Prevent Procrastination in 6 Easy Steps
We all know when we procrastinate. Oh we may come up with some fine 'reasons' along the way but deep down we can tell when we are actively avoiding doing something. For example, I have been saying for weeks (maybe months) that I will re-write my website, I have had every opportunity to do so, I booked it in my diary, I chunked it down, I made lists, I told my coach and my friends I was going do to it.
I have not re-written my website - not one word.
Recently, several of my clients have been struggling with maintaining their motivation, in fact one of them said in our last session that she had been progressing really well - with her procrastination!
My recent blog on motivation 'Get Your Mojo Back' may help with this but in this piece I want to look at even more practical ways in which you can prevent procrastination.
Why do we procrastinate?
There are numerous reasons as to why we procrastinate:
Fear of the task itself - how can we accomplish this?
Fear of the outcome once accomplished - what will the repercussions be if I fail? If I succeed then what?!
What or who is involved in achieving the desired outcome - perhaps you have to work with people you don't necessarily gel with or perhaps it will just be damn hard to do.
Not having a set or tight deadline - when do you have to do this by? How urgent is it? How much of a priority is this task?
Avoidance of energy expenditure - we'll always choose the quickest and easiest way out which uses less energy. Not necessarily because we are lazy but we are inherently wired to do so due to evolution as back in our hunter gatherer days we needed to expel as little energy as possible just to survive. This, I hasten to add, is no excuse to stay in bed an extra half an hour to avoid your exercise routine, morning meditation or just to get ahead with tasks that day.
There are probably many more reasons but rather than waste time and energy delving into them let's take a look at how you can prevent your procrastination from taking over and stopping you from moving forwards and achieving what you want and what you need to do.
1. Identify your Avoidance Strategies
Track when and how you get in your way. This will be different for everyone but chances are you may be reverting to apps rather than organising your finances or suddenly sorting your sock drawer instead of tackling that presentation.
Once you have identified your Avoidance Strategies you can create barriers to using them - remove the app you go to for light relief (Instagram is mine - so I take it off of my phone Mon - Fri and re-open it at the weekend - only if I am not working on something)
When it comes to cleaning - get a cleaner if you can afford to or plan a specific time to do that tidying so it is not playing on your mind as something 'to do'
2. Create Your Ultimate Deep Work Environment
What helps you to fully delve into a task? For me it is the right type of music and no interruptions which when working from home is easier said than done. I have a very understanding family but several of my clients have had to agree certain working environment strategies whilst working at home.
This could be using a specific room or area for that deep work, having a no-meetings window of a few hours, or even a Do Not Enter sign on the door.
3. Get an Accountability Buddy
Now this can be a colleague, a friend, your partner, your coach - anyone who you will have to answer to and to whom you will feel a little ashamed if you don't complete the task you have set out to do when you have said you would.
I recently tried Focusmate - a great online platform where you choose a time and get paired with someone. You both join the meeting, tell each other what you want to achieve and then off you go for 50 minutes. Once the time is up you report back to each other on your progress. You can choose to be muted or off camera, however, most people keep their cameras on to remain present.
4. Set a Manageable Timeframe
There's no greater driver than a tight deadline especially if you like 'last minute learning' That sense of urgency really powers us up so you my find that if your task is not urgent enough it keeps getting pushed to the back burner.
This is a tough one as you can try to make it urgent but I find that rarely works. Instead, use the Important/Urgent Matrix
Let's define Important and Urgent in this context:
Important: activities have an outcome that leads to the achievement of your goals
Urgent: activities demand immediate attention and are often associated with the achievement of someone else’s goals.
Urgent activities are often those that we concentrate on as they demand attention because of the consequences attached if these actions are not carried out.
The first step is to list all the activities and projects that you feel you have to do on a blank sheet of paper. Try to include everything even those tasks that you currently feel are unimportant.
The second step is to assign a level of importance to each of these activities. Use a scale of 1-10. 1 being low importance and 10 being very, very important. How important is this activity on a scale of 1-10 to help you achieve your goals? Try not to concern yourself with the urgency attached to them at this stage. This will help establish the true IMPORTANCE of each task.
Once you have assigned importance to each of the activities, evaluate the urgency of each activity using the same scale.
Now consider each of the activities and decide which quadrant they fall into based on your figures:
Urgent and Important
Falling into this category are often tasks that you could not foresee happening or that you have left until the last minute to complete.
Now that you have identified these activities, once completed reflect on those that could have been planned for so that you can schedule similar activities ahead of schedule in the future.
Urgent and Not Important
Urgent but not important activities are often activities that prevent you from achieving your goals and completing your work. Ask yourself whether these tasks can be rescheduled or delegated to someone else.
Not Urgent but Important
These are the activities that help you achieve your goals and complete important work. Make sure you have enough time to do things properly so that they do not become urgent.
Not Urgent and Not Important
These activities are just a distraction and should be avoided where possible. They may be activities that others wish you to complete but do not help you move towards your own goals. Often when people can clearly see that you are clear about your objectives and boundaries they will often not ask you to complete unimportant tasks again.
Note of caution - do not spend ages on this - that's procrastinating ;-)
5. Remove the Distractions
These are not the same as your Avoidance Strategies as we actively choose to use them. Distractions are the interruptions from instant messenger apps, unscheduled phone calls etc. Put your phone on airplane mode, close Slack and consider blocking your diary to set some boundaries as to when people can reach you.
6. Celebrate Your Wins
We tend to avoid the long-haul tasks as we don't see or experience an immediate win or high - that good old dopamine which kicks in when we have achieved something. If you have a huge task to tackle, break it down into manageable chunks with set time limits for each chunk and a reward at the end of each one. Not only do you get that instant win but you begin to make headway with a daunting project and can actively track your progress. As an extra bonus this will really improve your time management as you will begin to see how long certain tasks take you leading you to plan better.
I really hope these help you with beating your procrastination, although, one final thought - sometimes procrastination can help us. It allows us time to really think projects through and gives us time to make sure what we are doing is right for us.
I realised this recently with my website re-write - I needed the last few months of writing a blog every week to truly find my voice through the written word. Now I am comfortable with this as it sounds like me! Finally, today even, I will re-write one page of my website.