Do you find yourself putting off the things you know you should be doing? Are you currently finding it difficult to get started on something even though you view it as being important? Do you feel guilty for avoiding it but don’t know how to break the cycle? This merry-go-round of lots of thinking but no action is of course the dreaded process of Procrastination, Wikipedia defines this as:
Procrastination refers to the act of replacing high-priority actions with tasks of low-priority, and thus putting off important tasks to a later time.
For the purpose of this article, let’s call whatever high priority action (or actions) you have been putting off, ‘Activity X’. Whether it is doing your business accounts, beginning an important presentation you have to give soon or making the first step towards a personal goal you have wanted to achieve for a while, your Activity X won’t be too far from your thoughts.
As you go about your day to day I imagine Activity X travels with you, occasionally making its way from the back of your mind to the front where it knocks and says. “When are you going to do something about me?” Often this spurs on frustration at the realisation that you haven’t made any progress and so when this becomes too much to bear the age old coping mechanism of ‘distraction is bliss’ kicks in. Suddenly you need to do something else, anything else other than Activity X. On days like these procrastination may win another battle but it doesn’t have to win the War!
Another thing feeding the flame of procrastination is self sabotage. The longer time passes by without you taking action it can be easy to beat yourself up and come to the conclusion that you are stupid, lazy, even useless for not getting things done. This destructive self talk is sure to hinder your progress further. To help you move forward, I’d like to encourage you to see that it’s not you that is the problem but that the approach you are taking needs to change.
Before we go on to look at some effective strategies for getting your Activity X done, let’s decrypt the scary P word. So if procrastination is “replacing high-priority actions with tasks of low-priority, and thus putting off important tasks to a later time” all you need to do is find a way of making it easier for you to start important tasks sooner and then sustain action until it’s done. So that’s, a)Get Started and then b) Keep Going, mixed in with a bit of having a good time along the way. It doesn’t seem all that difficult to find your way around it now, does it?
Create Your *Winning Formula*
Now it’s time to put your winning formula together. When browsing through the ideas below, approach these techniques in the same way you would approach a buffet table at a party. As you assess the options in front of you, you may experience a few of the following reactions – “Oh yes that looks great, I definitely want some of that!”, “Hmm, not sure if that’s up my street but I will give it a try”, or you may think, “No definitely not for me”. Experiment with these procrastination busting strategies until you find what works for you. You may even come up with your own varieties.
Here goes nothing…
1. Fall in Love..
Take another look at your Activity X and focus on the benefits it will bring you. What is positive, even exciting about it?
Research has shown that a key reason why we choose to do lower priority tasks over higher priority ones is because the lower priority tasks bring us pleasure instantly. In comparison higher priority tasks bring us pleasure down the line. It is not surprising then that the quick fix activities win most of the time. For example, choosing to meet a friend for a bottle of wine when you had planned to go to the gym, or watching your favourite TV programme when you know you have a report to write.
So the trick is to bring some of the long term pleasure & benefit factor of the important task to the here & now. Spend a few minutes now thinking of what completing Activity X means for you. How will it benefit you? Visualise yourself after completing it, how will you will feel? How will it positively impact you? Will it contribute significantly to the development of your business, or career? Will it improve your health & wellbeing considerably? Crank up this image and the associated feel good emotions that go with it so that the next time you find yourself about to put Activity X off, you can conjure up these associations to give you more reasons for getting started and less reasons for not moving forward. Fall in love with your Activity X, see that it is here to benefit you in some way and it will become harder to ignore it.
2. Have Fun
Another reason why we put a task off can be down to the fact that we consider it to be either difficult or dull, or both. Therefore we are not naturally drawn to getting started in the same way we are to the things that we absolutely love doing.
Ask yourself what would make Activity X a) less daunting for you and b) more appealing. Create a wish list and then set about putting these things in place so that all of a sudden you are actually getting on with it. Your list may include things such as doing some research so that you feel more informed, speaking to somebody who can offer you valuable insight or partnering up with a friend or business associate.
A significant contributor to whether we enjoy something or not is the environment in which we do it. Who says you have to be confined to your usual space of work when undertaking a task? For example, if you need to put an important presentation together and are feeling a little uninspired, how about you take your office outside and find a good spot in a local park?
Finding joy in tasks that we are used to avoiding is all about knowing yourself and what you need in order to be able to focus and perform at your best. Identify what pushes your buttons and tap into this, before you realise it you will have made considerable progress and actually enjoyed yourself along the way.
3. Take Small Steps
A goal that is important to us can feel overwhelming because so many things need to happen before the goal will be attained. This leaves us feeling, “Where do I start?”, “Do I have what it takes to get there?” The most effective way of achieving a goal is to begin by taking small steps in the right direction. This allows you to get a feel for your goal and learn along the way. It also makes it easier for you to stick to taking action because it is possible for you to imagine yourself achieving the next small but significant step. That popular phrase, “Rome wasn’t built in a day” is appropriate here. Small steps make a big difference.
To do this, make a list of all of the things to do and/or acquire in order to reach the finish line. Then break these down into chronological steps, what is the first thing you need to do? Then the next? Finally break these steps into small bite sized actions, so if the first step is 1) Develop my branding, the first bite sized action may be 1a) Identify my business values, who I am and what I offer. A breakdown of the route to your goal will help give you the confidence that you can get started and also give you a sense of direction as to what lies ahead.
