If you are like most of us you’re a procrastinator – and you hate it! You put off what you know you should do, what you know you need to do – sometimes even what you know you want to do – but somehow or other (unlike Nike) you just can’t summon up the drive or the courage to ‘just do it…’
Why do we procrastinate?
Fear…we’re afraid that if we do the thing we might just fail. But hey, we might just succeed too. If we don’t try we are guaranteed to fail, right?
Fear…we’re afraid that if we do the thing we might just succeed – and then what will be expected of us? We’d have to keep on succeeding (yikes). However, it could lead to wonderful new heights, experiences, fun too, couldn’t it?
Fear…we’re afraid we won’t enjoy doing the thing, whatever it might be. And maybe we won’t – but it’s a whole lot better than the pain of putting it off. At least we will get something at the end of our pain. With putting stuff off we end up with nothing, except more pain.
Fear…we’re afraid of doing the wrong thing. Maybe it will be the wrong thing, but we won’t know for sure until we do it and if it is wrong we’ll have valuable information on what is the right thing to do next. It’s all learning after all, isn’t it?
As with most self-defeating avoidance behaviour, fear tends to be at the root somewhere. And as with most self-defeating avoidance behaviour, we are kidding ourselves. What’s worse is that we know we are kidding ourselves but we keep on kidding ourselves anyway – and we keep on making ourselves miserable.
You know it. I know it. We all know it. So let’s stop it NOW.
Here are some suggestions on how to tackle this annoying way of life:
- Make a decision: Decide what you need (or want) to do. Yes, just decide. Make that commitment. You can go around and round in maddening circles forever and get nowhere. Dig your heels in, stop the Merry-go-round and make the decision. Take the chance. Even a wrong decision is better than no decision. Indecision drives people mad.
If you get it wrong, at the very least you get feedback and experience and you can alter your course in the direction of the right decision. Sitting there dithering, stewing gets you nowhere. It’s a waste of life. And, boy, is it stressful.
- Break it down: Once you know what you want to do, break it up into small parts. We’ve all heard it before but it’s true – you can only eat an elephant one bite at a time and you can’t swallow an apple whole or it will kill you! Everything is made up of smaller parts so break that task or project up into small manageable bite sized pieces – and do one small piece at a time. And keep on doing one small piece at a time until the job is done. (Oh, the satisfaction!)
- Give it five minutes: If you really dread a particular task (like working out or cleaning out that attic or writing that report) just commit to doing it for five minutes. Tell yourself that after five minutes if you still really hate it, you’ll stop – but give it five whole minutes of your life to start. I’ve always found that ‘the hardest part is to start’. So commit wholeheartedly to that five minutes.
Generally what happens is that five minutes of solid effort is enough to get you over that hump of procrastination and once the ball starts rolling you’re usually happy enough to continue to let it roll. More often than not you’ll find that the imagined pain of doing the task is far, far worse than the real pain of actually doing it. Think of it like taking a plunge into a cold swimming pool. For the first minute or so it’s a bit uncomfortable but then as you acclimatise it becomes kind of nice…doesn’t it?
- Complete the action: I find this great for getting a blog post written or a room tidied or whatever it is I need to just get done and dusted. The idea is that no matter what, you finish or ‘complete the action’ of what you are doing and don’t allow anything to stop you. So, for example, if you are in the middle of your allotted task and the phone rings, you don’t let it interrupt you. You let it ring. (Don’t worry if it’s important, they’ll leave a voicemail or ring back). You hold on tight to what you are doing and don’t stop until its done, finished, gone.
It’s so easy these days, with emails popping in, texts pinging you, phones ringing, Facebook beckoning you and colleagues sticking their heads around the door, to let yourself be interrupted. You stop your task and then God only knows when, if ever, you come back to it. No, no – complete the action. Hang on in there and get it done. Do not let anyone or anything stop you.
