I procrastinate on a lot of stuff. Tasks that feel unpleasant, overwhelming or intimidating cause me to stop cold. I stall.
Then stalling creates stress for me. I soon realize I’m spending more time and energy avoiding the task and then I feel even worse.
The longer I procrastinate, the more stress and anxiety I create for myself. It’s a horrible cycle.
I had plans of writing a book. For two years absolutely nothing happened. It was just an idea, a thought, a dream.
It took me about two years, but I did eventually complete my first book, Rich by Choice, Poor by Habit.
Today, no matter what project I’m facing I use some of the same techniques I used several years ago to finish my book.
Here are the steps I followed to get it done:
Set a Goal. Without clearly defined goals, it’s very likely you’re performing daily acts of trivia.
Set a deadline. Duke Ellington said that without a deadline he would get nothing done. I can’t set a deadline for myself. That’s a joke. If that worked I’d get everything done that I wanted. Deadlines only work when I’m held accountable to another person. When I’m working with or for someone else I continually remind them about my need to have a deadline. I ask them to hold me to it. I also ask them not to let me fast talk my way out of it. I’m very good at that sometimes.
If you can set a deadline for yourself and stick to it – I applaud you. I’m not that good. If I’m working on something for myself, I have to go deeper. Read on.
Get started. Jump in and don’t overthink things. This works for me because it forces me to test my level of commitment. Sometimes, I think I want to do something but I really don’t. One of the ways for me to find out is to simply jump in. If I like the project and feel excited about it, it’s likely I’ll keep it going. If not, I forgive myself and move on.
Set boundaries. My attention span is like that of a gnat: I’ve got about a good 10 to 15 minutes (on my best day) before I’m distracted or just can’t focus. I use alarms and timers to keep me in my seat. I commit to myself that “I will not get up for any reason for the next 15 minutes.” This works well for me. It creates a level of intensity and 15 uninterrupted minutes of focused activity. Sometimes, I get to 20 minutes and want to celebrate.
Obviously, working in such short increments doesn’t allow me to complete a task but at least I’m taking small steps forward. Now, do you understand why I deleted 4999 facebook friends and why I stopped watching television?
Take breaks. This is my favorite. I love taking breaks. Focusing on something for 20 minutes is a real cause for celebration. I’ll usually grab something chocolate and then get right back into what I was doing. Then I set my alarm for another 20 minutes.
Reward yourself for small accomplishments. Dark chocolate!
Do the unpleasant thing first. This doesn’t always work especially if I view the entire task as unpleasant. There’s nothing enjoyable about preparing annual taxes, the entire process is drudgery. In this instance, I’ll break it up into smaller tasks and focus on the most difficult, challenging part first. Many projects can be broken down into smaller, more manageable tasks.
Save time by finishing what you start. While writing my book I noticed that if I quit writing (just at the point of feeling overwhelmed) it would take me longer to get back into it next time. I was wasting more time and getting frustrated by trying to figure out where I left off. It would have been a more efficient use of my time to have finished it while I was into it. Maybe just another 20 minutes.
If you can finish something, go ahead and finish it. You’ll save yourself the time of having to re-acquaint yourself with where you left off. Push past the point where you want to quit.
Keep the end in mind. What’s the payoff? Imagine how proud you’re going to feel once the task is done. I felt a tremendous sense of relief and accomplishment when my book was finished. Completing it also raised the bar of what I learned I could achieve. It helped me to think bigger.
Positive pressure. This step, more than any other, was what really got me to finish my book. In the book, I wrote an entire chapter on procrastination. Each chapter contains a “Laurie Story,” which is an honest and candid personal account of many of my mistakes in life. For the chapter on procrastination, the Laurie Story was about the amount of POSITIVE PRESSURE I created for myself to write the book.
Positive pressure finally worked after two years of dreaming about writing a book and not doing anything.
Here’s how positive pressure works:
I told everyone I was writing a book. When I say ‘everyone’ I mean everyone! I did this because I knew people would continue to ask me about it.
Bottom line: I knew I would not allow myself to suffer the embarrassment and shame of not doing it. Finishing the book was a lot easier than losing my credibility. I didn’t want friends and family to see me as someone who doesn’t do what they say they’re going to do.
Hire a coach. I didn’t hire a coach to write my book. However, I’ve just recently hired one to help me launch my radio show. That’s right – the coach hired a coach.
There’s something about having to dish out money that motivates me to be far more productive than I would on my own. I hired a coach because I was creating excuses faster than I was creating results. Sometimes, I’m too isolated and I need another perspective. There’s no shame is asking for help.
We’re always going to have projects and things to do. I hope some of the tips above will be useful to you.
What strategies work for you? I’m always looking for new ideas on how to avoid procrastinating. Let me know. Thanks in advance.