It's been 10 am in the morning and you are still catching up on the latest news, having a chat with a co-worker about the game last night, and diving into social networks. You are itching and you tell yourself it's time to become productive but it doesn't work. It's not the first day this happens.
What's going on here?
Is it even possible to stop procrastinating?
What is a magic recipe to become productive and stop wasting valuable time?
Create a plan of attack
The best strategy to beat procrastination is to complete 2 simple phases:
becoming aware of your losses - answering 'why beat procrastination' question motivates you like nothing else on your journey of eliminating procrastination from your life
learning simple techniques - mastering best productivity principles in a series of simple steps eliminates procrastination from your life
The rest of the article explains the details and provides insights on both phases.
Be aware of your losses
Even those people who already hate themselves for procrastinating don't fully understand the extent of the problem. Let's get it straight: when you procrastinate your losses are colossal.
Understand the value of time
When you delay working on important tasks, you waste the most important asset on the planet: your time.
You can buy a better gadget when your old one breaks, you can make more money when you are broke, and you can move into a better house if it's destroyed.
But you can never do this with time. Once gone, it is never to be recovered.
You'll never get this time again. No matter how hard you work, how smart you are, or what your social status is.
Stop. Think. Re-read this paragraph again. At least 3 times.
Stop losing pieces of your life
When you procrastinate you lose pieces of your life for good. Never to be recovered. Gone. You won't find them again.
Don't go there. Enough is enough. Stop losing pieces.
Start a new chapter in your life without missing bits.
Don't forget about the bad habits you used to have. Go through your memories. Feel how bad it was to amplify your new positive feelings of high productivity and getting things done. There is no hot without cold, no tall without short, no healthy diet without junk food. Everything has contrast. Once you learn simple productivity techniques your new world will be so much better with the contrast.
Let your kids succeed
Misusing time steals bright future from your kids.
Excited about this new TV show episode tonight? Never have enough time to sit with your kids and go through their homework with them? Arguing with kids more and more?
Guess what, procrastination is one of the most effective ways to destroy your kids future. Harsh but true. Calculate the amount of time you spend every day browsing social networks, watching TV, and discussing neighbours, your 'bad' boss, or an unreasonable colleague. Multiply the number by 365 days. Think about how much time you steal from your loved ones each year. And multiply by 20, 30, 40, or more years just for fun. Now it becomes scary.
Each time you find yourself wasting time ask yourself these simple questions to wake yourself up. Could I use this time with my kids to contribute to their successful future? Could we go outside together and practice their favourite sport drills? Could I have a conversation with them on getting stronger mentally? Can I make him or her a better person today?
Just start asking these questions. They will give you a lot of strength to overcome current challenges in your life by switching from burning your time to making your kids successful. Give them everything you can. They will be grateful and the whole family will be so much happier.
Understand the enemy
Understanding why we procrastinate is essential before commencing your assault on this dream killing habit.
So, what is procrastination?
What makes us reluctant to act and get closer towards our goals and dreams?
Why do we become our own enemy?
Procrastination is a habit
Procrastination is nothing more than unconscious habit that we developed in ourselves. It operates on auto-pilot without asking for approval when making time-stealing decisions. Learning how habits work and understanding their enormous impact on all areas of our lives demystifies why we delay working on important tasks.
The good news is getting rid of procrastination is simple. Not easy, but simple. And the better news is you can learn how to replace bad habits with good ones thus eliminating procrastination from your life.
Procrastination is voluntary
Procrastination is always your choice. You decide to delay working on an important task when it needs to be completed yesterday. You come up with 'maybe later' excuse. You decide to open a new browser tab and dive into your favourite social network.
Compare this to your child becoming sick overnight. There is no way you can accomplish everything you have planned for the next day. A totally different situation. It's not your choice and as a responsible caring parent you do whatever it takes to get your child back on the right track as soon as possible.
Did you ever think about procrastination from "it's your own choice" perspective? It doesn't feel nice when you realize it's up to you and there is no one else to blame. No circumstance to complain about. No excuses.
Procrastination is a problem with self-regulation
Similarly to excessive eating, drinking, smoking, and gambling, procrastination is a problem with self-regulation.
