Contributed by: Vera Nadine of veranadine.com
I am a procrastinator. There’s no two ways about it. And I don’t mean that I can sometimes put off doing the dishes until the next morning. I mean that I can put anything off, anytime, for any reason.
What strikes me about the self-development movement is all the emphasis on getting up early, implementing the law of attraction, optimizing your time-to-input ratio and just doing it! Yet very little is said about that dirty little secret. Though Alex has written about the extra pain that procrastination causes us hardly anyone seems to address that great divide between the knowing what you should do and the actual doing of it.
Today I can say that I am someone who writes every day, who walks outdoors in nature every day, who gets up early every day and who only eats an organic vegetarian diet. I can say, truthfully, that I live in Europe and that I am in a happy relationship. I can say with all honest that I meditate regularly and that I help people on their own paths of self-discovery.
But I could not say those things in a truthful way just one year ago. Why not? Because I only knew that I should be doing those things, that those things would make me happier. But the trouble is I knew, but I didn’t do. And I had been knowing those things, consciously, for several years.
So what changed? How do I overcome my procrastination, and how can you do it too?
Here are twelve relatively simple tools that you can implement to help overcome even the most stubborn case of procrastination:
1. Do not place so much emphasis on perfection: This one is at the top because it is my own biggest crutch when it comes to not getting things done. It is especially significant in keeping me from achieving personal goals. For everything that I really WANT to do in my life there is the perfect scenario for how it should be done. Yoga should be done in a light, bright, zen-inspired home studio. Books should be penned in a mountaintop cabin overlooking a desolate lake. We all have hang-ups like this. We have all seen too many movies, read too many new-age magazine articles. Oddly enough, you will write the same wonderful book whether or not you have that glow-in-dark pencil sharpener on the corner of your desk. Once you allow yourself and the environment around you the freedom to be fluid and imperfect, for that is the only state that ever gives rise to true creativity and determination, and too just begin working on the project, you will quickly see that it was all just an illusion. You do not need every bit of jogging paraphernalia to get up and run around the block and even doing the smallest bit of your project will get the ball rolling, without the need for your heavenly dream scenario.
2. Do not beat yourself up when you do delay something: Life happens and as a result, try as we might, we cannot always fulfill every commitment on time and as planned. We get the flu. Emergencies occur, even acts of God. But if you begin placing blame on yourself, giving power to the voice that says you are bad, what happens? You get more dejected, more off-track and the result is not a constructive one (ie. You completing the delayed project.) Instead you begin dragging your feet on other projects as well and the whole thing spirals out-of-control. When you delay something simply make a note of it in your mind. Set a new, firm, time to complete the task and make an effort not to delay it again. Take notice of how often you are delaying things and try to lessen the occurrence over time but do not place blame or shame upon yourself for any delays. You are aware of it, that is a positive step.
3. Find the root of the problem: You are not usually choosing to procrastinate on a conscience level but are instead avoiding something that you find unpleasant. The key is not to ignore the problem, but to sit down and ask yourself where the root of this discomfort lies. I recently did this with my procrastination about writing. I sat down and asked myself if I have always procrastinated about writing. Looking back into my youth I could see that the answer was no. I then continued going through my life and pinpointed the time-period in which this changed. After narrowing the possibilities and timeframe, I discovered that it was all due to anxiety about my undergraduate academic writing class. Ever since I have found writing a breeze and the procrastination in that area of my life gets less-and-less. Try the same exercise yourself to see if the root of your procrastination lies in some seemingly-inconsequential past event or irrational fear.
4. Allow enough time to go at a leisurely pace: Feeling rushed is a very common cause of procrastination. When you don’t think that you have enough time to bring a thing to a successful completion, you are less likely to even begin it. By blocking off a space of time in which you can actually achieve a thing, you will feel more confident when sitting down to begin doing it. If you do not plan your time, at least somewhat, and instead wait until the whole thing reaches a critical moment, you will not feel confident in doing it all. I, myself, do not find strict scheduling to work well for me. I instead like to guesstimate how much time a thing will take if I do it to the best of my abilities and then choose an appropriate-length block of time that I can dedicate to it when I feel ready to tackle to head-on.
5. Admit your weaknesses ie. procrastination: When agreeing, either with yourself or with another person, that you will do a thing, be honest about your tendency to procrastinate. This doesn’t mean marching up to your boss and saying that you cannot do that promotional mailing that you already agreed to do. But it does mean being honest about your own abilities. Tell him: “Of course I can do that for you. Would you mind checking in with me occasionally to make sure that I am staying on schedule?” Or better yet, when working on something with or for others, ask them to request portions of the finished product from you to keep you on track. Let them know that you do want to help them but that you have a tendency to become distracted and to bite off more than you can chew, so a little help and understanding from them will go a long way. Having this out in the open does not free you to use it as an excuse for not completing things, but it does give you the opportunity to begin working on fixing it, one person and one commitment at a time.
