were really on top of things, achieving great results – when you were in the zone. Close your eyes and place yourself in that memory with all your senses.
3. Rebellion and laziness
We resent the task in front of us. We feel imposed upon. “I have to do this,” we think to ourselves. “But I don’t have to do it now.”
Rebellion is about control. We assert our control by choosing when (or whether) to do the task.
A friend of mine whose home-schooled son is very rebellious came up with a clever hack. She said, “We’re going to do what kids who are in school do. You’re going to sit and do school work for 8 hours a day.” Her son rebelled, naturally. When the rebellion was in full effect, my friend offered an alternative. “Or, we could do this home-school style. If you finish early, we can go somewhere fun.” And her son worked more productively than ever.
So when you notice yourself feeling rebellious and lazy about a task, think of a way to reward yourself for getting it done now. Also, remind yourself of the consequences of not doing it.
4. Lack of motivation
I procrastinate doing my tax return. It’s an administrative task and I don’t like it. But it helps when I think about it this way: “I’m due a refund this year.” When I concentrate on the amount of money I get back versus the time it takes to do my taxes, it’s an excellent hourly rate. And it motivates me to focus on getting it done.
That by itself wasn’t quite concrete enough, though. So I promised myself a reward: out of the refund, I would buy myself a kayak – something I’d been thinking about for awhile to help me get back in shape.
The basic principle is reframing. If you know the job has to be done but it’s not emotionally important to you, find a way to make it important. (If I was going to be paying a penalty fee for turning my taxes in late, I could set aside the equivalent amount of the penalty for a reward, for example.)
What are you going to get by doing this that’s important enough to motivate you to do it now?
5. Lack of focus and fatigue
Distractions are everywhere. You must learn to ignore them.
Minimize distractions by secluding yourself. Disconnect the Internet and power off your cell phone if you have to. Check e-mail and voicemail at set intervals instead of randomly every few minutes. Find a quiet space where you can concentrate on the task at hand. And only take breaks as a reward for accomplishing smaller sub-tasks.
Also, it’s hard to focus when you’re fatigued. So get enough sleep, eat healthy and exercise regularly.
6. Not knowing where or how to start
Or maybe the task just looms in front of you as a big block, like a building with no doors. You walk around its perimeter and you don’t immediately see a way in. How do you get in? Where do you begin? You can’t figure it out, so you set the task aside.
I’m creating a course on procrastination. It started out as one of those buildings with no doors. “How do I even start designing a course like that?” I thought.
Well, I wrote down a few reasons why people procrastinate (the starting point). I thought about reasons why you’d want to stop (the end point or goal). Once something has a beginning and an end, it’s a lot easier to start seeing the middle. And usually you can work from both ends until you meet in the middle. Each of those reasons is a topic. And each of those topics has a start and an end, and so on and so forth.
So don’t give up. Uncover the starting and ending points and start filling in the blanks one at a time.
One of the best bits of advice ever about perfectionism comes from Melody Beattie’s book Codependent No More. “It just doesn’t matter,” she says. “IT JUST DOESN’T MATTER!”
But that’s hard advice to put into practice sometimes. I’ve often put off implementing ideas by using the excuse that I’m not yet prepared to do the idea justice. Some part of me thinks I’ll end up wasting the idea by implementing it poorly at my current level of skill.
But guess what? My current level of skill isn’t going to increase unless I practice. And I can’t practice until I implement. And that means I have to implement with my current level of skill, make mistakes, learn from them and press on.
So in reality, not implementing that idea right now is the only true way to waste it.
And guess what else? There are plenty of additional ideas and variations I haven’t thought of yet, and most of them won’t come to me until I’ve started implementing and making mistakes. It’s impossible to steer a parked car.
By taking the time and initiative to understand your own reasons for procrastinating, and devoting a little energy to take the necessary steps to move forward, you can beat procrastination. We all can.
In fact, simply writing this article was a testament to this. I kept procrastinating on writing it because I lacked focus. So I locked myself in my den, eliminated all distractions, kept the end in mind and started writing. And as usual, starting was the hardest part. Now I’m done.
For additional guidance on beating procrastination, I highly recommend The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination.
Photo by: Maya