Break free – Learn to beat procrastination for good

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I’ve been meaning to write about procrastination for ages, but I never seem to get round to it…..

Procrastination is nothing to be ashamed of – almost everyone gets a bout from time to time.  I realized it was time for me to get off Facebook and share some powerful ideas to help you kick time-wasting for good.

Beating procrastination can buy you more time, increase your sense of accomplishment and take away the frustration of feeling stuck.

Learning how to  kick start work projects, do what really matters and sieze the day can have a huge impact on your happiness and success.

What is procrastination?

Psychologists define procrastination as something “counter-productive, needless and delaying” – and that is no fun at all.

We all have some great techniques for procrastinating – some of my personal favourites include:

“I’ll start doing that this afternoon / tomorrow / next week / next month…”

“I’ll just clean the house / bathe the dog / take out the recycling / check Facebook / cut my toenails first….”

“Every time I’m about to start, the phone rings / my boss comes by / I get an urgent email….”

What makes us come up with these fiendish avoidance tactics?

Check your Head

According to the Mind Gym, procrastination is typically driven by our deeper beliefs about the world.  If we can identify the underlying assumptions and motivatiors, we can start to understand and beat our procrastination.

They suggest some common beliefs that lead to time-wasting:

  • Perfectionism – do you strive for absolute perfection in everything you do?  Perfection is such a high bar to reach, this creates a huge amount of pressure to perform.  Trying to write the perfect CV, create the ideal Powerpoint, have the perfect call with that customer is such a daunting task.  It is easy to understand why starting such a task feels scary and is easy to put off.
  • Certainty – “Before I take my dream trip to Australia / start this project on marketing to pharmaceutical companies / go to that yoga class, I need to know all about it”.  The need for certainty can push us to spend years in the research phase and never pull the trigger.  We fear that unless we’re an expert, we’ll be exposed as a fraud, look stupid and everything will go wrong.  So we never start.
  • Fear of failure – starting is the first step on the downward spiral to failure, public humiliation and destitution.  The demonic spectre of failure has stopped many great ideas and projects in their tracks.  This is probably the single largest cause of procrastination.
  • I’m not good enough – when we don’t believe we can do something, we’ll find every reason and excuse in the world not to do it.  The most debilitating thought in the world is “there is no way I can do this”.

Next time you find yourself cleaning out the cellar or re-tweetig that latest fascinating post, take a second.  What are you putting off and why?

Changing Minds

To beat procrastination, start by changing your thinking. Once you’ve identified what is behind your procrastination, try this approach:

Step 1 – Redefine your belief

Start to take the pressure off yourself by rephrasing your beliefs in a less harsh way:

I must get a perfect result” becomes “I’d like a perfect result

I must know everything about this” becomes “It would be good to know everything about this

I’m terrified of failing” becomes “It would be better not to fail

I can’t do this” becomes “I’m not sure if I am ready for this

Immediately, these beliefs become less imposing and less of a barrier to getting starting.

Step 2 – Create a safety net

Now to further crumble your belief.  Add in a get-out clause that makes the belief even less daunting.  For example:

I’d like a perfect result but if I don’t get one it doesn’t matter.”

It would be good to know everything about this but I already know enough to start and I’ll keep learning as I go along.”

These statements take away the terrible future consequences we’ve already imagined for the task.  It is fine if we try our best and we don’t quite reach perfect.  If we do fail, we may learn more than if we succeed.

Step 3 – Go for it

With the newly minted belief in place, it is time to launch in and get started!  When I’ve used this technique, it often feels like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders.  I always find that just taking action is the best way to beat procrastination

Whatever you do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius and power and magic in it.” Johann von Goethe

Penny for your thoughts

What are you procrastinating about?

  • What beliefs are holding you back?
  • How can you rethink those beliefs?
  • How do you beat procrastination?

Please leave a comment and share your thoughts.

Brilliant ideas on beating procrastination

Positively Present on 5 ways to amp up your morning

Farnoosh at Prolific Living on finding focused intensity

Practical Ideas to avoid distraction from the Art of Great Things

Photo Credit: Alan Cleaver (Flickr Creative Commons)

Related posts:

  1. Six steps to Stress-free Productivity
  2. Find your Focus – The Power of Now
  3. How to Kick your Bad Habit for Good
  4. Find your Focus in 2010 – Feel the Fear and Do it anyway
  5. What we can learn from children

Comments

  1. Phil
    May 27, 2010 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    What are you procrastinating about? What is really going on?

