If you have always wanted to read a book about overcoming procrastination, but never go around to it, read this article instead…
First of all, just in case, type ‘procrastinate’ into Google and this is what comes up:
Of course, we are all guilty of procrastination, but for some it appears they are crippled by putting things off until they never happen. If you are in business, procrastination can be deadly.
Imagine - you didn’t get round to sending that cancellation form for your gym membership, and your credit card was charged $2000. Because you didn’t pay your bills this month this maxed out your credit card. And because your credit card was maxed out your domain name wasn’t renewed. Because you don’t check your email so often – even though you said you would – you never received the notification from the domain provider. The next time you log into your site, there’s an advert were your website used to be. All your customers leave you...
This is the power of procrastination.
What are the causes of procrastination?
Procrastination is definitely a different process to laziness – some of the most active people still procrastinate.
Imagine a task where you had to peel 200 pounds of potatoes, free of charge. Obviously, this would be a laborious, tedious task and at the end there would be no benefit for completing the task. Who wouldn’t want to put off doing something like this?
There are times though when our procrastination levels are not related to the unpleasantness of a task.
Here are a few ideas about what is at the base of procrastination and some practical ideas on how to overcome it.
Every complex system requires homoeostasis. Industrial machinery needs to be kept at the right temperature. Often machines are built with sensors that detect changes in temperature and if a machine gets too hot, it either shuts down or a cooling process kicks off. Complex organisms obviously depend on homoeostasis for survival. Homeostasis enables a body to maintain physiological balance. But homeostasis impacts the mind as well as the body...
If you have survived for so long with a particular set of behaviors, your psychology resists change. This is why makes changing diet so difficult, or beginning an exercise regime. There’s always a reason NOT to impact the status quo. And when you are starting up a business, there is always a sense that you are overwhelmed and an almost irresistible urge to just sit down and relax renders you immobile. This is because of homoeostasis.
Once you are aware that homeostasis is at play in your daily life, that’s the first step towards reasoning with it and negotiating its impact. Just be aware of it.
Following your gut
A lot of people put pride in the ability of their gut to help them make good decisions, but as far as procrastination is concerned, following your gut might not be such as good thing.
For example, when you write up your business plan, you will have a very clear perspective of exactly what you are getting yourself into. There is going to be a lot of hard work.
As with homoeostasis, once you know what you are getting yourself into there’s a psychological tendency NOT to want to embark on a journey that is likely to entail strain and heartache. So resistance sets in.
The other side to this coin is when people recognize how disruptive something is going to be at a psychological level, the more resistance they feel, the more likely they are onto something good - something that will change their world. Use that feeling to your benefit; the more you want to abandon something at the gut level, the more perhaps you shouldn’t.
As humans were are often firm proponents of views and ideas that we’ve borrowed from dubious sources and which are entirely untested.
That sort of “if you don’t eat your greens you won’t grow up to be tall”-type logic that your mother used on you. Often this level of thought impacts our work practices.
As a writer up until very recently I was under the impression that I couldn’t write anything of value unless I had a clear day in which to invest my creative process. I was firmly of the belief that articles could only be written when I was able to focus my undivided attention for anywhere up to 5 hours at a time.
This belief stayed with me until one day when I simply couldn’t invest more than 15 minutes a day over an extended period on an article because of other work commitments. The result was I delivered an article of even better quality that usual when I had “rushed” it using bits of spare time I had here and there throughout a busy weak.
Reevaluate the way you do things and experiment – you might find you are putting something off unnecessarily because you have a preconception of how and when you should do them.
What practical steps can you take to overcome procrastination?
1. Get organized
If you have something to do, having to find bits of paper, etc. to do it is only adding to the task. Avoid clutter – find a place for everything and keep everything organized. This will give you less reason to abandon a task you are attempting.
2. Get some sleep
For some reason, people take great pride in telling everyone how little sleep they get. Fact is, most people don’t sleep enough, especially people with internet-related businesses where something can be done any hour of the day. The added difficulty with this is sitting in front of a screen messes up sleeping rhythms. A general rule – no screens after 22:00. Also, get an app that plays water sounds – it sounds very New Age but the sound of rain really does help you the sleep. And that sleep will give you that added bit of energy to take you through the tasks you have to do.
3. Block your time
Sit down and work out when you can do things. Whether it is morning, noon or night, block that time out on your calendar and set a reminder. This will get you into the habit of knowing when you can do things.
4. Classify your tasks
There are basically three types of task:
3. Soul destroying
A creative task might be writing an article or doing some code. A repetitive task is something like editing an article or looking for bugs in code. A soul destroying task might be something like data entry – dull and repetitive.
Use your common sense – you aren’t going to do something creative after 5 hours of soul destroying activity. You won’t do it – you will put it off.
Schedule creative tasks first and do mundane tasks later.
5. Check your energy levels
People are different. Some people are morning people, firing on all cylinders at 06:00 and then petering out around 12:00. Others don’t get going until later in the day. Matching tasks with your energy levels throughout the day will determine what sort of tasks you do and when, thus helping avoid procrastination.
Bear with me.
Let’s say you have a mass of data entry to do.
It’s going to take at least 4 hours – probably more.
This task is a chore, and as you do it thoughts come to mind…
“…this is tedious…”
“…it’s a waste of my valuable time…”
“…in fact most of the things I do are like this…”
“…which means most of my time is a waste of time…”
“…which means my life is pretty useless…” etc.
At this point you ditch what you are doing and binge watch “The Game of Thrones” in retaliation.
Meditation has proven benefits as far as relieving stress is concerned, but it goes further than that – it helps provide clarity.
The problem is that thoughts come and go, and it’s how we react to them that determines their impact. Meditation allows us to recognize thoughts for what they are – thoughts that come and go. Some are happy, others not so much. But we are not those thoughts.
Meditation teaches us to become an observer of thoughts. Regardless of whether a thought is happy or depressing, meditation teaches us to observe thoughts for what that are. It teaches us not to get involved in reacting to them.
The result is that rather than using all your power of concentration to get a task done and fighting all your impulses not to do it, you are able to concentrate better simply because you are not distracted.
I know the thought of mediation sound too New Age to be true, but anyone who knows me would be surprised to know I do 20 minutes of meditation every day. I am a down to earth guy but meditation it sets me up right for each day.
To get a non-spiritual, non-religious insight into meditation, visit Headspace. For a few dollars a month it provides full meditation courses on your mobile device which you can follow to loosen up your thinking.
I strongly recommend the “Focus” program alongside the “Depression” program, not because you might be depressed, but these two programs really teach you how to deal with negative thoughts. I guarantee this will improve productivity and help you avoid procrastination.
Netflix, HBO, cable – nothing but distractions. Get rid of it all. If you can’t, think carefully about what you are going to watch and when. Likewise with the Internet. Block sites that distract you – Facebook, Instragram, YouTube – pull the plug on them all.
It’s your choice – do you want a business? Do you want to meet at least some of your goals in your life? Or do you want a life of leisure right now. If it’s the latter bed down on the sofa. If it’s the former, you are going to have to do something about it.
You can’t have both, so make a decision RIGHT NOW and then stick with it.