Procrastination means – I will do this later… when you can definitely start with it right away.
You have the best intentions, telling yourself that you’ll get started on that project/task/assignment as soon as you have a chance. But then, before you know it, hours, even days and weeks have passed, and you’ve accomplished next to nothing. Careers, families and relationships have been wrecked by the Dark Lord of all bad habits – Procrastination.
Procrastination can be a real problem – it’s estimated that 20% of people are chronic procrastinators, and even those of us who don’t fall into that category can still find ourselves putting things off much more often than we would care to admit.
Why do people procrastinate?
There can be a lot of reasons – some people do it because they’re perfectionists and don’t want to start something until they know they can do it perfectly. Others procrastinate because they’re afraid of failing. And still others do it because they simply don’t know how and where to get started.
Many people will put off doing things they feel are boring. Yet others want to “do it later” because simply because they suck at it.
For the perfectionists out there, know that having something that is not “perfect” is better than having nothing at all. Often for these people, Time itself will gobble up the fruits of their labours.
There is no point having an exquisitely beautiful, really compelling poster that looks like it has been made by Leonardo Da Vinci a few days after the event the poster was being designed for. Better to have something before the event – even if it is not as nice or compelling as the “perfect poster” which was delivered after the event was done. You may have worked really hard for that perfection – but because it was not ready on time, there is not much point to it.
Allow a bit of room for imperfection. Remember even Apple started with iPhone 1 before they iterated their way to iPhone 13.
For the ones scared of failing – a failure is only a failure if you don’t learn from it. Otherwise, it is an experience that has made you stronger and wiser. Giving yourself the permission to fail is one of the biggest mindset changes that you can adopt.
Permission to fail doesn’t mean you begin a project with a fatalistic attitude that you will fail. It only means that the world has not come to an end simply because you failed. You start with success firmly established in your head… and use failures, if any, to simply learn – ok – this was not the way to do it.
If you do fail, learn and keep moving.
Mary Poppins says – well begun is half done.
I say – Doesn’t matter about well begun. If you don’t begin, it never gets done!
Where to get started can be mind-numbing when confronted with a huge project. It has happened to me – the project in front of me is so big, I don’t know what to do first… I spend time on a merry-go-round in my head – thinking – and thinking – and thinking. What should I do first? And end up doing nothing other than thinking.
Here, I would say – just start. Doesn’t matter where. Just begin. Anywhere.
Know that one thing done, is one thing less to do.
Of course, a bit of planning would be of great help. Take a project and break it into assignments. Each assignment can then be broken into tasks – which can be done one at a time.
A majestic waterfall is just drops of water. Start with that first drop… pretty soon you will have a teaspoon, then a cup, a bucket, a bathtub… and before you know it – you will have managed to manifest that waterfall!
How about the boring stuff you HAVE to do?
Dr. Ankita has a great hack for that. If she cannot sleep at night, she does all those supremely boring tasks. Either the tasks get done, or they are so boring that she feels sleepy and goes to sleep.
For me, I plan a nice reward for myself when I need to finish the boring stuff. Slowly, as I keep rewarding myself for doing the boring things, my brain rewires itself to stop thinking of those things as boring… because it’s getting something that it really wants. In a while, those tasks are not boring anymore.
You will suck at stuff you have just started to do. You don’t know how to do it. It is obvious that you will be bad at it. Especially when you compare yourself with someone else who has been doing it for ages.
The brain becomes better and better at what it does more and more. That’s the good news.
The ONLY way to become good at something is to keep doing it. And to keep doing it right. Yes – practice does make perfect. But wrong practice can make you perfectly wrong… and once the brain has learned to do something – it can be almost impossible to unlearn.
The brain becomes better and better at what it does more and more. That’s the bad news too. The brain doesn’t discriminate around activities. It just becomes better at what it does more. You solve partial differential equations many, many times, you become really good at solving partial differential equations.
You endlessly scroll through Instagram and Facebook and Twitter… and that’s what your brain becomes really, really good at. Having an attention span of just a few seconds. These days goldfish have a better attention span than many humans.
You train your brain for distraction and expect it to function when you want to focus.
Everything you do trains your brain to do that thing better. Be careful what you are doing, because you are becoming really good at it!
Not later. Not tomorrow. No on the first of next month. Not on the weekend. Not at 6:00 pm. There is nothing wrong with starting on Friday at 10:17 am. Whatever it is you are procrastinating – stop reading this and start it off. Right now. Do some bite-sized task of that project. As I said earlier, one thing done is one thing less to do.
You have three textbooks to go through. Just the thought of all that studying feels overwhelming. So you don’t do it. That’s a mistake. Open that text book and read just 3 pages. Maybe you can start with just 10 minutes of work. That’s 10 minutes less to do later.
Now that you have started, continue. Ensure that you slot time during the day to do those tasks. Start with just 10-20 minutes. But in those 10-20 minutes, just do this work to the exclusion of everything else.
To yourself. When you finish that little piece of work that you said to yourself you will do, reward yourself… and ensure that the reward is in line with your big project. You want to be fit. You took your 20-minute walk. You came back and feasted on an entire bar of chocolate as a reward. Bad idea.
Cultivate Life Positive Habits
Meditation, sleep, exercise and a healthy diet are the foundations of success. Neglecting these at your own peril. The Bach Flower Remedies and regular sessions of Craniosacral Therapy can greatly boost your ability to overcome procrastination.
Read our books Ready, Study, Go!, Happiness Express and Sleep Your Way to Success for more on procrastination and related topics.
What do you do to ensure you don’t procrastinate? How do you reward yourself when you do something you don’t like to do?
Leave me a comment or two and let me know.