    What do you do to beat procrastination and get stuff done?

  2. May 27, 2010 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    Hi Phil,
    I’m a master at the art of procrastination. I probably fall mainly into the certainty category, wanting to know every last fact about something before I start it. However, I’ve discovered over the years that actually doing something is the best way of researching that thing. So now I set myself a limit – I’ll allow myself to research up to a certain point, then I make myself take action, but I look at that action as being part of the research. I’m not sure why, but it just makes taking the action seem less daunting. It seems to work!
    Topi
    .-= Topi´s last blog ..7 ways to live a more simple life =-.

  3. May 27, 2010 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    Hey Phil,

    I now one of the major reason I procrastinate is because I forget to chunk things down. So when I think of all the stuff I still have to do to get to my goal, it can be demotivating. But once I just focus on the task at hand and enjoy the process, it get’s much easier to get things done.
    .-= Eduard @ People Skills Decoded´s last blog ..The elusive reason why success is elusive =-.

  4. May 27, 2010 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

    Hi Phil,

    Analysis paralysis or paralysis by analysis is a killer! The real trick to beating procrastination is to get over the fear of making a fool of yourself. Just know that you will make a fool of yourself from time to time and get over it. If you aren’t making a fool of yourself occasionally, you aren’t moving forward. Or so I tell myself…

    Catherine
    .-= Catherine Morgan´s last blog ..Thinking about physical distance =-.

  5. May 27, 2010 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    Hi Phil
    “I’ve been meaning to write about procrastination for ages, but I never seem to get round to it…..”
    You can’t use that joke… too late you already have.
    Thanks for the check list and ideas to get through not making a start.
    One problem can be not being sure what to do. My old maths teacher had a cure for that.
    His favourite saying was “If you don’t know what to do… put down what you know.”
    In other words just make a start. Write something, anything and see where it goes.
    Works for me.
    .-= Keith Davis´s last blog ..Laugh and the world… =-.

  6. May 27, 2010 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

    Phil,

    Funny about you meaning to write a post on procrastination! I hear you. I started one six months ago, left it as a draft and never finished it. It’s a tough topic to get into.

    Why are you putting off or why? You nailed it. It’s easy to tweet. Harder to put a new program together. Can tweeting help with marketing the new program. Yes. We just need the program! It can get circular.

    Off to work on that new program! Thx. G.
    .-= Giulietta the Muse´s last blog ..The Rebel You Haven’t Met =-.

  7. May 27, 2010 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

    Hi Phil,
    Great analysis of that age old bugaboo. My best procrastination technique is to get on the phone and talk way too long. I convince myself I am taking care of business only to realize that later it was a wonderful procrastination technique… usually when I am stuck on my writing. I usually get stuck by over analysis. So, instead of setting my aim for the ultimate realization, I simply set my attention on the process of forward motion. I tell myself, “do it now” and commit to never leaving the scene of that decision without taking action.
    .-= rob white´s last blog ..What does a Panda car have to do with me? =-.

  8. May 27, 2010 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

    Phil,
    I tried to type up a comment to you via the iPhone but it’s so much easier on my Mac…..Am I the only one that has trouble typing on iPhone?
    Ok I digress…..First of all, thank you for referencing Prolific Living but most important of all, Procrastination is really a scary bear, we have got to be so conscious of its presence. It just slips in unnoticed and sits there and stares us in the face til we give in. Thank you for the defense mechanisms you introduced so we can fight it better…way to go, Phil!

  9. May 28, 2010 at 2:45 am | Permalink

    The thing that I procrastinate most is tidying up my desk. The rate of things coming into my inbox is more than the outflow at any one time. It is not easy to keep up. I end up trashing a lot of stuff after a period because I simply do not have the time. I tell others (not my kids though) that my desk is really organized mess…hee.
    .-= Evelyn Lim´s last blog ..How To Make Peace With Noise =-.

  10. Phil
    May 28, 2010 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    Topi – a very elegant solution to the old preparation vs. action debate. Good preparation can make all the difference to an outcome, yet overcoming the need to know everything is tricky. I think setting a limit is a really nice way of moving forward. You’re right, all action is actually learning and research too.. often the best kind of all.