Why bother about long term goals which don't give us immediate pleasure when there are so many exciting things available right now? Who cares that instant pleasures are a waste of life? It feels nice now!
The curse of living in the era of instance gratification.
We undermine our own success by feeding our mind with killing life wasting drugs. And when the time comes to quit, we are desperate for another dose. This is addiction - we can't control it.
Underestimating future rewards
We blindly underestimate future rewards of hard work. They seem so small. Much smaller than immediate pleasures delivered by low effort tasks. As Jim Rohn once said everyone can burn midnight oil when the future rewards are clear and guaranteed. Working hard when rewards aren't vivid is mission impossible for many of us.
Building artificial barriers
Your mind is a sophisticated device capable of building gigantic walls of excuses 'protecting' you from working hard on difficult and important tasks. Recognizing and eliminating artificial roadblocks is critical in combating unproductive behaviour.
Let's take perfectionism as an example. We often justify delaying important actions due to 'not quite being there yet'. We keep polishing insignificant bits and pieces to avoid working on unpleasant and absolutely critical tasks which make all the difference. We tell ourselves it's not perfect yet. What we don't realize is that this is just an excuse in disguise.
Myths that make you fell better
Our minds use procrastination myths to feel good about not working on difficult tasks. For example, we get deceived by the "I work better under pressure" myth. Brian Tracy says nothing can be further from truth. We find ourselves under pressure due to poor productivity and bad working habits. Don't trust myths created by people who never achieved anything significant in life. Become an outstanding achiever by throwing away life polluting excuses.
Reducing happiness standards
Trapped by inability to be productive, we reduce our life quality standards. See, as human beings we are designed to look for happiness all the time. And if can't be happy due to being successful at beating procrastination we reduce our standards of happiness pretending our diminished results still make us happy.
Think about it.
Very few people admit they could achieve much more in life if they learnt to defeat procrastination. Instead we look for excuses trying to rationalize our behaviours to feel better about achieving less.
We put a happy mask on a sad face.
Why? Why on earth?
Have you ever noticed what professional tennis players do in between points? They get relaxed. They are very casual and easy going until it's time to play the next point.
What's happening here?
All world class athletes know we have limited willpower.
How much do you have? Do you often find yourself not having enough energy to start a new task? Did you ever feel like you are totally exhausted?
You are not alone. That's how we function.
If you have enough sleep and look after yourself your willpower levels at the beginning of the day are very high. As the day progresses, you keep spending this limited resource. You only have so much.
Sometimes, you delay an important activity due to the lack of willpower. You have none left in your tank.
Now that you know why we procrastinate, it's time to learn the strategies to eradicate this evil behaviour from your life for good.
Recognize negative feelings about important tasks
The very first step in the process is becoming aware of the nature of procrastination. It's nothing more than running away from negative feelings about important tasks. You have to improve your emotional intelligence skills to deal with this behaviour.
Internalize your desire to stay strong and face your fears.
Decide not to take mental 'drugs'. Working on easier tasks only gives temporary relief from facing important challenges. You destroy your own success over time due to this addiction.
Decide now to start fighting. Not running away is the first and most important step on your way to eliminating procrastination.
Eliminate misjudgements in time travelling
Understanding why we trap ourselves in "doing it tomorrow" excuse is necessary to make the required corrections in our behaviour.
As Timothy Pychyl explained in his book Solving the Procrastination Puzzle we decide to put off a difficult task until tomorrow because it feels great at the moment. We travel in time promising ourselves to deal with the task at hand later. And we misjudge our ability to predict future accurately.
When we promise ourselves to get our hands dirty tomorrow we make 2 huge mistakes:
Getting satisfied immediately for no reason - avoiding a difficult task now feels great because we don't have to sweat
Misjudging our future mental state - we won't magically become excited about the same challenge tomorrow and the task will not get easier overnight.
Avoid disillusion - start now.
Adopt "No Excuses" philosophy
To prevent sabotaging your life, start raising awareness about excuses. Every time you go defensive or justify your behaviour ask yourself one simple question: "How could I do better?". Learn to take full responsibility for your life no matter what happens. In any negative situation look for only one person to be accountable for the outcome: yourself.
