I’m a big believer in putting things off, in fact, I even put off procrastinating.
— Elle Varner
If I had to guess one thing that you need to give up to improve your time management and to maximise your time without even meeting you, I would say it was procrastination. From the market research I conducted at the start of 2020 (just before the lockdown of COVID-19 started, so I am sure it got worse later in the year), procrastination was cited as the biggest time stealer. This is also something I see again and again through my coaching courses and talks on the topic of time management, goals and how to create a life by design.
Whilst I am sure you will agree with me that procrastination negatively impacts on your precious time, did you know it also creates enormous mental anguish and stress? It has a huge detriment to your mindset, confidence and self-belief. We often beat ourselves up when we procrastinate, annoyed at the fact that we lost time and didn’t fulfil our commitments – but that becomes a vicious cycle. The more we beat ourselves up, the more we procrastinate, the more we beat ourselves up… and over time that will wear down anyone’s confidence, mindset and self-belief.
Recently, the article Working Remote And 10 Things You Can Do To Prevent Procrastination, published on the Forbes Business website in May 2020, revealed that studies show that people who procrastinate have higher levels of stress and lower well-being. The article also explained why the closer you get to the deadline, the more distressed and paralyzed you feel, and in the long run stalling erodes your productivity and career success, and also causes chronic stress.
Did you know even highly driven and accomplished people can still be procrastinators? We assume that procrastination is for the laziest of us, but I don’t think that is the case – your procrastination could be anything from analysis paralysis or not believing in yourself rather than just your lack of get up and go. Furthermore, I often coach people who think they are procrastinating because they are putting tasks off, but really it is something else holding them back. Regardless what is causing procrastination, when we realise the impact of it on our lives and decide to stop procrastinating, most people experience a great sense of relief.
In this blog, I am going to explain how you identify if you are a procrastinator and help you discover what type of procrastinator you are. I will then help you explore practical solutions to stop procrastinating, so you can improve your time management and productivity.
Remember that 'The Law of Diminishing Intent' states: “The longer you wait to do something you should do now, the greater the odds that you will never actually do it.” This concept was coined by the great Jim Rohn and John Maxwell wrote about it in his book The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth. It cannot get simpler than that. Basically, if you have a good idea, a responsibility, a good plan, the time to do it is now. The longer you postpone it, the less chances you have of getting it done.
So, what are you waiting for? Stop procrastinating and read this blog!
First, you need to discover why you procrastinate in various situations. This will give you a better understanding of yourself and will develop your self-awareness. You can then work on various techniques to prevent you procrastinating.
In his ground-breaking book, “The Organized Mind”, Daniel Levitin writes, "Procrastination comes in two types. Some of us procrastinate in order to pursue restful activities—spending time in bed, watching TV—while others of us procrastinate certain difficult or unpleasant tasks in favor of those that are more fun or that yield an immediate reward.
What type of procrastinator are you? Are you a rest-seeking procrastinator who doesn’t want to be doing anything at all, or a fun-task procrastinator who enjoys being busy and active all the time, but struggles to start anything that they don’t enjoy? Are you procrastinating because you are putting off the hard tasks, or are you procrastinating because something fun or immediately rewarding has caught your eye? I think we can be both types to be honest, but it changes according to the situation. Taking time to figure out which type you are will help you break out of your procrastination patterns for good.
How do you make procrastination a thing of the past? The following tips and techniques will provide practical solutions to stop procrastinating, so you can improve your time management and productivity.
As the Psychology Today website article Self-Talk explains, negative self-talk can take a toll on your confidence and limit personal growth. Replace the negative self-talk with positive and empowering words. Never say "I can't" and stop saying "I must..." and replace it with "I want to..." and “I can…”. One of the reasons we procrastinate is because deep down we don’t believe we can get the thing we are working for – whether that is because we don’t believe we have it in us or we don’t think we deserve it, so why bother. Whilst you might have it on your to-do list, if you don’t subconsciously believe you deserve it or can do it, then you’ll hold yourself back from starting, aka procrastinating.