    Eduard – you’re right that breaking down a giant task into small steps can really work. At the moment, I’m using a daily system of personal promises. I make a commitment each morning to myself about what I am going to do. Learning to keep these promises to myself is helping me avoid time wasting and procrastination. The more I do it, the easier it gets to be productive and use my whole potential. The good thing is that I can still live in the moment with these small chunks.

    Cat – you’ve never made a fool of yourself, I’m sure. You’re right that just grasping the nettle and getting on with it is the best remedy of all. If you’re comfortable with who you are, and act within your values you can’t let yourself down. That is the starting point for being truly effective and killing procrastination stone dead.

    Rob – I totally agree with your maths teacher. Sometimes its better to just start writing, typing, talking, dialling and see what comes out. I find that the less I prepare for something, generally the better it goes. I guess it is about building up pressure on a situation or particular outcome.

    Giulietta – I think Eddy has great advice on this. Break it into chunks. Commit to each chunk at a time and promise to finish it. Then reward yourself with a little rebellion!

    Rob – I can’t believe that. Your blog is the epitome of succinct writing and getting to the point. At least your procrastination is collaborative and you never quite know where a conversation might take you. The key is to figure out what it is you are avoiding and why – then you can understand the driver and get moving.

    Farnoosh – First the iphone. I just got one this week and won’t hear a word against it. Ok – typing is a little slower (I’ve started using my index fingers rather than thumbs for more accuracy). I reckon it is good for short emails, not writing epics! Procrastination is such a cheeky little bear – it can toy with us, trick us, fool us, make us think we’re doing something worthwhile when in fact we’re avoiding the real issue. Learning to beat the bear is a great feeling, but you always have to watch out for it!

    Evelyn – it sounds like you have a pretty good basis for a tidy desk policy. If something wasn’t important enough to make a difference within a week or two, it is trashed. I keep a rigorous control over my email because otherwise it sucks me into a panic. Less good with physical filing. My solution – buy a bigger inbox (I have a giant toast rack with about 6 slots – that way I can “file” everything to deal with later!)

  11. May 28, 2010 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    A word against the iPhone, Phil? No no way….I am not out of my mind. I wrote a long post on how the iPhone promotes prolific living :) ). I love my iPhone. It’s brilliant, it’s smart, it’s efficient, it’s fast and furious and yes while the typing is not as efficient as my Mac, gosh I am hopelessly in love with my iPhone and you will be there soon if not already…..~

  12. May 28, 2010 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

    Phil, I was procratinating about my family’s summer vacation but not anymore. In a few weeks, I’ll be sipping Coronas on the beach south of the border getting high on life.

  13. May 28, 2010 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

    Phil, I was procratinating about my family\’s summer vacation but not anymore. In a few weeks, I\’ll be sipping Coronas on the beach south of the border getting high on life.

  14. May 28, 2010 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

    A technique that helps me beat procrastination is to develop bite-size routines that are much easier to follow through on.

    Take filing for example, developing a routine of filing just 10 minutes a day makes it a much more manageable task and one I actually look forward to vs. sitting down and trying to do it in one larger chunk of time. Dejunking the house becomes getting rid of five things a day. An exercise program starts out with five minutes of jumping rope.

    One these smaller habits are in place I add more bite-size pieces.
    .-= Leisa Watkins | Welath Wisdom and Success´s last blog ..Unhappy by Default or Happy On Purpose: You Decide! =-.

  15. May 28, 2010 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

    A technique that helps me beat procrastination is to develop bite-size routines that are much easier to follow through on.

    Take filing for example, developing a routine of filing just 10 minutes a day makes it a much more manageable task and one I actually look forward to vs. sitting down and trying to do it in one larger chunk of time. Dejunking the house becomes getting rid of five things a day. An exercise program starts out with five minutes of jumping rope.

    One these smaller habits are in place I add more bite-size pieces.
    .-= Leisa Watkins | Wealth, Wisdom and Success´s last blog ..Unhappy by Default or Happy On Purpose: You Decide! =-.

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  1. By Five Things I wish I'd Known Earlier in Life on August 18, 2010 at 2:47 pm

    [...] have a terrible confession to make – sometimes I suffer from indecision, procrastination and inertia.  I’m [...]

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