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Why We Procrastinate

Before we can solve the problem of procrastination we must understand why we do it. There are a few basic reasons:

  1. Feeling overwhelmed with a situation.
  2. Given up hope that a situation can be changed or affected.
  3. Afraid of failing.
  4. Too “Busy” to get the really important things done.
  5. Can’t make a decision.
  6. Overworked, tired.
  7. Want to avoid work you don’t like.

Each of these can be reduced down to the pleasure/pain principle which says that we do things to gain pleasure and to avoid pain. What follows is a method to overcome procrastination on the things that matter and to jettison excess baggage in your to-do list that only serves to weigh you down.

Method to Overcome Procrastination

1. Get clear about what you want in life. Procrastinators, you’ll love this! Take 20-30 minutes to do this quick goal planning exercise. Write down all your goals in some or all of these categories: career, education, relationships, financial, physical, mindset, creative, spiritual, public service, travel, leisure, and other. Once you have your list, then whittle it down to your top 10, then down to your top 5, and then your top 3. Do this by asking yourself, “Can I live without this?” Let your less important goals lie dormant on a “maybe” list that you can check on again in a few months.

2. Delete or delegate from your To-Do List those things that don’t relate to your top 3-5 goals. Just say bye bye. And don’t look back!

3. Link tasks you don’t like to your goals. It helps to mentally (and in writing) tie these tasks to one of your main goals or values. So for example, “Keeping a tidy and clean home and desk allows me to have clarity of mind which is something I highly value. By having clarity of mind I will be better able to work on my goals and have less anxiety.” By linking the task to the pleasure of being able to think clearly, I now have a reason that will motivate me to take action.

4. Plan your day each day. This is not a big task. It should only take about 10-15 minutes of quiet time. Do the most difficult and most important things first and work your way down to the easier stuff in the afternoon. You’ll feel really good if you do this. Focus on that to motivate you to wait to check email and such until after you’ve finished your first big task.

5. Plan your week just enough to loosely schedule in some of the big things you know you want to get done. Sometimes procrastination happens simply because a task is not scheduled.

6. Allow for cheats and get rest when you’re tired or have low motivation. Don’t be so hard on yourself about the timing of a task and then you won’t try to escape through procrastination so hard in the future. Just reschedule and get back on track later or tomorrow. Also, remember to check if the task relates to one of your goals. See #1,2, and 3 again!

7. Just do it, but don’t over do it. We often put pressure on ourselves to do certain tasks more often than we really need to, such as cleaning/tidying/laundry etc. So give yourself a break and set a schedule for these things that is not overwhelming. Do thing on a “Need to do” basis and let go of the notion that you need to keep up with some perfect schedule. Ever hear of the business concept “just in time” inventory, well this is “just in time” task management.

8. Break down big tasks into smaller components. We procrastinate on tasks that are vague and nebulous because we don’t have clear instructions what to do next. Take a few moments to think about how to break down a larger task and schedule it into your calendar in pieces. This is good for when you are feeling overwhelmed.

9. Get help making decisions. Decisions are tough for me. I like to use the pro/con method and assign points. I also recommend getting help from a friend that you know is good with making decisions. Once you’ve made your decision then break it down into tasks and schedule into your calendar.

10. Believe in yourself and in your ability to accomplish anything you want. If you’ve lost hope, know that you can turn things around. Release the fear of failure. Failure is just a learning experience. Slow and steady wins the race. A little bit done every day adds up to a lot over a year. If you have to, just fake your belief until it becomes real. Remember, you can do it!

11. Trick & Treat Yourself. Do you keep avoiding cleaning up your desk or some other big task, even though you know will make you feel good to get it done? If so, do this: invite a friend or family member over for a date to “tackle the dreaded task.” All your friend has to do is sit in the room with you and make sure that you do the task. If you want you can let them help you, but it’s not necessary. After the task is done, you can treat you and your friend to either coffee, dessert, meal, movie, whatever!

Recap:

  • Know your most important goals and values.
  • Only do tasks that contribute to those goals and values.
  • Mentally link tasks to the pleasurable outcomes you seek.
  • Plan your day & week.
  • Do, but don’t overdo. Rest when needed.
  • Break down big tasks.
  • Get help making decisions.
  • Believe in yourself!
  • Trick & Treat!

What’s your best trick for overcoming procrastination?

K. Stone is author of Life Learning Today, a blog about daily life improvements. A few of her most popular articles are Ultimate Goal Setting Guide, Wrestling with Your Goals?, How to Write a Book in 60 Days or Less, Decision Making Made Easy, and Cool GTD Applications – The Ultimate Resource List.

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