Ok, I admit, I procrastinate. I even procrastinated when writing this blog. In fact I have procrastinated so much in my life that I am pretty much an expert on the subject. So take the following points both seriously and with a grain of salt.
Before we start, let's make it clear that this blog is more about large daunting tasks, rather than the dishes that have been in the sink since last night. In this context, procrastination is often due to a fear of failure. It is not so much the work we dread, but the possibility of an undesirable outcome.
Thankfully, as with many psychological maladaptions to modern life, there are ways to manage the symptoms. Allow me to share some of the ways I attempt to get myself going. Mileage may vary.
1. Act as if you know for sure you will succeed
This boils down to the opposite of analysis paralysis. Just ask yourself, if you knew for sure you would succeed, would you really be slacking and procrastinating? It is likely that you procrastinate due to the fear of failure. If you play dumb and remove the fear by telling yourself you will make it (and you likely will, if you actually did the thing), you are more likely to get to work.
Imagine a commute. You would embark with the belief that you are going to arrive safely at your destination. You won't dwell on the things that could go wrong. Yes, you might get a flat tire, but that won't stop you from starting the task. It is your confidence in the outcome that makes it easy to start.
A similar thing affects the way we face more complex endeavors. Sure, things could go wrong, or you might even get lost, but you certainly aren’t making progress by standing in the garage compulsively checking your email.
Fake it until you make it isn't just some meaningless catchy phrase. Though this mindset doesn't guarantee success overall, it does mean you may spend less time procrastinating and more time actually doing the thing, with more confidence to boot. In order to achieve your goals, you must act like the person who inevitably attains those goals. What is the worst that could happen by trying and failing? And if you fail, would that stop you from trying again?
Use the following trick if you find it difficult to self-talk in this manner. Look for an example of someone who has done what you are currently trying to do. You probably won't have to look far. Bonus points if you find someone who started off worse than you. If they did it, that means it can be done, that means you can do it.
2 Cut your goals in half
Goals are a powerful tool, and much like nuclear power, it can have both positive and negative effects.
The wrong goals will hinder you more than they benefit. If you set your goals too high, even if they are technically realistic, you are more likely to fall short. When you fall short this has a detrimental effect on your motivation to keep going.
If you cut your goal in half, you are twice as likely to achieve it. And achieving a goal is in itself a very powerful motivator just like falling short will make you want to give up.
Lets say your original goal was 10 of something, and on your deadline you only got to 7. You’d feel a tad bad. But did you really need to go to 10 right now? Or were you just being overly enthusiastic when you set the goal? Probably you’ll be more than fine with 5. If that were your goal and you got to 7, you’d be elated. You probably would look forward to the next 7, as opposed to dreading the next 3 you’ll fall short if your goal was set to 10. And that's enough math for today.
Cut yourself some slack, expect less in order to do more.
3. Good enough beats perfect
Perfectionism needs no introduction. We know it sucks, and how persistently it can haunt us. It can be difficult to deal with and may be the number one cause for anything that didn't get finished.
Perfectionism paralyzes. You know the thing can’t ever be perfect but you want it to be anyways. It leads to procrastination because it can feel futile to even begin working on something that is unattainable.
Instead of aiming for something perfect, accept something that is good enough and look for the ways it could be improved afterwards. Take your current work as an opportunity to learn and grow to be better the next time. It feels good to know that you are making progress. Just try not to mess up and go from there. Don't be too hard on yourself.
80% of success is just showing up.
4. Procrastinate on purpose
One thing that is not often consciously considered is that when you spend time on something, you therefore choose to not spend time on literally everything else.
Crazy as it sounds, you can in fact procrastinate by being productive.
You might think it is a good idea to check all those smaller things off your to-do list, but in actuality what you're doing is choosing to not do the thing you should be prioritizing. Be wary of these sneaky tasks that seem like a respectable use of time but are actually things you could put off without any issue if you had to.
Make a deliberate effort to decide which things to procrastinate on until you get your thing done. Is vacuuming your home a good idea? Sure, but could you go a few days without it? Did you really need a new haircut right now? Do all those emails really need to be dealt with today? Can you go a few weeks without exercise? There’s a whole list of things that routinely “need” to get done which are easy “worthy” distractions from the bigger daunting task you dread working on.
Identify which tasks seem important but could be done without for a while, and procrastinate on those to your heart’s desire while you kick ass with that thing you should be doing.
5. Eat that frog
I’m stealing this one straight from the frog’s mouth. If you had to eat a frog every day, would you rather have it for breakfast or for dessert after dinner? The best way to deal with procrastination is by simply getting it out of the way first thing in the morning (or whatever time of day you wake up).
As the day progresses, we slowly lose energy and discipline. The brain uses up to 20% of our calories despite being only 5% of our body weight. Your mind can get tired just like your body can, not to mention the build up of metabolic waste in the brain that needs to be cleared out while you sleep, which literally reduces your ability to think.When you decide what your priority is, make sure you actually treat it like one. By starting off your day with spending a few hours hyper focused on what is most important, the rest of the day will be much more pleasant as well. If you get a few hours of work done in the morning, by 10am it will feel like the day just started, yet you already put hours into that which is most important. And those few hours, on a daily basis, could be all you need to arrive at good enough.