It's hard if you are not used to such life philosophy. Read books written by achievement experts. Once you get it, you will become unstoppable.
In his best-seller book No Excuses Brian Tracy delivers a delicious life recipe. If you memorize even a few simple ingredients from the book your results in life will shock everyone around you. Yourself included.
Ignore procrastination triggers
Start noticing how you rationalize putting important tasks off. Catch phrases like
"I need it to be perfect before going any further"
"This task is not that important - it can wait for tomorrow"
"I work much better under pressure"
and other similar phrases for not acting on critical issues
Learn to ignore procrastination triggers and continue working hard on what matters.
Decide now, act later
Many books have been written on the incredible power of pre-decision. The idea is to decide now how you will respond to a particular situation in the future.
Decide right now how to respond productively to any signals of delaying important tasks.
Explain to yourself what you are going to do the next time a difficult task feels like tomorrow:
"I start working on the task immediately. I am strong. I accept no excuses, myths, or rationalization of unproductive behaviour."
Works like a charm. But how?
By making a decision now, you eliminate the rush to think, analyze, and make the decision on the spot. If you are not prepared to respond immediately, you will stick to your habitual way of reacting: putting it off until tomorrow.
This very powerful technique is not specific to beating procrastination. You can apply this principle anywhere you like to significantly improve the quality of your life by making the right choices upfront.
Just get started
Both Brian Tracy and Timothy Pychyl emphasize the importance of getting started due to a number of psychological reasons.
When you start working on a task, even the most challenging and unpleasant one, your negative perception about it changes almost immediately. Often, as you start making progress you get a momentum going. You feel positive and optimistic by just getting started. You want more and more of it. Incredible.
Use the Swiss cheese technique
The best part about it is that you can start wherever you like. Brain Tracy refers to this principle as the Swiss cheese technique. Just pick the smallest possible piece which is not as intimidating as other parts and get it done. Then do one more. And another one. Bit by bit you pierce the whole task making it look like a piece of Swiss cheese with holes. Once you get it going, you become unstoppable and the beast surrenders. Who is in control? You are!
Salami slice difficult tasks
Intimidated by an overwhelming task? Split the monster into manageable chunks. Use the salami slice method. Multiple personal excellence authors endorse this method.
The idea behind this principle is ridiculously simple. Complicated tasks intimidate us. We don't know where to start. We have no structure, clarity, and confidence.
Decomposing into smaller chunks brings you back into control. You can see how it can be accomplished slice by slice. You don't have to do it all at once. Start with the most delicious bit.
Simplicity wins. It makes you confident and eliminates conceptual overload.
Just get it started.
Become aware of major distractions designed to make your life miserable. Don't let them ruin your life.
You are in the middle of a critical task. The momentum is going. You are crushing it. A co-worker suddenly interrupts you with a statement about yesterday's game he watched on TV. You get involved into the conversation. Ten minutes later you find yourself arguing about politics with 5 more people. Just a few minutes ago you were blaming the economy. And before that, a few Hollywood stars were torn in pieces.
Collectively, the six of you just wasted an hour. But wait, it's more than that. You now need to get back to the task. Where did you stop? What were you doing? The momentum is gone. Motivation is not there. And you can't forget that nasty comment Jim's made about your opinion. How could he possibly say that? Unable to concentrate, you keep recycling this conversation over and over again. It bothers you for a few days until you finally settle and let it go.
Wow, a simple comment just stole a few days of your life. And if you've never had a similar experience you deserve to be added to The Guinness Book of Records.
Here is a list of major time thieves:
social networks - Catch up once a day with your friends if it's important to you but don't do it every 2 minutes. Close your browser, disconnect your computer from the Internet. Do something to stop constantly posting and checking social network updates
messaging - just received a useless message from a friend? Don't reply, pretend you are in a different room and didn't see the message
smart phone - it's not so smart if you use it for wasting your life. Switch to the silent mode and don't touch it until you finish this important task
email - don't check emails every few minutes. Close your email program and only check it once a day when you are not working on a critical task
phone calls - don't get involved into useless conversations. Say you are busy and hang up
useless chatter - stop discussing celebrities, neighbours, politics, and other time wasting topics. Switch to constructive conversations about designing a better life
video games - isn't it better to become a real hero, not a virtual one? Stop this addiction. Your virtual achievements won't impress your kids or your bank account
negative memories - torturing yourself about a negative comment someone made about you is a total waste of your time. Learn the amazing skill of letting it go. Be proud of yourself, don't let anyone steal your time with their tongue
Distractions are always there to stop you from being free and successful. Disconnect yourself from the world of negativity, useless chatter, and mental drugs to become ultra productive and contribute to your success.
