What You Need to Know to Stop Procrastinating

What you need to know to stop procrastinatingWhat in the world do we have to do to stop procrastinating?

Procrastination is super sneaky and annoying.

None of us wants to procrastinate routinely, but many of us get trapped into the never-ending cycle of delay – stress – embarrassment – sleep deprivation – delay – stress – embarrassment – sleep deprivation.  We’re so spent it feels like we have no energy to do other things — especially new ventures which require creativity and clear thinking.

So why is it so easy to fall into a cycle of procrastination, yet so hard to escape from it?

Our false beliefs about how to get things done may be the reason we can never seem to stop procrastinating.  The following is a quick list of 5 common myths about productivity that tend to keep us wedded to procrastination:

What You Need to Know to Stop Procrastinating

Which of these 5 assumptions do you tend to make?  Keep tabs on yourself after reading them to make sure these false ideas don’t block you from being productive in the future.

  1. I need to be very anxious in order to good work.  We are taught as early as elementary school that doing good work is a good thing.  As we make our way through middle school and high school, our work becomes more complex, but so do our feelings about doing that work.  Somewhere on that journey through high school, we become anxious about a paper, exam, or grade, and then, lo and behold, we end up associating our work with stress.  We start feeling stressed before we work.  We can even feel stressed at just the idea of working.  And that is where procrastination walks in the door.  At first, it is an innocent delay, but then procrastination becomes more of a routine reaction to work.  So what’s the answer to this problem?  Realize you do not need to be stressed out to do good work.  We may actually do our best work when our minds and bodies are clear of stress and anxiety.  The next time you have an assignment or project you need to get done, decide what your first steps should be and get those done without creating extra emotional drama and distress.
  2. My work represents my value in and to the world.  This particular myth is probably the single greatest cause of procrastination.  When we believe our work somehow represents our value as a person in the world, our work becomes more than just work — it takes on too great a significance as the concrete symbol of how good or bad we are as people.  No wonder people refuse to finish their work and choose procrastination instead!  The good news is our work is not a full measure of our value as human beings.  It is not even close.  The solution to feeling this way?  The next time you have to get work done, address the work and what the work needs from you.  Don’t demand that the work reflect your value as a person.  Keep it simple, straightforward, and do your best, but don’t overwork it in any way.
  3. All of my work needs to be done perfectly.  This is a variation of item #2.  When we attach our self-worth to our work, we then force ourselves to make everything we produce top-notch.  If we don’t, then we risk facing blows to our self-esteem.  But again, our work does not represent who we are or what we are worth.  So how do you deal with your perfectionistic tendencies?  Do good work but make sure you don’t sacrifice your well-being in the process.  Push away any thoughts about how other people might react to your work.  They are going to have a reactions, but those are not yours to control.  Let your work stand for itself.
  4. I have to keep my problems getting things done hidden from other people.  When we feel badly about our actions, we try to keep them secret from other people.  Our intentions are pure, but we feel the need to isolate ourselves from people around us because we feel ashamed.  Problem is, when we become socially isolated, our procrastination takes over even more powerfully.  We no longer have someone to talk with, someone to alert to our difficulty, someone who can remind us everything will be okay.  Since procrastination blooms in an atmosphere of isolation, make sure you take specific action to reconnect with the people in your life.  Doing so will re-energize you and help you to regain your natural motivation.
  5. I will always feel shame and embarrassment about my procrastination, so there’s no payoff for trying to change my ways.  Thinking that we will never be able to stop procrastinating causes us to feel very negatively about ourselves.  This negativity prevents us from reaching out to others for support or advice or help.  It also makes the pressure we feel about our unfinished work even greater.  The good news is the idea that we have to remain in a shamed and embarrassed state forever is a big lie.  As soon as we make the decision to do anything within our power to move forward, the positive feelings begin to flow in.  If you feel stuck because of negative feelings, make sure you speak with someone who can help you feel better again as soon as possible.

So, are you ready to stop procrastinating yet?

When we realize the ideas that keep rattling around in our heads are erroneous, we get a little more courageous when it comes to fighting the impulse to procrastinate.

We decide we are going to keep our work:

  • simple
  • stress-free
  • good enough (and not “perfect”)
  • connected with the people who need to see our work
  • guilt- and shame-free

Sound good to you?  I thought so.

Adjust your mindset in order to get the things you need to get done done.  If you cannot at this time, please do not worry.  After all, worry is the whole reason procrastination is so powerfully addictive and why it so often seems like the best idea in town. Take the time to develop a more positive mindset, to feel less afraid about what work and working means to your self-esteem, and to have real patience and kindness for yourself.

It is possible for you to stop procrastinating soon.  It will be worth your extra effort.

Related reading:

What is the Most Important Factor for Consistent Productivity?

25 Questions to Help You Make Positive Changes in Your Life

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How to Develop a New Habit and to Break Old Ones (with a Free Download)

Habit Tracker

Repetition is your friend.  Repetition allows you to get comfortable.  It allows you to feel at ease in your performance.  It allows you to preserve your mental space for more complex matters you need to concentrate on. But sometimes, being able to repeat certain behaviors seems to be a very hard thing to accomplish.  There are many reasons for this:

  • we forget
  • we get busy
  • we get distracted
  • we lose faith in our ability to keep our behavior on track
  • we get bored when we think of the idea of having a “routine”
  • the excitement wears off

One habit that has been supremely hard for me to develop is meditating in the morning. We’re talking years of on-and-off “trying” to meditate.

