Procrastination was easily one of my biggest weaknesses. It’s something I always needed to work on but I never seemed to get around to it.
I decided to find weapons to combat this enemy of workplace productivity. Whether you’re a white belt, or a seasoned workplace sensei, this list includes some techniques anyone can use.
This is currently my favourite tool. I have added into this post accordingly. It can’t be left aside. I’ve been writing down each day what I got done. It feels different to striking off items from a list. Instead it feels cumulative. Adding to a list of completed tasks feels rewarding. Try it. Do something and write it on your Done List. Add to it. You will notice a growing feeling of being productive. It can almost become a game where you just want to cram another thing in there, almost to say I hit this out of the park today, I top scored.
For large projects and tasks, things can quickly get overwhelming. Breaking big tasks into multiple smaller tasks is the simple but perfect weapon to take care of large obstacles. It’s also important to recognise and admit that it’s possibly just the enormity of the task that is stopping you. Take things one bite at a time and remember that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
It stands for “Bang A Nasty Job Out”. I love this one (thanks Pick The Brain). In a nutshell, knowing you have nasty tasks ahead of you prevents you from working down your list. Getting the nasty one done first solves this problem. Personally, I think a more realistic approach for a procrastinator is to use the previous weapon in conjunction with this one for a more reliable way of taking out the enemy. Cut down into small tasks and sweep the nastiest one first.
Wow, these little guys kick some you know what! They arrive shortly after exercise and they always inspire me to take action, get stuff done, and help me feel good about things that might in any other mood send me into a spiral of procrastination. So kick up a sweat, you’ll be amazed at how your body naturally responds.
Make a Don’t Do list
Ask yourself if you really have to do the task or activity you are putting off. Sometimes it’s easy to get our eyes set on something and miss the big picture. If you keep delaying it, maybe you just aren’t that committed to doing it.
One example for me is painting (the artistic kind). I had been procrastinating about it for years before I realised I’m obviously not that desperate to do it if I haven’t made an effort to start. It’s probably just a mental desire. So, for now, it’s on my maybe later list.
It’s a great idea to simply trim the non-essential activities you’re procrastinating and train your brain to disassociate goals with procrastination. If you have a goal, the only option is to achieve it!
Procrastinators find reasons, dependencies and blocks that allow their minds to justify not doing things. Interestingly, this technique also counters the guilt associated with not getting something done. So the trick here is to remove the excuses you come up with. This is best achieved with external help, so get assistance from another person, delegate the task that is stopping you, pay someone to do that part and free yourself up to do the rest.
I first realised this was happening to me many years ago when I was doing up my house. I stopped at plastering, it seemed too hard and nothing happened for months. Then I spent a pitiful $200 to get the few holes and section of a wall plastered and I was off and running again.
Here is a weapon that can be lethal against procrastination. Tell lots of people about your commitment to do X and that you plan to have it complete by Y date. Then schedule it in your calendar, or even better, a public google calendar. Ask your partner or close friends to call you on your word in the likely event you’re close to failure or even after you’ve failed. Ask them to tell you that you’re procrastinating. A powerful motivator for a lot of people is the drive look good and be admired by others, so the words will seem a whole lot more powerful coming from someone you admire and respect.
Lastly, as a bonus ‘hammer it home’ weapon, create a financial loss out for not meeting your deadline. This one isn’t for everyone but for many people, the procrastinator in them is easily defeated by their desire to win a bet and prove themselves to others. Adding a token financial loss (or incentive), like a friendly bet or forfeited deposit, can work a treat.
All throughout history people have won arguments, battles, and all kinds of competitive situations through “the setup”. A top weapon for defeating procrastination is creating a setup that gives you the best possible chance of winning against the task that you keep putting off.
To create a setup you must put some conditions, variables, accountability and resources to bear on the outcome such that only one thing can eventuate – success. Like in a game of chess, strategically planning your moves ahead for various scenarios greatly improves your win-rate.
Let’s say you want to start going to the Gym. Having a friend go with you could be an example of a setup technique. It’s harder to pull out or say no on the day when you’re held accountable for your actions (or inaction). You could even extend this technique by having your friend pick you up, or go even further and pay for the session in advance
Purposefully stack the cards in favour of your desired action so it’s noticeably and immediately favourable. A lot of the reason why we procrastinate is that positive actions often delay gratification (eating healthy – fit body, saving money – more wealth etc). This technique manufactures risk to failure, which could be a powerful way to kick you into gear.
Of all the things that sap enthusiasm, lack of sleep is a contender for the biggest offender. Well slept is well kept in the game of life. How can you ever expect to play hard against team procrastination if you go out partying the night before? All that will happen is that you will wake up hungover, unmotivated and feeling very sorry for yourself to the point where the only thing that will be crossed off your to-do list that day is “make a coffee”.
All intelligent species respond to rewards. If you’re not getting anything out of what you’re doing something and you’re procrastinating, why do it? What is the reason? I’m not proposing a selfish way of being, I’m just being realistic here. What’s in it for you? Survival? Happiness? Making others happy? Create a reward. If it is a job for someone else, then concentrate on how it will help them. They will appreciate it and you can bask in your good Samaritan sun. Bask away and don’t be ashamed of it!
Sometimes a task can be crappy, dangerous or boring. Worse still, you get no reward at completion for doing it. I suggest creating a reward called Martyrdom. Take it on the challenge and state your position to others who won’t (with your chest out). Be the Martyr, just do it! Be like the guy who volunteers to take “point” in the jungle war scene and gets the medal. Be the person who takes the dive for the team victory and gets lifted up on their shoulders. It sounds bizarre, but I assure you when you come out the other side and the nastiness is over you can say to yourself, “I did the yards. I played the position no one wanted to play and I got the job done”. You will feel very much alive.
Anxiety reality check
If you are anxious about something you’ll probably find ways to avoid it, delay it and distract yourself away from it. Is this your root cause of procrastination? Historically, procrastination and anxiety go hand in hand. In severe cases, people can avoid living life in a normal way. I get anxious and I try to remember to remind myself that anxiety only has a home is in my head. Anxiety isn’t a physical thing, it’s not made of atoms. It is mind-created. Sure, it possibly has genetic or medical reasons for being there, but that doesn’t change the fact it isn’t real and it can’t be touched. Remembering that helps me reduce its impact. If anxiety and depression is something that affects you, striking up the courage to seek external help really is one of the best ways overcome this barrier. Be kind to yourself!
Near enough is good enough
This is tough, but quite often procrastinators are actually perfectionists in disguise who won’t start or finish something for fear of the result being less than perfect. If this is you, then dwell on this: ‘Doing nothing about ‘X’ is so far away from perfection that you would be a fool not to do something about it.’
And this last tip applies to this whole article. Try just one of these ideas. That’s good enough. Just get started. The very worst that can happen is you’ll be a slightly more productive version of yourself.
Photo by Hipster Mum