Procrastination is something that many people struggle with including myself. For years, no matter what I tried, I would always catch myself procrastinating on tasks that could provide the biggest improvement in my life (apply to grad school, read this or that book, save for retirement, contact that individual about opportunity X, learn technology Y, develop an active blog – well at least something got done :))
It seemed I would always be telling myself that NOW wasn’t the right time…That I would start this or that tomorrow when I have some extra time.
Well let me tell you a secret… Ready??
There will never be that “extra time” that we all dream about. We need to make time for the things that matter most to use in life and can provide ourselves with the greatest value.
Okay, sounds easy enough. But we all know that it’s not. How do I “make time” for something? I had no idea. I decided to read a book on the subject that I was recommended by some people that had similar issues with procrastination. Well two books actually, and I would whole heartily recommend them to anyone struggling with this problem. They are:
These books helped me finally conquer my procrastination and really changed my life. However, I know that everyone doesn’t have time to read them. Just as I pointed out earlier, time is hard to come by, so you have to pick and choose things wisely. So I want to share with you some of my main takeaways from the lessons I’ve learned and applied to my own life that have had the biggest impact on me.
1. Structure Your Time
By scheduling your daily activities, you provide a motivation to be present and diligent for your responsibilities. This will discourage the huge, unhealthy blocks of surf time that arise when you don’t plan your time out ahead.
Something that really helped me develop this skill is using a task managing application like Trello.com or KanBanFlow.com. These applications allow you to specify for the week and for each day what you need to get done. They aren’t things that should be done or would be nice to get done…THEY NEED TO GET DONE. Delegate the tasks to time periods starting with the most important task. This task MUST BE DONE before moving on to the next task. Sticking to this discipline will help you get your most important tasks done first and provide you with a sanctification and relief that you are accomplishing what you set out to do.
Something that also helped me to stay focused on getting the tasks done in a timely manor, without surfing the web or checking my text messages, was using what is known as the Pomodoro Technique. You can read more about the Pomodoro Technique elsewhere, but the main idea is that it gives your brain a healthy routine and length to stay focused on one task before doing ANYTHING else. And I mean anything.
Take the big tasks, break them down, and know clearly what they need to be, clearly define tasks, and then time-box it.
Below is a screen shot of one of my typical weeks KanBanFlow.com. I have a section for things I need to do (ordered in priority) and then tasks that I have already delegated for that week that I must get done. The different colors represent different allotted amounts of time (or Pomodoros) that it will take me to complete each task.
2. Figure out why you procrastinate.
Procrastination is a type of experiential avoidance that causes itself through an unwillingness to feel uncomfortable emotions, or be in unpleasant situations, even at personal detriment.
I personally was an video game/Skyrim/programming addict because I wanted to avoid confronting my anxiety, sometimes low self-esteem, and feelings of helplessness, and losing myself in my laptop provided an avenue where I could feel ‘in control’.
You owe it to yourself to be honest about what it is you’re procrastinating from, and why you fell into the habit. It may take some reflection.
3. Nurture discipline.
Build a routine of positive and negative reinforcement. If you want a child to eat their vegetables, don’t give them dessert first. Reward yourself for successes, and set up assured punishments for your failure. Classic examples include committing to a public goal, or working in a team. I myself had a problem with buying too many items on Amazon.com (it really can get addicting), so I set up a reward system where every time I complete a week with all my tasks completed on time, I was allowed to make a purchase of up to $50 on Amazon. Believe it or not, this really helped me stick to my plan and create a little budget in the process!
4. Incite emotion
It’s human nature to respond to emotion. That is its language. So get yourself pumped, or terrified. Motivational talks, movies and articles can work, for a while. I use dramatic music (one of my favorite playlists is called Music to Conquer Worlds By). Picture the bliss associated with getting something done, or the horrors of failing. Make your imagination vivid enough that it shakes you. We use similar tricks on children for a reason: “brush your teeth or they’ll fall out”.
5. Force a start
The most important thing you can do is start. Much of your human instincts are to avoid change (inertia), and once you begin something those instincts start to tip into your favor. With enough time, you can even convince yourself to love doing the things that you used to hate. It’s about being a routine or habit, making it a part of your life, and realizing the benefits of what you are doing. There’s a reason we force kids to go to school or to try piano lessons.
Give these exercises a real shot in your daily routine and I guarantee you will start being much more productive. If all else fails, and you find yourself debating whether or not you should complete a task that you had planned, remembering this one phrase may help you as it has helped me:
“Past me decided that this task needed to be done, and future me will be happy that I finished it. There is no decision to make. The decision has been made already.”
Good luck and I hope all of you are much more productive in the following weeks! If you have any other techniques that have helped you overcome procrastination, please leave them in the comments to help others!
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