5 Steps To Beat Procrastination

Photo by Bich Tran

If you’ve thought to yourself “This is too hard, I’ll just do it later,” “This will take too much time, I have so many other things to do,” or “I don’t feel like doing this now, I’ll just do it tomorrow,” you might be a procrastinator. We all know procrastination. A dreaded task pops into your head, you feel your stomach tighten, and your mind begins stirring up excuses. Your brain starts sending messages like, “hey, now would be a great time to clean,” or the far less productive thought, “let’s walk around the house in circles until there’s no time left to do the desired task.”

As if procrastination wasn’t bad before, now let’s combine the added distractions of working from home. Gone, for now at least, are the days of the 9-6 office job, painstakingly created with the sole purpose of optimizing productivity. We don’t have the structure that we are typically used to, and our goals might be changing daily! But when you have things to do, and just can’t seem to get them done, what can you do?

Procrastination is generally preceded by two types of thoughts that psychologists call automatic thoughts and permission giving thoughts. Automatic thoughts typically provoke an emotional reaction that lead to task avoidance. Permission giving thoughts are as they sound, they give you permission not to complete the task. How can you combat procrastination, spend less time worrying and avoiding, and more time living your life?

Grab a piece of paper and a pen and let us knock out some of these steps along the way.

1. Make a list.

Do not skip step one, and do not take a shortcut.

Upon reading this step you may have even noticed your first automatic thought and said to yourself, “I’ll do it later.” If you did, then let us recognize that thought and make the conscious decision not to let it win.

You have a task or several tasks in mind that you want to complete. Take a minute now to make a to-do list, even if your list is one item long. If there is a big task at hand (i.e. writing a book, taking a course) write down what you hope to accomplish TODAY. Chances are you are not going to write the book in one sitting. Now take out a piece of paper and write it down.

Many times, just having the thought of an assignment, even if it is something we are passionate about, can be burdensome. Writing down that thought onto a piece of paper frees your mind from the mental energy it takes to retain the task. Not to mention, when we see the task written on the piece of paper it seems and feels less daunting. We can look at it objectively as just a thing we need to do.

By writing it down, you are ready to move on to step two.

Bonus: If you think that cleaning your home might get in the way of completing your task, add it to your to-do list.

2. Schedule a time to start working.

You’ve written down your task, and you’re feeling a bit relieved, now it’s time to schedule it. Write down on your calendar, a post-it note, or in your phone the date and time that you are going to complete this task.

There can be no shortage of specifics. Add the specific location of where you are going to complete the task. It can look something like:

Monday, October 20th at 11am.

Location: desk in my office.

Bonus: if it is a longer task, you can give yourself an end time, too.

Now let us complete step 2 together. Put it in your phone, on your calendar and set a reminder. Schedule your task.

3. Don’t give yourself a permission slip.

After scheduling your task, it becomes a reality that you will get it done, but some automatic thoughts might be popping up in your head causing some anxiety.

Automatic thoughts sound like, “it’s too hard” or, “I don’t have time.” Worry acts as a way to avoid more anxiety provoking thoughts, like, “I’m not good enough.”

Let’s address these thoughts:

“I don’t have time.” I think we need to reframe this thought. “I don’t have a lot of time, but this is important so I will schedule this in.” It can be helpful to look at the way you are currently spending your time. How often do you check social media, watch a few episodes on Netflix, or lay in bed for an extra half hour? You might be busy, but many of us do have time. We just need to figure out how to spend it.

The evil cousin of “I don’t have the time” is “I don’t have the energy.” How can we reframe this thought? If you were in bed and your fire alarm started going off, what would you do? You probably answered something along the lines of “I’d get up and check the house.” We might not have a lot of energy, but when something is important to us, we can muster up the energy. A way to reframe this thought is, “I don’t have a lot of energy, but if I do it now I can relax later.”

The more difficult of these thoughts is the one that provokes a fear of failure. It might pop up as, “what if I’m not good enough?” or “what if my work isn’t good?” This can be reframed as, “I might not be good now, but this is a good opportunity to get better.”

Bonus: When you reframe a thought, write it down. You can use it as a reference the next time you are procrastinating. 

4. Break your task down.

You already have your to-do list, but if you are having trouble getting started on some items, break your task down into smaller parts. Start by making a numerical list of the steps needed to accomplish your task. There is no part too small.

When I am struggling, I like to start with open my laptop. That is truly step one for me when I’m struggling to complete a task that requires me to use the computer.

From there, what else do you need to do to complete this task? Some things could include open a word document, open a web browser, pick up the phone, dial the number. Feel free to make the first step as small and basic as needed to where you feel like it is something you can accomplish and a good starting point for moving forward.

5. Remind yourself why completing this task is important.

You’ve built a little bit of momentum and are feeling good about your progress. You feel like you’ve done enough, but you haven’t accomplished your goal. It’s important to remind yourself why you’re completing this task. Is this something that is going to better you as a person? Is it going to put you closer to a bigger goal like a promotion, a certification, or a healthier lifestyle? Will it free up time to spend with friends or family?

The things we value can be a driving force for helping us to accomplish tasks. Remind yourself of what you value and how this task fits in with your values. Even if it does not directly fit in and is, say, just busy work, does it help you reach a greater goal? Do you value being a good student, employee, mom, dad, or person?

Bonus: Cross the items off your list as you go. This is super rewarding and creates a nice visual for just how productive you were today!

Procrastination can happen in our personal and professional lives. At best, it delays anxiety and emotional discomfort. At worst, it can lead to delayed doctor’s appointments, missed assignments, and have more dire consequences. I hope these tips encourage you not to “put off for tomorrow, what you can accomplish today.”

You’re going to publish a post today. Don’t worry about how your blog looks. Don’t worry if you haven’t given it a name yet, or you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just click the “New Post” button, and tell us why you’re here.

Why do this?

  • Because it gives new readers context. What are you about? Why should they read your blog?
  • Because it will help you focus your own ideas about your blog and what you’d like to do with it.

The post can be short or long, a personal intro to your life or a bloggy mission statement, a manifesto for the future or a simple outline of your the types of things you hope to publish.

To help you get started, here are a few questions:

  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?

You’re not locked into any of this; one of the wonderful things about blogs is how they constantly evolve as we learn, grow, and interact with one another — but it’s good to know where and why you started, and articulating your goals may just give you a few other post ideas.

Can’t think how to get started? Just write the first thing that pops into your head. Anne Lamott, author of a book on writing we love, says that you need to give yourself permission to write a “crappy first draft”. Anne makes a great point — just start writing, and worry about editing it later.

When you’re ready to publish, give your post three to five tags that describe your blog’s focus — writing, photography, fiction, parenting, food, cars, movies, sports, whatever. These tags will help others who care about your topics find you in the Reader. Make sure one of the tags is “zerotohero,” so other new bloggers can find you, too.

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