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How to Overcome Procrastination and Start Doing What Truly Matters

How to Overcome Procrastination and Start Doing What Truly Matters

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

  • Feeling overwhelmed with a situation.
  • Given up hope that a situation can be changed or affected.
  • Afraid of failing.
  • Too “busy” to get the really important things done.
  • Can’t make a decision.
  • Overworked, tired.
  • 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.

So how to overcome procrastination? Overcoming procrastination can be less challenging if you follow the methods below. Start doing things that matter, and jettison excess baggage in your to-do list that only serves to weigh you down:

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. Focus on the important tasks first.

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2. Tidy up your to-do list

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!

This is important to better time management because with limited time, it’s important to do only things that matter most, but not every single task at hand.

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. This helps you to remind yourself how each task is related to the big picture.

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.

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This article about setting daily goals can help you:

How Setting Small Daily Goals Makes You Achieve Big Success

5. Plan your week just enough

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.

Scrum could be a great method for you to try, so you can plan your week right.

6. Allow for cheats and get rest

When you’re tired or have low motivation, take a break.

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 and laundry etc. So give yourself a break and set a schedule for these things that is not overwhelming.

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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 heard 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.

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If you have to, just fake your belief until it becomes real. Remember, you can do it!

11. Trick and 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 or movie, whatever!

Summing it up

It’s useless to read through this article if you’re not taking any actions right after reading it!

So here’s a recap for you:

  • 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  and treat!

And now, start with the first one on the list, what’s your goals and what do you value?

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

More by this author

K. Stone

The founder of Life Learning Today, a blog that's dedicated to life improvement tips.

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Last Updated on March 31, 2020

Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

Procrastination is very literally the opposite of productivity. To produce something is to pull it forward, while to procrastinate is to push it forward — to tomorrow, to next week, or ultimately to never.

Procrastination fills us with shame — we curse ourselves for our laziness, our inability to focus on the task at hand, our tendency to be easily led into easier and more immediate gratifications. And with good reason: for the most part, time spent procrastinating is time spent not doing things that are, in some way or other, important to us.

There is a positive side to procrastination, but it’s important not to confuse procrastination at its best with everyday garden-variety procrastination.

Sometimes — sometimes! — procrastination gives us the time we need to sort through a thorny issue or to generate ideas. In those rare instances, we should embrace procrastination — even as we push it away the rest of the time.

Why We Procrastinate After All?

We procrastinate for a number of reasons, some better than others. One reason we procrastinate is that, while we know what we want to do, we need time to let the ideas “ferment” before we are ready to sit down and put them into action.

Some might call this “creative faffing”; I call it, following copywriter Ray Del Savio’s lead, “concepting”.[1]

Whatever you choose to call it, it’s the time spent dreaming up what you want to say or do, weighing ideas in your mind, following false leads and tearing off on mental wild goose chases, and generally thinking things through.

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To the outside observer, concepting looks like… well, like nothing much at all. Maybe you’re leaning back in your chair, feet up, staring at the wall or ceiling, or laying in bed apparently dozing, or looking out over the skyline or feeding pigeons in the park or fiddling with the Japanese vinyl toys that stand watch over your desk.

If ideas are the lifeblood of your work, you have to make time for concepting, and you have to overcome the sensation— often overpowering in our work-obsessed culture — that faffing, however creative, is not work.

Is Procrastination Bad?

Yes it is.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re “concepting” when in fact you’re just not sure what you’re supposed to be doing.

Spending an hour staring at the wall while thinking up the perfect tagline for a marketing campaign is creative faffing; staring at the wall for an hour because you don’t know how to come up with a tagline, or don’t know the product you’re marketing well enough to come up with one, is just wasting time.

Lack of definition is perhaps the biggest friend of your procrastination demons. When we’re not sure what to do — whether because we haven’t planned thoroughly enough, we haven’t specified the scope of what we hope to accomplish in the immediate present, or we lack important information, skills, or resources to get the job done.

It’s easy to get distracted or to trick ourselves into spinning our wheels doing nothing. It takes our mind off the uncomfortable sensation of failing to make progress on something important.

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The answer to this is in planning and scheduling. Rather than giving yourself an unspecified length of time to perform an unspecified task (“Let’s see, I guess I’ll work on that spreadsheet for a while”) give yourself a limited amount of time to work on a clearly defined task (“Now I’ll enter the figures from last months sales report into the spreadsheet for an hour”).

Giving yourself a deadline, even an artificial one, helps build a sense of urgency and also offers the promise of time to “screw around” later, once more important things are done.

For larger projects, planning plays a huge role in whether or not you’ll spend too much time procrastinating to reach the end reasonably quickly.

A good plan not only lists the steps you have to take to reach the end, but takes into account the resources, knowledge and inputs from other people you’re going to need to perform those steps.

Instead of futzing around doing nothing because you don’t have last month’s sales report, getting the report should be a step in the project.

Otherwise, you’ll spend time cooling your heels, justifying your lack of action as necessary: you aren’t wasting time because you want to, but because you have to.

How Bad Procrastination Can Be

Our mind can often trick us into procrastinating, often to the point that we don’t realize we’re procrastinating at all.

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After all, we have lots and lots of things to do; if we’re working on something, aren’t we being productive – even if the one big thing we need to work on doesn’t get done?

One way this plays out is that we scan our to-do list, skipping over the big challenging projects in favor of the short, easy projects. At the end of the day, we feel very productive: we’ve crossed twelve things off our list!

That big project we didn’t work on gets put onto the next day’s list, and when the same thing happens, it gets moved forward again. And again.

Big tasks often present us with the problem above – we aren’t sure what to do exactly, so we look for other ways to occupy ourselves.

In many cases too, big tasks aren’t really tasks at all; they’re aggregates of many smaller tasks. If something’s sitting on your list for a long time, each day getting skipped over in favor of more immediately doable tasks, it’s probably not very well thought out.

You’re actively resisting it because you don’t really know what it is. Try to break it down into a set of small tasks, something more like the tasks you are doing in place of the one big task you aren’t doing.

More consequences of procrastination can be found in this article: 8 Dreadful Effects of Procrastination That Can Destroy Your Life

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Procrastination, a Technical Failure

Procrastination is, more often than not, a sign of a technical failure, not a moral failure.

It’s not because we’re bad people that we procrastinate. Most times, procrastination serves as a symptom of something more fundamentally wrong with the tasks we’ve set ourselves.

It’s important to keep an eye on our procrastinating tendencies, to ask ourselves whenever we notice ourselves pushing things forward what it is about the task we’ve set ourselves that simply isn’t working for us.

Learn more about how to fix your procrastination problem here: What Is Procrastination and How to Stop It (The Complete Guide)

Featured photo credit: chuttersnap via unsplash.com

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