5 Steps to Ending Procrastination
Procrastination is a universal human behavior. Everyone has tasks that they find more difficult than others to get started on. This is typical, and no cause for undue handwringing and self-deprecation.
But there is a more destructive sort of procrastination, and it’s when we find ourselves putting off the same tasks over and over, and regretting it over and over in a terrible never-ending cycle. This is pathological procrastination, because it diminishes our lives and seems almost out of our control.
Procrastination is a type of passive self-sabotage, and it is a very complex behavior. It springs from multiple and interacting root causes, but here are some extremely effective self-coaching tips to gain control of persistent procrastination which seems to have taken up permanent residence in your daily life.
Start a Journal
This is absolutely necessary for anyone with a problem with persistent procrastination. In my experience working with persistent procrastinators, the difference between those who experience victory and significant changes in their behavior, and those who sputter along in endless cycles of frustration, is the journal. You cannot deprive yourself of the power of the journal and expect to overcome your procrastination behaviors.
Listen to Yourself
Identify and confront your rationalizations and write them in your journal. By now you know when you are about to avoid a task, and you know what goes on in your head as you seek permission from yourself to procrastinate at something. Write them down! These are your procrastination rationalizations. You have your own, but here are a few I’ve heard from clients:
“I can’t finish in the time I have, so why start?”
“It won’t take that long, so there’s plenty of time.”
“I’ve been at this too long…I need a break.”
“I don’t feel like doing this now, so it won’t be my best work.”
“I need more (information, organization, materials).
“I need to (sleep on this, eat, get advice) first.”
“This is too nice of a day to be doing this.”
“I’ll have more time later in the week.”
“There are too many other things on my mind right now.”
“I just need to clear my mind by (reading the news, responding to emails, watch TV, etc.).
“I work better under pressure, so I’ll start later.”
Tell Yourself the Truth
With few exceptions, procrastinators don’t just sit and stare at the wall. We have a short list of things that we find ourselves doing instead of the things we are avoiding. These are your Avoidance Behaviors. What are yours? Observe them. Become aware of them. And don’t just mentally acknowledge your avoidance behaviors, write them down. A shortcut past this step will greatly increase the likelihood of failure. Naming your demons gives you much more control over them. Everybody has their own list, but here’s some I’ve heard:
sweep the garage
get a snack
touch up paint somewhere
read the news online
The list could be endless. Whatever yours are, write them down! You may notice that many of them are not time-wasters at all, but good things to do. However, they are not the most important things, and you are using them to avoid the other truly important task that you should be doing.
As you are about to give yourself permission to avoid some task, ask yourself these questions about your emotional reaction to the task you are avoiding…
“Do I have a reason to think that I will fail at this task?”
“Do I resent having to accomplish this task?”
“Does this task envelop me in a cycle of delay that creates an adrenalin rush of
desperation that enables me to perform this task?”
“Is perfectionism keeping me from this task for fear I might be seen as inadequate if I
give it my best effort and it’s not perfect?”
“Am I suppressing fears that success would change my life or disturb my self-concept?”
“Am I rationalizing?”
Armed with the self-awareness provided by your journal, you can “re-wire” your brain’s daily approach to getting things done.
SCORE your Goal!
Use the Procrastinator’s Goal Guidelines. The acronym is SCORE:
Short-term. When the reward for the task is too far in the future, it adds to procrastination. As you begin, you may want to limit your goal term to a single day, then extend it to a week, and then a month, as you become more able to sustain your efforts.
Challenging. The goal should be challenging enough for you to value achieving it. Ponder carefully the optimum balance between challenging and achievable, as goals which are too challenging will diminish your expectation of reaching it.
Observable. It should be something that other people would be able to observe when the goal is achieved. For instance, a goal that centers on a desired emotional state is very subjective and observable only by you. You might wish to “feel better about your work” as a goal, but this can’t be observed by others. However, if your goal was to “mow the lawn before Saturday,” the achievement of it is easily observed by others.
Reducible. Good goals for beating procrastination can be reduced to smaller, measurable steps. Keeping a checklist can be extremely helpful. Thirty one years of weather and termites had taken their toll on the shed in our backyard, and the task of repairing and rebuilding was becoming urgent if it were to be saved. I put it off for a year before examining the root of my procrastination and discovered I was slightly overwhelmed by the task. I broke it into phases, sub phases, and a materials list and discovered my task aversion had turned into enthusiasm and zeal.
Easy first step. When you reduce your goal into smaller, measurable steps, make sure that the first step can be accomplished in less than 2 minutes. This will help you push past the hardest part…getting started. Most people who procrastinate, don’t procrastinate at the actual task…they procrastinate at starting the task. When the first step is easy and quick, that’s all a lot of people need.
You can do it! Get a journal. Get started. Just try. Remember, you miss every pitch you don’t swing at!
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