“Procrastination is like a credit card: it’s a lot of fun until you get the bill.” ~Christopher Parker
We all procrastinate.
I procrastinated starting this post. I checked my emails, looked at Facebook, filled my coffee cup, and got something to eat.
In this age of constant distractions, we are tempted to procrastinate more than ever. In fact, distractions have almost become addictions.
The phone buzzes and we look. The email dings and we click over. We have multiple tabs open on our computer luring us away from the task at hand.
We get agitated and anxious when we’re too far away from our phones or computers, or if we can’t check our messages, social media, or the news. We need our fix of instant gratification.
Every distraction is a thief, stealing our determination to do what needs to be done or what we deeply desire to achieve.
Procrastination is often the result of fear — fear of failure or fear of success. But most of these fears are smoke and mirrors without any true substance. We allow these fears to pull us away from the task at hand.
We also tend to procrastinate simply because we dread difficult tasks. We don’t want to tax our brains or expend the energy necessary to get started.
But as you’ve probably experienced, the getting started part is the most difficult. Once you start, momentum carries you forward. If you keep procrastinating, you’ll never catch that wave of momentum.
Procrastinating not only steals precious time and momentum we could be devoting to achievement, but also it steals our energy and motivation.
The more we procrastinate on something important, the worse we feel about ourselves.
The worse we feel, the less motivation we have to get moving on our work.
The less motivation we have, the more we procrastinate with mindless distractions and make-work.
The beginning step in overcoming procrastination is the awareness that you do it and the awareness of how harmful it is.
Think about this: you likely spend at least one hour a day procrastinating. That’s seven hours a week — nearly a full work day. So you lose 52 full work days a year to procrastination. What could you do with an extra 52 work days?
You could write a book.
You could start a business.
You could build a blog.
You could go back to school.
You could teach yourself a new language.
You could finish several big work projects.
You could take on a $20 per hour side gig and make an extra $7280.
There are so many things you could accomplish with those extra 365 hours a year. But what can you accomplish by procrastinating? What can you accomplish looking at social media, checking email, stacking papers, or whatever else you do when you procrastinate?
Do you need procrastination help? If so, here’s a 12-step recovery program to help you start taking action:
1. Plan ahead.
The day or night before, or first thing in the morning, determine your first most important task of the day. Then decide on your second and third most important tasks.
Make these tasks related to something critical in your work or business — something that will move you forward, make you more money, expand your opportunities. They shouldn’t be mindless administrative tasks or filler work.
2. Define your reasons.
Before you begin your most important task, ask yourself why it’s so important. What is the positive motivation for pursuing this task? How will it benefit you? How will you feel when you complete it?
Getting clear on the reasons why you are doing something will help you push through when begin to feel tired or distracted. You might write down your reasons to have nearby in case you need a reminder.
3. Break it down.
Break down your first most important task into all of the actions and sub-tasks involved in completing the main task.
Write down every action involved in the completion and prioritize these. Then estimate how much time each sub-task will take and write it down.
4. Determine your schedule.
What time of day are you most productive or creative?
For me, it’s first thing in the morning when my brain is rested. However, your most productive time might be mid-afternoon. Organize you sub-task priorities to maximize your most productive time.
For example, if writing is one of your tasks and so is making calls, the perhaps you make calls in the morning and write mid-afternoon.
Make sure you have everything you need before you sit down for your work. Get your coffee, water, or tea and have it on your desk.
Have a small, healthy snack like almonds, a banana, or some carrots to prevent your stomach from feeling too empty. Make sure the lighting is the way you want it, and your desk is organized or cleared.
If your most important task of the day only takes a few hours, then move on to task 2 and repeat the steps above for this. Once you complete task 2, do this for task 3 as well.
7. Remove distractions.
Of course this is hugely important in helping you stay focused.
When I was in college, I would go to a “study closet” in my dorm — a tiny closet-sized room with just a desk and a lamp.
If I was serious about a project or preparing for a test, and didn’t want distractions or reasons to procrastinate, that’s where I’d go.
Find a space where you can work without interruptions. Turn off your phone. Close all other browsers on your computer, and turn the sound off so you don’t hear any dings from emails. Put a “do not disturb” sign on your office door.
8. Begin with mindfulness.
Before you begin your first sub-task of your most important task for the day, close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and set a mindful intention that you will complete your task easily and productively.
Visualize yourself accomplishing it and how you will feel when you are done. But don’t use this moment as another reason to procrastinate. Make it a 1-2 minute kickoff to begin your work.
9. Set a timer.
If you have a hard time focusing, set a timer for 20-30 minutes (or less if you have a really hard time focusing).
Work diligently during that time, and when the timer goes off, allow yourself a short break to stretch, walk outside, close your eyes, or whatever feels like a rejuvenating short break.
But don’t use this time to check emails, get on a long phone call, or begin a conversation with someone. You don’t want to get caught in a rabbit hole that will steal your productive time.
10. Schedule longer breaks.
In between your three most important tasks, schedule longer breaks of 15 minutes to an hour (for lunch). Use these breaks to re-energize by doing some exercise, meditation, or by having a non-stressful conversation with someone.
11. Reward yourself.
After you complete a task or a series of sub-tasks, reward yourself with either the breaks mentioned in point 9 above, or allow yourself to check your phone, emails, or look at social media for a short amount of time (10-15 minutes).
12. Schedule mindless tasks.
Beyond your three most important tasks of the day, you will certainly have mindless tasks that must be accomplished. If you must check emails first thing in the morning, allow yourself a short amount of time to do so (10-15 minutes).
Set a timer and even if you haven’t completed going through the emails, stop for now, move on to your most important task, and come back to the emails later in the day when you’ve completed your tasks.
Other mindless tasks like easy paperwork, organizing, or anything that doesn’t take much brain power, can be scheduled at your least productive times of day.