6. Realize that you are doing it for you: Whether you consciously know it or not, everything that you are hoping to do or have promised to do is something that you are doing for yourself. It may not seem that way on the surface. “How is my Saturday chore of mowing the neighbor’s lawn something that I do for myself?” Well there can be several answers. You offered to do it because you wanted to seem like a nice guy. You are doing it to earn some extra money. You don’t realize it, but is the only 15 minutes that you get to yourself all week long. Any task is essentially for you and therefore the only person that you cheat by shirking your intention to act is yourself. Go ahead: start that knitting club that you told yourself you wanted to start LAST spring. The longer that you think about something and do not actually do it, the more energy you waste on it, all the while missing out on the energy that you thought you would get from it.
7. Do not expect a specific outcome or reward: As I mentioned above, you are undertaking certain actions, no matter what they are, for yourself and not for anyone else. That being said, once you begin a thing you must immediately find away to put aside all thoughts on the “reason” that you are doing it. Dwelling on the fruits of your labor, and worrying about whether or not they will pay off, is another really big barrier to continuation and completion. “Will that guy really even publish this article?” “Can I even keep this garden alive?” Each of us is constantly questioning the final outcome of or intentions. But, once you begin, your focus must shift, what you are doing must become about the actual doing. “I am doing this because I love writing from my experience.” “I am doing this because I have always wanted to design a garden.” When you make the reason the actual doing of the thing, it releases you from all anxiety about outcome or expectations, leaving you with a lot of extra energy to put into your actions.
8. Do not over-commit yourself: You want to help everyone. You want to achieve everything. But trying to do it all at once virtually guarantees that you will not succeed. Sometimes we do this to ourselves on purpose, something inside of us desires to reinforce our belief that we cannot attain success. But if you find yourself being consistently overwhelmed with commitments and intentions then you need to address the problem head-on. You must learn, for your own mental health and well-being, to say “No.” You are not obliged to solve the world’s problems. And you certainly shouldn’t attempt to solve the problems of others by creating problems for yourself. When you are kind enough to say “no” to someone else’s kind request (or even to the torrent of ideas flowing from your own mind) you save them potential disappointment when you don’t come through and you save yourself the stress of feeling pressured and beating yourself up. In time people will come to appreciate your honesty and the fact that when you do contribute you always give it your all.
9. Enlist help, ie. delegate: The hardest thing for us very independent, modern people to admit is that we cannot do it all, that we sometimes need help. But ask any successful businessperson and they will tell you that the most effective thing that you can do is to delegate to qualified people. If you are skilled at building engineering and you get paid $150 an hour to do that, the most senseless thing is for you to waste 4 hours of your time, and deplete your energies through stressful struggle, trying to research which is the best water cooler delivery company to go with. It’s simple, delegate it . If the task that you are procrastinating on is something that consistently plagues you, or one for which you already know the person who would excel at it, just simply enlist their help and move on to a pursuit that is a much more positive use of your time and energy. Paying someone $20 to do something that would have wasted $200 worth of your personal effort, is a very good trade-off indeed.
10. Allow yourself to fail: If, when thinking of a task or a goal, you immediately think, “I can’t do that,” then the diagnosis would clearly be fear of failure. And why not? We have been taught all of our lives that a failure of any kind is an estimate of a our overall value as a human being. However, having the gumption to try is the true measure of our inner world. When you want to learn something, the only way to succeed is to try. Count your failures as lessons and as tangible things which are evidence to your own initiative, your own bravery and your determination to achieve your goals. To never attempt to manifest anything, simply out of fear that you will not succeed, is the true definition of ultimate failure. Allow yourself to fail with kindness and acceptance toward yourself. When you want to go out on a limb, just go, and let the going be the learning experience…refer back to #7 for a refresher.
11. Turn off the television: I cannot count how many times in my life I have had the energy, the intention and the plan to do something only to become distracted by some interesting thing on the Discovery Channel, undoubtedly followed by some other, equally interesting, thing and so-on and so-forth. Television, whether you think I am a conspiracy theorist or not, is designed to distract you. They want you to sit and watch it for hours-and-hours and they run fantastic scientific tests and studies to make sure that you do just that. So, turn it off. (I actually gave all of my T.Vs away.) Once it is off for a while, you will notice what those ancestors of ours felt back in the 18th and 19th centuries, there is a whole world of stuff out there to be done, to be discovered and to be created. (Unfortunately if your replace the T.V. with the P.C. you encounter a similar problem.)
12. Stop looking at the clock: When we feel like something is not fun or like our energy for a specific task is not flowing as freely as we would like, we tend to still attempt to hold ourselves to our regular high standards. (And let’s face it no one puts pressure on you quite the way that you do.) But with any task, and especially with those that we find difficult, it is important to take it slowly if we must. Put a piece of tape or paper over the nearest clock. Don’t keep looking at it thinking that you should be done by now or that you haven’t done enough in the time that you have spent. Putting forth your efforts should always be about quality versus quantity. Take your time writing those sentences, three exceptionally poignant ones will always outweigh forty-three exceptionally fluffy ones. Let your creativity flow at its own pace without pressure and without shame, for therein lies the high-quality outcome that you so desire.
Author Bio: Vera Nadine
If you like this article please give it a thumbs up on StumbleUpon. If you want to write a guest post please see the contribution page.