Struggling with procrastination is common, and it often happens that the longer we put something off, the more awful the idea of facing it seems to feel. Here are a series of simple steps that can be used to overcome procrastination for one task at a time. If you follow them closely, you have a very good chance of finally making progress on whatever you’ve been putting off.
1. Schedule. Begin by scheduling a specific time to work on the task. Choose carefully: make sure it’s a period of time that you’ll actually have available. If distractions or alternatives show up when the time comes, say sorry, you have something to do. It’s important to consider this appointment set in stone in order to accomplish your goal.
2. Remind. Set a reminder to ensure you know when you’re supposed to start and are not busy with something else.
3. Relax. When the time comes to start, begin by sitting down and relaxing. Don’t worry about the task itself for now. Take some deep breaths. Don’t feel rushed: it’s an important thing to do, right? Then it’s worth taking a little time to get into a calm, focused mood. If you meditate, that can be a helpful tactic here.
4. Remember Your Goals. Now think for a moment about what you want to gain from completing this task. Visualize what you hope to accomplish with it, or remind yourself of things you like about it, or explicitly tell yourself why you were interested in it in the first place. If it’s something you don’t like for itself (such as, for instance, doing taxes or cleaning up someone else’s mess), think about what makes you interested in doing that, like having your financial ducks in a row or living up to your own ideals. Another benefit completion of many of these tasks offer is relief from having them hanging over us.
Don’t stop until you’ve latched onto at least one–and ideally several–things that make you want to finish this task, whether goals or positive associations. If you have no reason whatsoever to want to do it, why do you consider it important in the first place? If you really don’t need to do it, resolve not to and cross it off your list permanently. Otherwise, get in touch with your reasons.
5. List. List the first few specific, tiny tasks you’d need to do to get started. If you’re not sure, brainstorm, write, talk to yourself, or borrow someone you can depend and bounce ideas around until you have some idea.
These tiny tasks are not results: they’re really specific, straightforward things to do. For instance, if your goal is to file some insurance paperwork, then your first step probably isn’t “fill out claim forms,” but rather “Find Web site for insurance company so I can download claim forms” or “Gather all bills and documents I’ll need to fill out the claim.” You might even make it more specific than that. The point is to break down the first several steps–say, the first 15 minutes to an hour of work on the task, which for many tasks is all that’s required–into very clear, simple things you can do without a lot of thought.
6. Visualize. Picture yourself taking the first few steps. You don’t have to actually do anything just yet: just do a very good job of imagining yourself starting.
Then … begin!
How it works
Thinking about your reasons for taking the task on, making positive associations and picturing yourself doing the task should help prime your brain to make it easy to slip into starting to do the task. When you do, you’ll have specific, extremely simple steps laid out that you can tackle one after another: let them carry you through. If you run out of steps or have to reorganize, just insert a next step: “come up with more steps,” and use that step to work out the next 15 minutes to 1 hour of activity.
If you need the stronger stuff
If you find that even this process isn’t helping you get over your procrastination, it’s very likely you have broken ideas about it. Perhaps you’re telling yourself that you’re a bad person for not doing it, or that it absolutely needs to be done, or that not having done it yet is awful. These and many kinds of related thoughts can be worked out and made to stop bothering you through idea repair. Write down each negative thought you have about the task and work through the idea repair process with it. At the end you should find fewer obstacles and more motivation to move ahead.
Photo by Esther17