Ah! That time-sucking, fear-inducing, the false-promising monster we’re all too familiar with. Rest now, do something pleasant and it will all work out in the end, you’ll figure it out, is what this fiend whispers to you in a manner oh so convincing.
I am yet to meet a person who has not fallen into the alluring trap of doing something easy and pleasant instead of tackling a seemingly tedious and painful, but important task that will bring them closer to their success, because to be successful means moving from one state of being to another which is deemed better, and that always requires work.
The reasons for procrastination are many, but they can all be boiled down to one.
Taking on any work involves the potential for stress, strain, failure, decision fatigue, annoyance, exhaustion, rejection, judgement, shame, embarrassment and frustration, just to name a few.
These things are painful to experience.
Picture this: You’ve got a 30-page report that requires extensive research in an area you’re not extremely familiar with due in 2 weeks. You dread the task before you even start and think things like, this is a massive task, where do I even start? What if i screw up, I’ll look like an idiot, I don’t know much about the topic and I don’t feel like it now, I can just push it one day, it won’t make much of a difference if I start tomorrow, besides, I haven’t done my spring cleaning and the house is a mess, I’ll finish that first.
Fast forward to after spring cleaning is done.. I have 847 unread emails in my inbox. I better go through them and sort them out, I should watch a 3-hour video on the best ways to conduct research than another on how to write the perfect report.. And on goes the vicious cycle.
The Path of Least Resistance: A Good Thing? Nope
It is a natural human tendency to favour the path of least resistance. The one that won’t bring as much pain. We’ve all felt the pain of failure before and don’t want to go through it again, so we come up with excuse after excuse of why we should delay doing important work. We become conditioned to avoid taking risks.
Instead of taking all the potential scary problems that may arise head-on and working on that tiresome task, the procrastinator seeks instant gratification instead. Something nice, pleasant and comfortable that will make them happy now instead of going through some form of potential hardship. I won’t list examples of what these could be because I’m certain that you know them very well, as do I.
Lies in delaying the very short-lived, short-term gratification for a more sustainable feeling of fulfilment, contentment, purpose and other rewards, including financial freedom, in the long term.
Self-control and mastery, like any habit, can be learned with time and perseverance. Procrastination can be overcome by doing the following:
1- Visualize the end result.
In your mind’s eye see what reaching a goal looks and feels like. Let this excite you by making you look forward to the great results and rewards that await you. Also, imagine what would happen if you didn’t do the thing you’re supposed to do. Let this scare you a bit. (don’t dwell on this for long).
2- Be clear on what exactly needs to be done.
Break down goals into projects. Break down Projects into milestones. Break down milestones into tasks. Break down tasks into bite-sized chunks in the form of to-do lists.
Be smart about it. A large, seemingly overwhelming task can be chunked and broken down into smaller tasks. Finishing each small task is a small win and will motivate you to keep going. Don’t let your brain fool you into thinking you “can’t do it.” Little by little, a little becomes a lot. A Minor tower isn’t constructed overnight, it is built brick by brick
3- GIVE YOURSELF A DEADLINE (Yes, this one is in all caps).
If you don’t have one imposed upon you by work, school etc. and finish the task by the deadline no matter what. I cannot stress this point enough!
Parkinson's law states that work expands to fill the time allotted. Simply put, the amount of work required adjusts (usually increases) to the time available for its completion.
Not having a deadline means that you most likely won’t finish a task and if you do, you would have taken much more time than needed. This time could have been used to gather feedback and make the work better or do other work that gets you closer to completing a project or reaching a goal.
Prioritize tasks and work in continuous blocks of time to finish these tasks with absolutely no distractions. You decide how long each block of time is. This is related to the previous point because you can think of it as a mini deadline. Of course, it has to be reasonable and make sense to you. You can’t say I’ll give myself half an hour to write 20 pages! If you find yourself straying away too much from your predefined block of time, and weren’t doing anything but fully focusing on the task, take it as a learning experience and adjust the time the next time around.
Literally, switch yourself off from the world. No distractions, notifications etc. Create your set and setting so as to minimize the urge to do anything but finish the task at hand.
5- Capture the rogue thought.
If you feel something else needs to be done in the middle of your task, write it down on a post-it then get back to it later AFTER you complete the task at hand. This frees up mental RAM instead of having something(s) incessantly nag at you when you’re trying to get some work done.
6- Don’t be a perfectionist.
If you have to write, write a crappy first draft by the deadline you set then enhance it later. If you have to design/draw, draw a rough sketch and enhance it later etc.
Do the bare minimum cutting out any ‘fat’ and use that as a starting point to build from and refine. Rinse and repeat.
A Minor Can be helfpul.
7- If you don’t feel like it, do it anyway.
This is what differentiates successful people from unsuccessful people. They do it even when they don’t “feel like it”.
With repetition, all the above become habits that are easier to do. Right now, you may have a procrastination habit, that’s why it’s easier for you to procrastinate. Some people say it takes 21 days or a month or whatever to form a habit. What I know is that it eventually happens if you trust the system and keep at it. Then you have a new skill you can summon at any time.
9- Obstacles: your brutally honest best friends.
Smash through the fear, doubts and resistance that will arise and remember that the obstacle is not in the way, it actually is the way. How else are you going to learn new things if you don’t try and stumble along the path to success? Be a life-long learner. Be comfortable with being initially uncomfortable.
If you master this one skill, you master your life.
It’s like having a superpower but the thing is, it takes time to become a part of your normal or comfort zone. It takes time to install new software in our minds. It is always worth it in the end though. Remember the good ol’ saying: no pain, no gain amigo?
Doing the above will make you feel good about yourself and affect your future in tremendous ways! You will eventually feel happy, your brain releases all sorts of good stuff when you bask in your success, knowing that you have overcome hardships and learned necessary skills and produced something useful.
Remember, as with forming any new habit, you will slip back into your old ways sometimes and the key here is to try again and again until it literally becomes hard-wired in your brain.
The thing is, knowledge alone won’t suffice and you may get excited and pumped by what you just read, but all that is short-lived unless you get yourself to put it into action, regardless of the nebulous excuses ricocheting in your skull that only serve the purpose of putting off your success or even making it never see the light.
With continued action, everything eventually works. Without action, nothing works.