If you were drawn to this article by the title, then you know from firsthand experience what an insidious, life-sucking monster procrastination is. If you got here simply because you love reading every word I write (thank you!) and have no idea what procrastination is, here's the definition according to Dictionary.com: "the act or habit of procrastinating, or putting off or delaying, especially something requiring immediate attention."
Ok, so first things first: This is a problem I am actively addressing in my life. I make no claim of being the guru with all the answers. I'm still trying to slay this dragon. I'm looking for answers, just like you.
If extreme procrastination were a sport I'd be an Olympic gold medalist. I have been a procrastinator for as long as I can remember. I once bought a book on overcoming procrastination and never got around to reading it. Yes, I'm that bad! I have historically put off doing the difficult thing for the sake of the easier, softer thing. Play over work, pleasure over pain. According to Sigmund Freud and his pleasure principle , this is pretty normal behavior for human beings.
But what about when this behavior has negative consequences? Sure, you can procrastinate on some of the things some of the time, but what about when it gets out of control and you procrastinate on all of the things all of the time?
As a life-long procrastinator, I can tell you that this sort of behavior adds unnecessary anxiety and stress to life. During my school years, it was: Why work on that research paper today when it's not due for another month? Why study for that test now when you can do it later? Then frantically working without sleep in the 24- to 72-hour window before the assignment or test was due.
Things are a little different at work, but not much. Work provides a structure within which to accomplish each day's allotted tasks. Going to work and not having anything to do would be boring! After all, you're being paid to be there, so you can't just exactly blow off work and fire up Hulu or Netflix or play some video games. I'm sure there are some people who can do this, but I have never felt comfortable doing this, even the couple of times that I did. But even at work, I have found that my preference is to work on the easier stuff on my to-do list first while reserving the harder items for "later."
What's the Problem?
Procrastination most often rears its ugly head in those areas of my life where I am in control; where I am the decision-maker. According to this video, it's (at least partially) because of my brain. There's an internal battle going on between my pre-frontal cortex and my limbic system and the limbic system's winning.
I first started learning about all this when I read Dr. Daniel G. Amen's incredible book . The book got me thinking about my life and some of the patterns of behavior I have noticed. More importantly, it gave me hope for change.
What's the Solution?
There's no one easy answer. Procrastination is a problem for many people. None of us want to tackle the things we fear or stir up our anxiety. And yet, we must. It's the very things that frighten us the most that bring about the most growth. We grow when we step out of our comfort zone.
Here are a few things that have helped me that I hope you will find helpful.
Step #1: Set S.M.A.R.T. goals
S.M.A.R.T. goals are:
- S - Specific
- M - Measurable
- A - Achievable
- R - Realistic
- T - Time-Bound
For example, I have set the goal of writing a minimum of 500 words daily. This is specific (500 words daily), measurable (500 words), achievable and realistic (because I can write 500 words daily), and time-bound (daily).
I eventually intend to increase that goal to 1,000 and then 2,000 words daily, but first I want to consistently (80% or better) hit my goal of writing 500 words each day.
To learn more about S.M.A.R.T. goals, read S.M.A.R.T. Goals Made Simple: 10 Steps to Master Your Personal and Career Goals or other, similar books.
Step #2: Find your motivation
Don't allow anxiety and stress to be the motivation for getting your big hairy audacious goals done! You know the feeling. It's the night before a big deadline and you can't sleep because you've procrastinated yourself into a corner. You now have to produce results, or else!
Why put yourself through that? Motivate yourself by visualizing how much better you'll feel walking through your fear, getting the task done, and crossing that finish line!
Step #3: Use the Pomodoro Technique
I have used the Pomodoro Technique for several years now. Here's how it works: You set a 25-minute countdown timer and work for 25 minutes. When the alarm sounds, you get up and take a 5-minute break. Do whatever you want. Go for a walk. Get a drink of water. Visit social media if that's your thing (but don't get sucked in!). Then repeat the process. Each of these 25-minute work/5-minute break cycles is a Pomodoro. Once you've completed four of these cycles, you take a longer break of 30 minutes.
If you use Google Chrome (and why would you use anything else?), you can install the Strict Workflow extension, which will both time your Pomodoros and block any websites you may find... distracting. You can add/remove websites in the extension's options.
If you're a little more distraction-challenged (like me!), you might want to give Freedom a try. Freedom will actually lock down your computer for up to eight hours at a time, freeing you from all those annoying beeps and whistles for distraction-free work time! It's also available as an app for your iPhone and iPad!
Step #4: Be kind to yourself
I saved this one for last, but it's probably the most important one. I've been a life-long procrastinator. Am I going to change overnight? Absolutely not! I'm shooting for progress, not perfection here. Hitting the mark 80% of the time or better is my aim.
Heaping shame on myself for anything less than perfection is counterproductive. Shame does not inspire creativity, it shuts it down. So be kind to yourself! You're the only you you've got!
This post wouldn't be complete if I didn't give you some resources to follow up with. I'm a reader, so here are a few books currently on my reading list:
- Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time by Brian Tracy
- Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen (I've already read this one, but I'm going to be reading it again!)
- You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero
- The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy
- The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
- The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play by Neil Fiore
Please let me know in the comments below if you found this post helpful!