Procrastination can be a sign that your organization, goals or mindset are not where they should be, but all of us procrastinate out of laziness from time to time. Fix the problem by restoring momentum as soon as you can. Get started with just the tiniest task first or promise yourself you’ll do just five minutes. If your procrastination comes from deeper issues, you need to tackle these first.
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Peter Hollins is a bestselling author, human psychology researcher, and a dedicated student of the human condition.
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I’m going to let you in on a little secret: dealing with procrastination is pretty easy. There’s a reason we’ve waited this long to delve into procrastination—it’s because once you master self-discipline more generally, create a healthy lifestyle, and get your attitude right, you will not have to wrestle with procrastination. Because it simply won’t happen all that often. Avoiding procrastination is infinitely better than trying to battle it once it’s well underway.
Once embedded, procrastination can indeed wreak havoc on your dreams, your decision making and your self-esteem. People who are self-disciplined don’t possess any magical power to remain motivated at all times or somehow force themselves to get to work when they feel lazy. Rather, they understand motivation and why it wanes sometimes, and they know how to work with and around those challenges when they emerge.
If you have clearly outlined your goals, organized yourself by making a realistic schedule, and addressed any resistant around those goals, half the work is done. With a positive attitude, healthy lifestyle, and enough appropriate rewards and breaks, you should be able to cut procrastination down in your life. Yes, all of us feel a little lazy now and then, but if everything else in your life is well-aligned, you can take the existence of procrastination as a helpful sign that you still have work to do on your organization, your mindset, your goals, your lifestyle or all of these.
Procrastination is a reinforcing and self-amplifying cycle, and once it starts it can be difficult to stop. But if it doesn’t get the chance to start, it’s far easier to avoid and prevent. Be on the lookout for early signs and step in quickly, without judgment. Here are two main ways to make sure you’re never really letting procrastination get its foot in the door, or else minimizing its impact once it’s started.
How to Use This in Your Life Immediately
The first way is to try and understand what’s happening and why. Ordinarily we rely on our self-control and motivation to get us to do what we need to. If this process isn’t working, look closely at where and why it’s not.
Is there something actively demotivating you?
Is there something practical hindering your action?
There can be a million different reasons we procrastinate—lack of energy, a perfectionist attitude, poor planning and organization, feeling overwhelmed or out of our depth, unconsciously not wanting to do the task at all, low self-esteem, poorly defined goals, lack of a meaningful reward or incentive, fear of positive or negative outcomes, depression—which one is behind your procrastination? Yes, it could be pure laziness. But there also may be something more serious that you need to address.
In this book, we’ve looked at ways to improve your raw self-control and self-discipline, but if your procrastination stems from another issue, then that will need to be resolved if you hope to find productivity and forward movement again.
Once you have honestly identified the reason for your procrastination, you can make meaningful steps toward fixing the issue. But if you’re procrastinating for a more complex reason, trying to develop better self-discipline may only act as a temporary Band-Aid.
If, however, the reason for your procrastination is pretty simple, then so should your strategies. The best thing for beating procrastination? Restore your momentum at any cost. Yes, we said that we should tackle our big rocks first. But if you’re feeling stuck and uninspired, do the opposite—break the task down into tiny chunks and do one—just one—to get yourself moving again. Then give yourself a reward.
Often, procrastination is just our brains convincing us that doing the task is impossible or unpleasant. Do anything you can to prove yourself wrong.
Cut Your To-Do List in Half
It’s kind of ironic: when you picture someone who is “productive,” you imagine them being super busy and having crammed full schedules. The truth is that the world’s most productive people are actually the most self-disciplined and have learned to be really careful about what they don’t do. When you cut your to-do list down, you are not doing less. You are doing more.
It’s far better to do a few things well than to rush and half-heartedly complete many insignificant things. It comes down to focus, values and your true goals. Self-discipline is what allows you to keep on tuning out the noise and refocus in on what actually matters—either the goal itself or the tasks that will get you closer to it.
Again, a sign of poor time and resource management is if you feel you are constantly draining your willpower and time on beating away distractions and temptations. You will be far happier if you design your entire life and daily routine in such a way that you simply don’t encounter these things all that often.
Depending on the nature of the work you’re trying to do, your work style and your constraints, it might actually make more sense for you to create a don’t-do list than a to-do list. This pulls your focus onto what matters and helps you get things done. It also means you save yourself that precious mental bandwidth—after all, clutter in your schedule can be organizational, but we can also be weighed down and distracted by psychological baggage, worries and other ways to waste time.
You don’t need to create a don’t-do list to make this principle work, however. You can start every day by looking at what you’ve planned for yourself and then ask, “what is no longer relevant here? What can I delete, delegate or rework?” No, it’s not an excuse to procrastinate, but rather trim down things so you’re constantly working on the most essential tasks. It’s okay to update your priorities. It’s okay to ditch certain tasks you planned earlier because things are now different. And it’s okay to ignore something without guilt if you decide it’s just not super relevant. Less is more.
There are a few clues that you need to prune down your to-do list—or at least update the way you write your lists. If you notice that you are consistently leaving a huge number of items on the list incomplete, that’s a sign you’ve allocated yourself too much to do. Continuing to create long lists that you never fully complete just wastes time, not to mention having those unticked items just makes you feel bad. You are not actually giving yourself the opportunity to ask how you can actually get those things done, rather than just sticking with a list technique that doesn’t actually work for you. If your to-do list makes you feel overwhelmed or like you want to procrastinate, that’s a bad sign too, as is feeling as though you’re being rule dover by this list.
How to Use This in Your Life Immediately
When it comes down to it, there are only a limited number of actions you can take on any one task:
• You can DO it yourself, right now.
• You can DELEGATE it.
• You can DEFER it for later.
• You can FILE it away to keep.
• You can DELETE it and never think about it again.
What you want to avoid is filling up your life and your to-do list with actions or tasks that are none of the above, i.e., mindlessly stressing about something without doing anything about it, or moving a piece of paper from one place to another.
How do you decide what to do with the various tasks you encounter in your day? As above, you ask whether they are
a) Important or
Important and urgent: do it or delegate it.
Important but not urgent: defer it or file it.
Urgent but not important: defer, delegate or delete.
Not important and not urgent: delegate or delete.
Once you’ve made your decision, act and don’t second guess yourself. Don’t just make a list and go; take the time to compile something that works. For most of us, this means making it fifty percent smaller at least!