- Touch it once: I got this idea from the famous Sales Guru Tom Hopkins. It’s similar to the ‘complete the action idea’ and it’s great for keeping your Inbox cleared and your desk free of paperwork. Here the idea is that you deal with things, as much as you can, as they arise. Obviously not if you are in mid task, as per 4 above, but if you are not particularly involved in something then when that email arrives you answer it at once, then file it or delete it. When that document arrives on your desk you deal with it immediately and read it then and there or file it or bin it. Basically, as much as possible, you take final action on everything that comes your way. This saves so much time.
I used to find that I’d be re-reading emails over and over because I hadn’t taken final action on them when they first came in. So I’d waste time re-reading them, then I’d waste paper and ink printing out attachments that I had previously printed out because I wasn’t sure I had already printed them – and I developed the frustration and confusion that comes from an over flowing Inbox and paper tray. The rule is ‘touch it once’ and get rid of it, if possible. You’ll save time, paper, ink, head space and stress.
- What’s the worst that could happen? Ask yourself what is the worst thing that will happen if I tackle this task now? Usually the answer will be so trivial it will make you realise you are causing yourself a lot of pain for nothing. Then ask yourself what will happen if you don’t tackle the task. Usually if this thing has been hanging around long enough to have a negative emotional effect on you, then it is important to you.
The chances are that doing it might lead to some minor temporary discomfort but not doing it will lead to longer lasting pain, stress and possibly missed opportunities. How many times have you fretted and stewed for days (if not weeks) over an assignment that when you finally got around to tackling only took a few hours? Imagine weeks of pain for the sake of a few hours of discomfort! Mad, eh? You need to realise you are accepting long term pain for a very short term (and very often not even that enjoyable, guilt laden) gain.
- Hard choice, easy life. Easy choice, hard life: I believe this saying was coined by Olympic weight lifter Jerzy Gregorek and personally I think it is brilliant and so true. When it comes to doing things in life you often have two choices – the easy and the hard. Almost invariably the right choice is the hard one. Do I go to the gym or laze in bed for another hour? Do I eat the ice cream or the fruit? Do I work on my CV or watch another episode of ‘Game of Thrones’? As in number 6 above, it’s clear to see that the easy choice will give us pleasure in the short term but a much harder life in the long run. Be wise and take the short term pain so you get the long term gain and give yourself an easy life.
- Vow to do it NOW!: Yes, just vow to do it now. Whatever it is that’s been bugging you. Whatever it is that’s been hanging over you. Just do it now. Make that phone call… now. Turn on your computer and write up that report this minute. Go into that garage and start clearing out that junk…this second! Whatever it is make a start…and keep going. Take the leap and do it NOW.
- Live in the NOW: Speaking of ‘vowing to do it now’, realise that now is all the time you really have. The past and future are just fantasy. The past only lives on in our memories (and very often not very accurately) and the future is pure imagination (and unless you are a Psychic, is pretty much guaranteed to be inaccurate).
In all of eternity NOW is the only time that you can really, actually physically do anything. Now is really the only time you have, so rather than wasting the precious now by putting off what you know you should be doing, use it to make your life wonderfully positive and productive – and in all likelihood wonderfully enjoyable and satisfying.
- Prioritise: A great excuse for putting off is that you don’t have enough time. There’s just too much to do! Funnily enough though, you nearly always have time for doing the fun, easy things, don’t you? You’ll squeeze them in there somehow…
If something is important enough to you that it is hanging over you and ruining your day then it is important enough to get done (otherwise why not just forget about it?) Choose to live a life of priority. Now, that doesn’t mean no fun and all work, but it does mean taking the time to realise what is important to you and committing to getting that done, for your own sake, growth and peace of mind. So do not put off what you need/want to do. Get it done now so you can make the most of your life and not whittle it away in fear, procrastination and just plain selling yourself short.
So…when are you going to do this? When will you take that first step to a better more fulfilling life?