I decided to design a printout for myself to keep track of what I was and was not doing for the last week in July.  This printout was meant to satisfy my desire to put pen to paper and to “see” what I was really up to.  I listed four activities, including meditating, that I was interested in remembering to do on a daily basis and one activity that I wanted to remember to avoid.

The habit tracker sheet allowed me to wake up the next day feeling no resistance to the idea of meditating.  My mind was already primed to think I was going to meditate.  I had made a plan and I was going to check off that box no matter what.  I learned it didn’t really have to be a do-or-die kind of situation.  I just meditated.  And that felt slightly better than staring at my meditation pillow and running a few circles around it like I usually do.

Why don’t you try tracking your habits too?  If you are game, print out the August Habit Tracker Sheet that I have made for you to use.  My suggestions for using the August Habit Tracker Sheet are as follows:

1. Limit yourself to five habits that you would like to work on.  Getting overwhelmed never helped anyone make good changes.

2.  Enter three tasks that you would not want to forget to do on a daily basis.

3.  Enter one new habit that you would like to try to be consistent with, e.g. meditation, walking in the morning, writing down ten ideas for your business, reading for twenty minutes.

4.  Enter one old habit that you would like to avoid doing, e.g. eating sugary foods, random apologizing, impulse buying.

5.  Have fun filling in your daily boxes.  Do it your way.  You could circle the number in the box, x it out, fill it in, color it in, or make a check mark.  Go crazy.

6.  Feel the flow of your new habits start to take hold.  Stick with the August Habit Tracker Sheet and keep going.  Realize that you are stimulating the broader habit of completing what you set out to do.

Have you developed any systems of your own for keeping yourself on track?  I’d love to hear about them.  If you enjoyed this post, please share it with those you love and/or follow me on Twitter for more ideas on how to get past Procrastination in your life.

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The Benefits of Everyday Habits

Everyday HabitsMany, many years ago, I spoke about Procrastination to a small group of 17 dissertation students at a major university.  The group was polite, attentive, and eager to learn.

Mid-presentation I spontaneously asked the group how many of the 17 were doing their work on a daily basis.  I don’t know why, but I was shocked by their response.

Only one of the 17 dissertation students was dealing with her work on a daily basis.  When I asked her what made her behave differently from the rest of the group, she told me and the group that the university, due to a change in guidelines regarding financial support of doctoral students, was taking away her financial backing.

Ah-ha.  There was all of a sudden a very large motivating force compelling that student to work on a daily basis.

Although I was shocked by the fact that 16 out of the 17 students were not working every day, I shouldn’t have been.  Why?  Because I too, had developed 9,000,001 techniques to avoid working on my dissertation when I was in that very difficult emotional zone of dissertation writing.

Since that talk I gave many, many years ago, I have developed the opinion that the only way to push a humongous project (like a dissertation) through to the end is to work on it in a serious manner every day.

I am sharing these memories with you in order to encourage you to develop a daily habit with the project that is most important to you, and perhaps the one which is making you Procrastinate the most.  Why should we waste valuable time when we know the answer to faster and greater productivity?  We’ll have way more fun when we are finished (as every single dissertation student who has ever successfully completed a dissertation will attest).

The following are a few guidelines and reflections to get you started:

1.  You need to be able to distinguish real work from fake work.  When we have in-depth, complex projects to handle, it is easy to manufacture a sense of doing the work, when in fact, we are just passing time.  Make sure you are honest with yourself about whether you are actually focusing on your work, or if you are researching and fussing your way around it.

2.  Even 15 minutes a day of real work will be beneficial to your overall productivity. If the idea of working on something every day makes you cringe, know that just 15 minutes a day of real work will give you tremendous payoffs at the end of the day.

3.  You will not have to deal with initiation stress as much.  So often the issue with getting down to work is the problem of needing to get past our discomfort with initiating our work.  Once you get into a pattern of daily work, that initiation stress dies down significantly.

4.  You will not need to deal with distracting thoughts, events, and people as much. When you train yourself to work on a daily basis, the time you spend working becomes a solid, knowable event in your day.  You will begin to protect that time in your schedule for the work.  As a result, your work will be easier to pay attention to and to develop.  The distracting thoughts, events, and people that are part of your day will have to wait a bit for you to finish your day’s work.

5.  You will develop a system of working and a sense of mastery.  What I’ve learned from writing posts week after week (often with a daily writing routine) is the intangible factors involved in getting to my work smooth themselves out when I keep to a daily habit of working.  When you develop your own daily practice, you’ll find the mindset of working is accessible, the materials you need are at hand, and the readiness to produce is there.

6.  Your work will actually progress.  This is obvious, no?

7.  You will not dread working so much.  Wouldn’t that be great?

When you develop a daily productivity habit, you develop a trusted way to make sure you maintain a healthy relationship with your work.  No more complaining, no more obsessing, no more regretting.  More freedom, more productivity, more confidence, more contentment.  Sounds good to me.

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