3 strategies to stop procrastinating

Keep calm and stop procrastinating

It’s time to stop procrastinating!  Did you promise yourself you would stop procrastinating and get on with things in your New Year reflections?  If so join many others, including me, who start the New Year full of good intentions.

The quieter Christmas holiday period has allowed us to review the year and reflect on what we want to achieve in the coming year.  The trick is to make these promises happen.  Key to this is to stop procrastinating and get on with those things we have set our heart on achieving.

7 reasons for procrastination

First step to dealing with procrastination is to understand the reasons why you do it.

  1. Fear of failure: If you focus on your goals and what you really want in your life, suddenly the stakes are higher.  You may start thinking all sorts of unhelpful things, “What if I don’t get it right?” “What if it’s much more complicated than I thought?”  “What if I fail?”  You generate so many potential risks that the safer route is to fill your time with something else, that you can easily do, so you prove you’re not a failure.
  2. Fear of success: As you think about achieving your goal, you realise that you will have to maintain that level of achievement and suddenly the whole thing seems so MUCH BIGGER! It feels scary and exposing, you feel vulnerable and the risks are high.  The mind reacts to such threats with a conditioned response – fight, flight or freeze. Procrastination is a symptom of flight or freeze when you keep doing things you’ve always been doing.
  3. Habit: Starting something new means breaking old habits, which is harder than you think. Our brains prefer to work on automatic pilot, it uses much less energy. They will seek to go down the well-trodden path of existing habits, rather than try to create a new path.
  4. Busyness: You are already busy and barely keeping on top of things, so it is difficult to stop.  It feels too risky to take time out to plan and identify new priorities.  You tell yourself that, when you have completed that current project (or whatever is currently keeping you busy) you’ll have a window of time and then you can start the new goals.
  5. Using current strengths: You don’t know how the new goal will work out and you’re good at what you are currently doing, so it is tempting to do more of it. This gives you immediate satisfaction, but adds little else. If yours is a career goal, doing more of the current tasks will not prove you can step up to a new level.
  6. The new goal is not important and exciting enough: To make changes in our lives, we need to be fully motivated. If not we find other things to fill the time, often things that we enjoy doing, so we feel satisfaction in the moment.
  7. Laziness: Inertia is a strong force and we need a more powerful force to get us into motion and keep us going.  Let’s face it, we humans are generally lazy and need strong drivers to push us into action.  The bigger the stakes, that greater the force needed.

3 strategies to stop procrastinating

The second step to stop procrastinating is to put strategies and actions in place that will overcome those reasons. In my last post I talked about making sure the goal is something you really want and are excited about – that is a critical success factor to stop procrastinating.

  1. Get comfortable with your goal:
    a) The more clear and specific you can be about your goal the better.  Write down what it is like having achieved the goal, put plenty of detail and check in with yourself on how it feels to be in this new place.  You may need to adjust the goal a little until you find that it feels right.  You need to really believe you can do it.
    b) Write down everything that has to happen for you to achieve this goal.  It may help to follow Stephen Covey’s advice and start with the end in mind, then work backwards to the present.  Identify all the actions and generate a plan.  What resources do you have available to help you with this plan?  Who can help? What is the first step?  Do you know how to do that?  If so get started today!
    By thinking everything through in detail, you are already training your brain, this goal is now no longer a new ‘threat’, it is something you have thought through in detail and is already a part of who you are.  The more you go down this path the stronger this part becomes and the easier it is to sustain.
  2. Prioritise: I was told a story about Richard Branson – he focuses on no more than 3 priorities.  Anything that does not help him move towards one of those 3 goals and he is just not interested.  Focus is a key to stop procrastinating. When you only work on your goals, you are always using your time wisely. No more wasting your time in your inbox, you have automatically deleted or stopped all those general interest emails and postings.  What comes through should be around one of your goals and if it is not you can easily and quickly delete it or pass it on to someone who is working on that topic. In this way you create healthy, helpful habits and are busy on what matters.
  3. Chunk your work: Multi-tasking is proven to increase inefficiency – the brain prefers to focus for efficiency.  Stopping and restarting multiple tasks means your brain has to retune to the topic and this takes time. Schedule your activities in chunks of 30 – 60 minutes and stop before the time is up for a complete mental break. Group together smaller tasks into a chunk, e.g. answer emails in one morning and one afternoon chunk. For important tasks, schedule a little less time than you think it needs, research shows we deliver in the time available and if we have more time we don’t do a significantly better job.

You can schedule chunks of time for ad-hoc meetings and let your people know when those time slots are.  You will be surprised how quickly they adapt to these chunks of available time – as long as you honour the time slots and pay full attention to people when they come to you for information or help.  They will flourish with full attention and need less of your time. Ensure meetings are scheduled with enough time for preparation as well as the break.

Schedule your day in advance, so you know what you will be working on (and remember to keep some spare capacity for the unexpected urgent stuff). Now your time is focused and each chunk has a clear purpose, you will have less reason or excuses to procrastinate or let laziness take over.
Do you have favourite tips that help you stop procrastinating?  Please share them in the comments section.  Please post your questions or comments and I will respond.

Amanda Bouch is an accredited professional executive coach with Association for Coaching.  She has over 20 years’ experience in learning and development and specialises in helping people step up to being an effective leader.

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