(right before the deadline and exhausted)
...finally done. (sighs with relief)
Time to get some rest.
Next time I'm going to start earlier so I don't have to go through this again.
(goes to sleep for the next 2 days)
This was me before every major deadline.
Although I haven't missed a deadline yet (knock on wood), I recognize that waiting until the last-minute is not the optimum strategy to do my best work.
Despite this awareness, I struggle with procrastination.
Maybe I feel that I do my best work under pressure or I'm just inclined to put things off but to be more effective, I need a real solution. The great thing is that to solve this problem, the WHYs don't matter too much because we can speculate all day about why and get nowhere. It is the HOWs for dealing with and getting over procrastination that is way more valuable.
Since then, I've found and adopted some practical strategies that really work and I am reaping the benefits of getting things done early. Here are some of those benefits:
Less stress and overwhelm to try to finish right before the deadline
Accomplishing more and opening up more opportunities
Having guilt free fun - no more thinking about the project I should be working on
More sleep (still not enough but I'm working on it).
I wonder if you are reading this article to procrastinate from what you really have to do.
If you are, I'm going to make it worth your while.
So how do you stop procrastinating?
1. Break Down Goals
The method: This is really Part 1 of a powerful two step process. In this step, you break down your goal into the smallest possible unit - the daily task. This way you ensure that EVERY DAY you are doing something towards achieving your goal.
Example: If the goal is to write a book, the first step would be to break down the writing of a book into its components: research, outline, write and edit. Then take the first part, research, and break that down into smaller units: identify and read key books then organize information for outline. This continues until a clear daily task like researching online for the top 10 books for self-improvement or reading 30 pages of Do More Great Work is defined.
Why this works: Even though the WHYs are not important for implementing these tips, I thought it would be interesting to provide some analysis. I couldn't believe how effective this method was. I don't always procrastinate but I do tend to procrastinate when I feel the project is overwhelming or when I don't clearly know what I should do. I delayed starting because I always felt that I wouldn't have enough time. Breaking the goal down into daily tasks makes the goal more manageable and knowing exactly what to do allows me to take immediate action.
2. Set Deadlines that Form a Timeline
The method: The second part of the two-step process is to set a deadline. Once your goal is broken down into specific daily tasks, set a deadline everyday to finish your daily task. With well-defined daily deadlines, you will also end up with a comprehensive timeline for completion of major components of your goal. Just do your daily task and before you know it, you'll have accomplished what you set out to do.
Example: Everyday I will read 30 pages a day of the book I am researching. At this pace, I will be finished with this book in 10 days.
Why this works: I've found that the longer my deadline, the longer it takes me to finish something. I am extremely productive right before a deadline and this method's effectiveness lies in replicating that urgency through tight daily deadline. So far I haven't experienced any laziness to the self-imposed nature of the deadline.
3. Carve Out a Specific Time of the Day
The method: With your daily tasks, set aside a specific time of the day where you will work on completing your assigned daily task. This should ideally be the same time every day and this "appointment" with yourself should only be violated for emergency circumstances only.
Example: Everyday I will read 30 pages of the book I am researching from 7:00am-8:30am.
Why this works: When you set an inviolable time to do something and you do it during that time for an extended period, you build a habit. Habits are automatic which means no more internal negotiation where you waste energy debating with yourself about doing it. Your energy can be directed into actually getting the task done.
4. Use the (Modified) Pomodoro
The method: Once you've carved out a specific time of the day, it's time to Pomodoro. The idea is to set a timer and work on only the assigned task during that time. Any to do's that pop into your head gets written down on a notepad for review after the timer goes off. I have found this to be highly effective for focus. I set 45 minute intervals (the official Pomodoro website recommends 25 minutes) then I take breaks. Reward yourself after each extended time period.
Example: When you are reading your book at 7am, set a timer for 30 minutes and do nothing but read until the timer goes off. Any stray thoughts are written down and reviewed after the time is up.