Be tough on obstacles. Destroy them ruthlessly.
Let's say you finally decided to improve your nutrition. You have been putting it off for ages. Think about what can sabotage this life-changing decision.
Get rid of this box of wine, throw away the remaining sweets and other products which add fat to your waistline. Darren Hardy suggests doing exactly that in his brilliant masterpiece called The Compound Effect. This book is full of great insights and ideas on improving the quality of your life.
Identify and eliminate roadblocks on an ongoing basis.
No matter how good you are at what you do eventually you will make a mistake. You will fail at something. Everyone does. Resist the temptation to beat yourself and give in to negative feelings about yourself like many people do.
We tend to say "what's the point, this setback got me nearly where I began. I hate to get back where I started." You are not alone. People make mistakes all the time. Taking 1 step back to take 2 steps forward is a common achievement pattern. Once you understand this, handling setback becomes easier.
Don't give up, decide now to continue taking steps forward no matter how much you were thrown back by failing at something.
Boost your willpower
Who wouldn't like to have more energy to go to the gym after another emotionally exhausting and depleting day? Sounds like mission impossible? The good news is anyone can learn to get more willpower by using 2 simple strategies.
Use willpower reserves efficiently
Most people don't use all available willpower they have. We don't realize there is only 1 missing piece preventing us from getting access to full reserves.
The moment you find your big 'why' your ability to keep going improves out of sight.
Imagine your goal is to start working out late in the evenings after your kids go to bed. Most people hate this idea as they don't have any energy left at the end of the day. The first step you could take is to start passing by a local gym on your way home. Have a look at all those people training. Imagine how they feel - they must be proud of themselves. This will give you extra motivation. Hey, if someone can do it, so can you.
You could also think of your next reunion. Wouldn't you hate to turn up in your current shape? How would it feel if you would be trim while everyone else is off track? What would it make to your self-esteem? Finding your why opens up all available resources your body and mind have to offer.
Increase willpower capacity
Exercising willpower is like working out your muscles. The more you train your willpower the more you can achieve.
Let's continue with the above example. In addition to getting access to more willpower you can extend its capacity at the same time. Start doing just 1 push-up a day once your home chores are sorted. Just one. Everyone can do that. It feels great and it doesn't require too much work. But guess what? You just got started! Do 2 or even 3 push-ups the day after. How about adding 1 more set?
Gradually, you will build your workout times up. No big bang approach. Stretch your willpower slowly if huge jumps are out of reach. This approach works through the power of the compound effect. In no time, you will find yourself ready to join the gym or get some basic equipment to train at home.
How could you stretch your willpower today? What can you do for the next 3 weeks to increase the capacity?
Train your brain to boost willpower. Read the amazing book by Kelly McGonigal called The Willpower Instinct.
Learning to beat procrastination is a critical skill towards your bright future and freedom. Putting off important tasks is like taking drugs: it makes you happier now while devastating your life in the long run.
Realizing what procrastination takes from you and your loved ones is the first step in the process. You have got to hate procrastination badly. Wasting valuable time, losing pieces of your life, and undermining successful future of your kids are just a few examples of what it does to you and your family. Stick to zero tolerance policy on undermining your life.
The second phase requires applying the best strategies in eliminating this bad habit from your life. Start with understanding that procrastination is a voluntary action caused by burning desire to avoid negative feelings. Just get started, ignore procrastination triggers, use powerful pre-decisions, adopt no-excuses philosophy, eliminate distractions, and boost your willpower to defeat the enemy.
Make a firm decision now to eliminate this time stealing weed from your life to take your life to the new highs of meaningful and successful living.