4. Dip Your Toe
Ok so you know what you need to do but the thought of jumping in still seems a little daunting. How about taking the same approach as someone who is training for a marathon? Start by spending a small amount of time on Activity X and then gradually increase this amount of time as and when you feel comfortable. You could start with working on it for 10 minutes, then 20 minutes, then 45 minutes. This will help you build up momentum and relax into new territories. This approach also feels less daunting than a whole hour or day immersed in something that still, at the initial stages at least, you feel a little detached from.
If Activity X requires you putting pen to paper, why not combine this with other things you may do in a week where you find yourself having 5 or so minutes waiting. These short sharp bursts of application are enough to get some good ideas down and take the pressure off you having to sit with it for too long. For example, starting Activity X doesn’t need to be Thursday evening for 2 hours but you could start it when travelling to work on the train, or when you are in the hairdressers. This is a nice way of easing yourself into things until you feel really connected and ready to spend longer periods of time on it.
5. Master Your Fear
Think of somebody whose achievements you admire. What do you think were their key learnings along the way? Would they have felt fear at points?
When we feel stuck and unable to take the next step, more often than not it is because a fear is dominating our thoughts. This fear is quite often around failing or not being perfect. Fears need not have such a hold over us and learning to work through them has an incredibly liberating impact on our lives.
Learning is a key step and one which none of us can bypass. Knowing that we develop through learning is an idea we are all very much aware of, however being comfortable with this process is another thing entirely. The more you can be ok with knowing that you are not going to get everything right straight away and that you will move forward as a result of the learnings you make as much as the successes you attain, then the easier you will find it to take action regardless of how perfect your execution is.
When we are feeling a fear, we look at life through fear tinted glasses. These pick up on everything that heightens and/or supports that fear and makes it difficult for us to see any of the opposing evidence that suggests that everything could well be perfectly ok. By taking a look at the situation with a more balanced view we are open to the full picture and will see one or more of the following things: a) that we have nothing to be fearful of, b) that yes it’ll be a challenge but we are perfectly equipped to deal with whatever we encounter or c) that there are lots of reasons to suggest that the outcome will be good.
Have a play with this now, pro-actively choose to see the positives that suggest you will have a successful outcome and write these down. Also list the strengths and skills you have that will support you in creating a successful outcome. Do you feel slightly less fearful of forging ahead with Activity X now?
6. Make A Date
It can be very helpful to allocate time during the week to working on Activity X, this is far better than a loose commitment of “This week I’ll make a start”. As Life is live and happening to us all of the time, it is worth being flexible with this technique. If out of nowhere you have a really busy week and it gets to the moment you are supposed to be working on your activity and you do not honour this, don’t spend ages fretting about it. Just make sure you rebook it into the diary within the next 3 days if possible and then feel rest assured that you’ll go on to tackle Activity X another day.
If you are going through a really busy spell and lack of time becomes an issue then you can always use the ‘Dip Your Toe’ technique of just doing 20 minutes instead of the hour you initially scheduled. This will be enough to make you feel great for starting and inspire you to pick things up again soon.
7. Do it Your Way
Often tasks that we are putting off are the ones that although important to us, aren’t the things that up until this point have come naturally to us. You no doubt plough through the high value, high enjoyment tasks you do with energy and ease. However the high value, low enjoyment tasks feel both intimidating and tedious so no wonder they get put off.
A more realistic and successful approach to these type of tasks is to just do it Your Way. By letting go of how you think it should be done and focusing on how you want to do it, you’ll make progress sooner and with more energy than if you were getting caught up on a rigid format.
A great example of tackling high value, low appeal tasks is how a client of mine tackled her business plan. As a very talented Creative she was struggling with putting together a business plan as for her a business plan conjured up an image of a dry excel spread sheet littered with corporate speak. I encouraged her to work with her strengths as a Creative and map out her business plan freely on a piece of paper with colour and pictures. By applying a creative process which came so naturally to her she was able to articulate where she wanted to take her business in detail quickly and effortlessly. She then built upon this until she had added the financials and a marketing strategy. This comprehensive plan can now be adapted to another format if required, such as if she were to have a meeting with her Bank. However if she had tried to start with an excel sheet then the process may not have been quite so fruitful. As it stands she managed to complete her Activity X within 10 days.
8. Inspire Yourself
When our energy is low and the thought of getting on with Activity X feels us with dread, what we need is a fast track way of experiencing the benefits that this will bring us. An effective way of tapping into this quickly is to have something that encompasses all that is great about doing and subsequently competing Activity X. Your something could be a picture, song or an item that represents your goal to you, as long as it is something you can carry around with you so that it is there to inspire you to choose action over distraction as frequently as possible.
Over time you’ll find the great feelings you experience when you conquer each step of your Activity X so potent that ‘doing’ gives you a far better buzz that just ‘thinking’. The great thing about achievement is that it is addictive and so just a few small accomplishments will make you feel unstoppable!
7 Day Challenge..
If you are stuck in a rut then I would like to help you move forward by supporting you in taking the first few steps in the right direction. If you’re up for the challenge of getting started within a week, then email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell me what you are going to achieve in the next 7 days. In one week I will be in touch and see how you have got on. Go on, go for it, you’ll surprise yourself…