We’ve all done it
I’ve had it on my list for months—clean the garage. Ugh. We’ve all done it. I bet you still have those Christmas lights up from last year don’t you? Or maybe you want to change careers or start a business but you think of all the reasons you can’t. “I’ll get around to it tomorrow”, and then tomorrow becomes next week, next week becomes next month and before you know it years have gone by and that project is still undone.
The truth is researchers have found that one in five people are considered chronic procrastinators. Psychologists used to think that people who procrastinate have a different sense of time—in other words, they think that they have more time to complete a project than they really do. However, more recent research suggests that task aversion is to blame. This means that if you view a project as being boring, dull or just painful, you’ll be more likely to put it off. The irony is that while procrastinating is our way of trying to avoid pain and distress, procrastinators actually suffer from more stress, sleep issues and other health problems.
Why do we procrastinate?
There are many reasons we procrastinate—here are a few:
Some people procrastinate because they fear failure—maybe you think:
- Of all the ways it could go wrong
- How important people in your life might react if you failed
- How it’s better to not try at all than to try your best and fail
Other people procrastinate because they fear success—maybe you:
- Are overwhelmed by the possibility of new responsibilities if you are successful
- Believe “If I do well, then others will expect more of me”
- Feel your success will lead to other people finding out the “real you”
And still others procrastinate because they are perfectionists—maybe you:
- Believe that if you’re going to do something, you should try to do it perfectly
- Find it difficult to persist when things aren’t going just right
- You would rather avoid doing something than do it imperfectly
Do you fall into one of these categories? Are there other reasons you procrastinate?
10 ways to stop procrastinating
The good news is that whether it’s happening at work or at home (or both!), there are steps you can take to stop procrastinating once and for all.
1.) Write down why you’re procrastinating. Understanding what you’re thinking and feeling is revealing and liberating. Maybe the task reminds you of something negative from your childhood. Maybe you’re overcommitted and it seems impossible to squeeze in one more thing. The important thing is to understand the story so you know why you’re avoiding the project and can do something to eliminate the obstacles.
2.) Don’t wait to feel motivated. Instead of waiting for inspiration or motivation to strike, create a consistent routine. Put it in your calendar and treat it like you would any other appointment. This will make it easier for you to hold yourself accountable and will signal to the people around you that this is a priority. As Mason Currey writes in his book, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, many of the world’s great artists follow a consistent schedule:
- Maya Angelou rents a local hotel room and goes there to write. She arrives at 6:30 AM, writes until 2 PM, and then goes home to do some editing. She never sleeps at the hotel.
- Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Chabon writes five nights per week from 10 PM to 3 AM.
- Haruki Murakami wakes up at 4 AM, writes for five hours, and then goes for a run.
3.) Make it bite-sized. It’s easier to accomplish something if you break it up into smaller chunks. Set 20-30 minutes to work on the task. When the alarm goes off, your time is up and you are free to go do something more enjoyable.
4.) Get an accountability partner. Find someone who is willing to check in with you to see if you completed the task. This person can be a co-worker, mentor, or coach. You can even do this with a mastermind group.
5.) Attack the hardest tasks first. Our willpower and decision-making ability is at a peak in the morning and diminishes throughout the day. Completing the hardest tasks first will give you a sense of accomplishment and everything else you need to accomplish that day will seem so much easier.
6.) Evaluate your day at 2pm. You know those days where you get sucked up in projects and before you know it it’s 5pm and you haven’t even accomplished half of what you hoped? Instead, set an alarm for 2pm and deliberately take stock of your day. What have you accomplished so far? What adjustments can you make? This way you can almost start your day over and it gives you a chance to reset your priorities.
7.) Create a reward. Give yourself a reward for accomplishing that task. After cleaning the garage, you’re going to go treat yourself to an ice cream or take your wife out to dinner. That will give you something to look forward to.
8.) Visualize the end goal. Close your eyes and imagine the task is already done. How do you feel? What does it look like? The more you can identify with those positive feelings of completion and satisfaction, the more motivated you will feel to start the project.
9.) Follow the two minute rule. In James Clear’s book, Atomic Habits, he describes how this tactic helped a client of his lose 100 pounds. The idea is to make your habits easy to start. So running three miles becomes take out your running shoes. Or, reading before bed becomes reading a page a night. Essentially you want to master the art of showing up because you need to standardize before you can optimize.
10.) Check out the stickK app. This cool little app leverages the power of a Commitment Contract — a binding agreement you sign with yourself to ensure that you follow through with your intentions. By asking users to sign Commitment Contracts, stickK helps users define their goal, acknowledge what it’ll take to accomplish it, and leverage the power of putting money on the line to turn that goal into a reality. You can even decide to donate money to an “anti-charity” if you don’t accomplish your goal—how’s that for motivation!
So, stop making excuses and start taking action! What task will you stop procrastinating on this week? Write it in the comments!
Let me know below what comments you have on this topic and don’t forget to join me every Wednesday at 12pm CT on Facebook LIVE!