Truth bomb? We ALL need advice on how to stop procrastinating. I don’t think there are many people in this world who don’t put things off every now and then. You kind of have to or otherwise, you’d never eat, sleep or relax. We’d all just be constantly cleaning out our garages, doing our taxes and scrubbing the skanky grout in the bathroom.
Even though I’m a pretty productive person, I’m also a big procrastinator. Half the battle is admitting it. In order to combat our own tendencies to seek pleasure over pain, we need to understand our own habitual responses to uncertainty, stress, getting overwhelmed, doing difficult tasks and getting distracted. Especially if you’re an active procrastinator like I am.
One of my weird things is that I hate doing things I’m not experienced at. For example, writing blog posts for Smaggle is super easy because I’ve been doing it for so long. Writing blog posts for Crochet Coach? Whole different kettle of fish. Technically it’s the same thing but the language is slightly different, the tone has to be tweaked slightly, crochet blog posts often include lots of technical terms and instructions that I need to double checked. It’s not harder, it’s just different and therefore it’s scary. I’ll often find myself sitting down to write some Crochet Coach content and then I’ll whack out three Smaggle posts instead because that’s easier. Active procrastination is a weird beast. It doesn’t feel like procrastination because you’re getting stuff done but those three Smaggle posts didn’t get me any closer to writing the one Crochet Coach post I was supposed to write. It’s the same thing as baking cookies when you’re supposed to be cleaning the bathroom. Or the sudden urge to clean out your email inbox when you’re on a deadline for a report you’re not quite sure how to write.
Doing another task is my response to uncertainty, stress, getting overwhelmed, doing difficult tasks and getting distracted. Other people might respond by distracting other people, doing nothing at all or micro-managing. The next time you find yourself procrastinating, pay attention to what your default action is – Facebook, cleaning, texting friends, dicking around on your phone. That way you can learn to recognise when you’re doing it and you can start making steps to stop that behaviour.
When I’m in a good place of not-procrastinating, I try to pay attention and figure out how I’m managing to not go ‘Oh I’ll do my taxes later… right now it’s imperative I clean out my underwear drawer.’
Here are the two things I’ve seen frequent non-procrastinators do… they’re also some things I do when I’m having a good non-procrastinating day.
How To Stop Procrastinating
Think about your future self
This is the most common habit non-procrastinators have and generally it’s a no-brainer. They know if they stay back late an extra half an hour to complete their work they can start fresh the next day. On good days, I think the same way. If I get up and go to the gym, I’m going to feel energic and if I don’t, I’ll feel like crap. When I picture 3 pm Carly fanging for another coffee, sore and headachey from not moving enough, that’s incentive enough to get me out of bed. Most of the time.
Take everything step by step
This is a common tip, but if you combine it with the first habit above you have a kick-ass weapon against procrastination. Half the trouble with procrastinating is actually starting the task. So if you have to write a 3000 word essay – just start with the introduction. You don’t have to write the whole damn thing in one go and it doesn’t have to be perfect the first time around. Just write 200 words, a few dot point ideas. Opening the file is the hardest part, once it’s open it’s much easier to go back to again.
Don’t be a Negative Nancy/Nigel
The people who hate their jobs/exercising/grocery shopping/cleaning the most tend to be the ones who don’t stop bitching about it. Self-talk is incredibly powerful. If you say to yourself ‘Urgh! I don’t WANT to go to work! It’s boring and hard and I hate it!’ before you head out the door, it’s going to be pretty difficult to have a positive day. If you say ‘Okay, work isn’t great right now but at least I get to see my favourite colleague today. I’m also going to suggest some positive changes in today’s meeting!’ you’re going to have a much better day. Obviously, you can’t positive talk your way out of serious problems but if you’re just too lazy to go to the shops, change your inner narrative and see how much it changes your overall mood.
It takes practice to get into the Future Self mindset but once you get there, it becomes second nature. No one really likes cleaning up the kitchen after dinner, but if you just knuckle down and do it, it takes 10 minutes. Then you’re done and you don’t wake up in the morning to a trail of ants marching across your crusty dinner plates.
Also as humans, we need to learn to work through discomfort. Let’s look at an example: You’re ready to start writing – or whatever your task is – so you sit down at your desk and you’re ready to get started.
The second you feel frustrated or bored you reach for your phone or click on Facebook. This is the moment you need to stop and sit with your feelings rather than trying to squash them. Every time I’m doing a task I hate (hello sponsored post reporting!) I find myself reaching for Instagram or finding an excuse to text a friend. The thing is, these tasks usually take much less time than I think. When I find myself getting cranky at having to something I don’t like I say ‘Just set a timer for 45 minutes and get it done. When you’re done you can go for a walk, listen to a podcast or go and get a coffee. The sooner you get it done, the sooner you can do the fun thing.’