Why this works: This technique works because it forces you to focus on only one task (much like using meditation to tame your mind). You write down any stray ideas so your mind doesn't have to remember it which keeps its working memory free to help you focus. If you ever want to see how productive you are without focus, just record yourself or observe someone else through a typical day. You'll be surprised how many times and how easy it is to get distracted all day.
5. Make it Hard to Procrastinate
The method: Remove all distractions. If you don't need it to achieve your goal, then turn it off. If you find that you have a hard time finding things, it is time to set up an organizational system for putting everything you need in a specific place.
Example: When you are reading your book, turn off your phone, tv, radio, internet, etc.
Why this works: In college, I've found that I tend clean up my desk and computer files right before a big exam. If there is something else that is easier to do than your daily task, you're going to end up doing what's easy and rationalize it. When you remove these distractions, you've made it harder to procrastinate.
6. Clarify WHY YOU're Doing It
The method: Ask yourself one question in two ways.
WHY are you doing it?
Efficient does not equal effective. Is what you are setting daily tasks to do worth doing? If you don't know, then procrastinating is a very good option. Make sure you understand the importance of what you are trying to do and know clearly the outcome that you want. Remember that what is important is decided by you and no one else.
Why are YOU doing it?
If you've decided that it is worthwhile to pursue goal, the next question you need to ask yourself is if you are really the best person to do this job? Are you skilled enough to do it? What is your desired outcome (question 1) and does it matter if you need to be the one doing all the work to achieve it? A good rule is to focus on doing what you're good at and delegating the rest. Always keep in mind what your outcome is.
Example: WHY are you writing this book? It's a lifelong dream and it helps me build credibility for my business. Why are YOU writing this book? I enjoy writing and I want the book to be written in my style of writing.
Why this works: It is easy to wait when you're not sure why you're doing something. No one likes to waste time so it is important to often remind ourselves why we are doing what we are doing. Doing tasks without a purpose really drains your energy.
Another reason we procrastinate is because we dread the task ahead of us. If that is the case and you know WHY you're doing it, can you outsource it to someone who can do it better than you which allows you to focus on the skills you do enjoy using.
7. Just Start Now
The method: Forget whatever reason is holding you back and just start.
I know I know...
If you could do that, you wouldn't be reading this article.
Well, this is specifically for people waiting for the perfect moment before they act. Runners who need running shoes to come in before they start training for the marathon. Coaches who need their websites up and running before they start talking about their practice. Writers who need their new Macbook to come in before they begin writing.
I've been guilty of all three.
Example: Instead of getting ready and reading 10 books on how to write a book, you sit down in a chair and start writing.
Why this works: The best medicine for stress and overwhelm is to get up and do something to decrease the ever-growing pile of to-do's ahead of you. If you have a seemingly insurmountable pile of things to do, I recommend grouping together tasks on your to-do list and creating overarching outcomes. I learned this from a Tony Robbin's video and I find it is an excellent way to drastically cut down the "real" things you are trying to accomplish making it easier to choose the most impactful tasks and being comfortable not doing the less impactful.
8. Get Accountability
The method: Find someone you trust to keep you accountable and check in with them regularly. This can be a friend, family member, colleague, coach, stranger and even an online community.
Example: You send your accountability buddy an email everyday letting that person know that you've finished your daily task for the day.
Why this works: It's easy to make bargains with ourselves and rationalize why we didn't complete our daily tasks. When you have someone keeping you accountable, you feel compelled to not let that person down. This is the main reason learners who have a professional teacher or guide will usually learn faster than people who learn on their own. If you don't have
Whatever you're procrastinating to do, apply these practical methods and test for yourself their effectiveness. Don't wait till tomorrow, try these methods now.
"Nothing is more fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task."
Robert Chen is the founder of Embrace Possibility and author of The Dreams to Reality Fieldbook. He helps people who feel stuck move forward by guiding them to see other possibilities for their lives. He specializes in working with high performers get to the next level. If you're going through a tough time right now, check out Robert's article on How to Feel Better Right Away and if you're having trouble getting what you want out of life, check out How to Always Achieve Your Goals.