How to stop procrastinating

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I think we can all agree: when we procrastinate, it’s because we’re faced with a task or an issue we really, really do not want to tackle.  Maybe we love it once on a roll but for some reason we find the task of starting a huge barrier.

Procrastination happens to us all.  Sometimes it’s because one is overwhelmed by the seeming magnitude of a task. I also have a teeny suspicion that the greater the capacity for self-reflection, of the fear of not doing it brilliantly, the greater the chances of a person putting things off.  Self-reflection is a vital ingredient for anyone seeking to improve behaviour and performance, but too much of this quality and “paralysis by analysis” sets in. 

If I call that person with whom I argued last week, she’s likely to be difficult

I know I must get that report finished, but I hate writing

There’s a missing chunk of data, to get that first is going to take forever

If I get this wrong I could lose the contract

If I do this, I won’t have time for that

I feel so anxious about this I probably should rest first and build up my strength

I’ve been rejected so many times this will be the same

A lot of time and energy is wasted, and paradoxically, your stress and resentment levels worsen.

 

This is when it’s time to be an unreflective “bull at the gate”.  A cross bull doesn’t sit down and analyse those irritating matadors; it charges straight in.  By choosing to be “bullish” about managing time successfully, you decrease stress and increase results.

 

Don’t procrastinate – just do it!  Nike built a fortune on this famous slogan.  Hordes of would-be athletes from all walks of life strapped on their runners and off they went, to the tune of tingling endorphins and jingling cash-registers.  It was a brilliant campaign, and applicable in any context.  Quell that inner house of parliament endlessly debating the pros and cons of a particular action.  JUST DO IT – whatever it is that you’ve been postponing, and you’ll feel a million times better.  Better to feel tired and happy than over-rested and anxious. Move it!

Don’t be unreliablebe punctual and efficient.  Has it occurred to you that others are inconvenienced – badly – by your faffing about?  You’re behaving exactly like those spanners in the works, causing everything to lurch to a full stop.  It’s selfish and puts a person in the “definitely not to be relied on” camp.  This is not the time or place for diva-like delay tactics.  Stepping up in a timely fashion is another way of saying “DO IT” – meaning “do your bit, and things get done, and everyone is much happier for it”.  

Don’t be disorganised – list and prioritise.   But what if you’re not good with completing tasks in a timely way?  Maybe you find multitasking a recipe for meltdowns?  Perhaps you’re the type that likes to focus on one thing at a time.  That’s great in certain instances, but rubbish when everyone’s putting their skates on.  If being told to hurry just causes you turn into a fireworks display, try making a list of what needs to be done and prioritising the tasks accordingly.  Some find it best to do the easy bits first, build up speed and then tackle the tougher stuff.  If you are a procrastinator, choose what can be finished quickest and best, leaving more time to do the trickier bits. Once mastering this approach, it’s often better to get rid of the tougher big stuff before it becomes overwhelming, then do the little bits on a downhill ride.

Don’t lose direction – focus on completion.  Closely allied with the above is the importance of remembering what exactly is being called for in this situation.  A project may have many milestones but only one overall deadline.  For people who are excellent at minutiae, unknotting multifaceted jobs of any kind can cause major traffic snarls and hidden bogs. 

An air crash investigation showed that a pilot was so focused on a problem with his landing gear, he lost sight of the fuel running out. Whilst “analytical” people may be too mired in process and complexity, losing direction is a trap for anyone who cares about what they’re doing, or who feels somewhat out of their depth.  A team of any description usually has at least one person doing the steering while the others row towards the finish line.  By focusing on completion, you need to “split” into coxswain and paddlers: scope the task, plan what should be done and when, get the simpler bits done first, and you’ll have worked up a decent head of steam for an inside run. And if you are alone – just keep telling yourself – FOCUS ON THE FINISHLINE!

The wonderful thing about getting things done is the amount of energy you’ll feel at the conclusion. It’s exactly like doing good deeds; you feel great and you’re powered to do more.  Remember that when you’re next tempted to waste time – yours, and everyone else’s.

Eve Ash is a psychologist, author, filmmaker, public speaker and entrepreneur. She runsSeven Dimensions, a company specialising in training resources for the workplace. See the rest of Eve’s blogs here.

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Eve Ash is a psychologist, author, filmmaker, public speaker and entrepreneur. She runs Seven Dimensions, a company specialising in training resources for the workplace.

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