As Brian Tracy says in his famous book, Eat the frog, you have to complete the task you are procrastinating on first thing in the day. His theory says, if you complete the task you most dread first thing in the day, then it’s over and done with. You can then tackle the rest of the day knowing that you are no longer under pressure to complete that task. However, I do have another school of thought on this that goes a little against the grain… do the easier tasks first to get you “into the flow”, as seeing yourself ticking of your tasks can help motivate you. Also, if you are constantly putting off a task, you need to ask yourself why you are doing this, because if this is a repeatedly being fobbed off then maybe you don’t actually need to do it, or maybe it will be more empowering to delegate or ditch it.
As Desmond Tutu once wisely said that “There is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time”. Breaking down every task into manageable bite size pieces will make them more achievable. We often procrastinate because we simply don’t know where to start; the task is too daunting! “Breaking tasks down helps us to see large tasks as more approachable and doable, and reduces our propensity to procrastinate or defer tasks, because we simply don’t know where to begin,” explains Melissa Gratias, a workplace productivity coach and speaker.
Neil Fiore, author of The Now Habit, suggests that some people who procrastinate are bad at managing their time and often end up scheduling in more work than they can actually do, leaving no time for fun activities or resting. Fiore recommends his revolutionary “Unschedule” method as a way to combat this. Ironically, the basic principle of the “Unschedule” is to schedule! As I have always recommended, schedule your “non-negotiables” first! Fill your schedule with fun activities and rest, as well as the things you ‘never have time for’, before scheduling in any work or the urgent stuff. This will prevent you from over-scheduling. Confused? We think because we’re so far behind, and we’ve been procrastinating so long, we deserve nothing more than a life of drudgery until the whole project is complete. But no one wants that life, so we rebel against it and continue to procrastinate, and that is not a life by design! That’s why the “Unschedule” method is genius.
Reward yourself with a break or enjoyable experience for each task you complete! If you struggle to start a task, complete a 50-minute session of work and then reward yourself with a short coffee break, a chapter of a book or a chat with a friend. Behavioural science has long known that, “what gets rewarded, gets repeated.” Rewarding yourself for each period of work you complete will motivate you to stop procrastinating and encourage you to start the task at hand. It will create a positive feedback loop. You start associating work with rewards, thus giving yourself incentives to stop procrastinating and do more work in the future. Read my blog Why Pomodoro Technique Increases Your Productivity, to find out how this Pomodoro Technique will help you to end procrastination and also empower you to become more productive, especially if you are working from home.
Finding an Accountability Partner will help you stop procrastinating. As Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People explains, “Accountability breeds response-ability.” I like the idea of “response-ability!” It is up to you who your accountability partner is. Perhaps it’s your spouse, partner, parent, neighbour or work mate etc. However, make sure it is someone that isn’t going to let you off the hook, is rooting for your success and will help you keep your commitment to stop procrastinating. An accountability partner is not a human version of an app. It is well-known that when we tell someone else our goals, we are more likely to keep them, which is another reason coaching is so powerful by the way.
If you are looking for support with your goals and would like the added benefit of accountability, get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org to see how my coaching, courses and programmes might be of value for you.
Have you heard of the Pomodoro technique of time management? Read my blog Why Pomodoro Technique Increases Your Productivity, to find out how it will transform your time management and help you be more productive especially if you are working from home.
Read my blog Power of Goal Setting using 'Range Goals', to find out more about what a “range goal” is, how range goals will help you stop procrastinating and are better for your mindset and motivation. I also share some practical tips and tools to help set them and implement them.
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This article is written by Alice Dartnell, life and success coach of Alice Dartnell Limited. Alice empowers busy professionals to be successful, transform their lives and achieve more by improving their confidence, mindset and time management.
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Copyright 2021 Alice Dartnell Limited
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