I know, I know. I’m fully aware of the irony of writing an internet article about how to stop procrastinating when chances are, you're reading this instead of doing something you're supposed to do.
If I really wanted you to stop procrastinating, the most helpful thing I could write would be, “Don't you have something else you should be doing? Stop reading this and go get your shit done. Now."
But what fun would that be? Plus, I'm selfish. I want to write this advice, because I need to hear this advice.
You see, I’m a Master Procrastinator. A Princess of Putting Things Off. An Admiral of Avoidance. My life motto has pretty much always been, “Why do today what you can put off until it becomes an unavoidable crisis?”
The struggle is real, which is why I’ve been taking my procrastination issue a little more seriously lately.
The problem is, a lot of the advice you read online about getting things done is utter crap:
- “Just suck it up and do it.” -- Gee, thanks. Never thought of that one.
- “Visualize your success.”-- Ugh.
- “Imagine the consequences of not getting the task done.”-- Did that, and now I'm paralyzed with anxiety. Thanks, internet.
So I'm here to give you real strategies, ones that actually work. These tips have even helped me, a Goddess of Getting Nothing Done. (That's the last alliteration, I promise.)
1. Make it fun-sized.
You know those little fun-sized candy bars people hand out at Halloween? Have you ever noticed how easy it is to eat one of them? You know: “I’ll only have one. It’s so small anyway, it’s not that bad for me.”
And then 15 minutes later, you’re lying on your couch, chocolate all over your face, tiny candy bar wrappers strewn everywhere, looking around in bewilderment like, “What the hell just happened?”
Well, even if you’ve never massacred an entire bag of “fun”-sized Reese's Peanut Butter Cups in one sitting, there’s an important lesson to learn here: the smaller it is, the easier it is to start.
So if you’re dragging your feet to start a task, break it into smaller, more manageable chunks. Tell yourself you only have to do it for 10 minutes, or you only have to get one bill paid, or write one paragraph.
Usually, the hardest part of any task is getting started.
So make it easier to start by lowering your expectations of what you’ll accomplish and just focus on getting something, anything, done.
2. Make it a bribe
Want to get something done? Make yourself an offer you can’t refuse. Bonus points if you do it in an old-timey gangster voice and pretend to smoke a cigar.
Seriously, it works.
If you’re really struggling to get yourself to do something, offer yourself a reward for doing it.
- If you do your taxes today, you can go out to dinner tonight.
- If you finished that client proposal by 4pm, you can end your work day early.
- If you go for a run, you get to eat a fun-sized Reese's. (Good luck with that one…)
Try it. Not only will you get stuff done, but you’ll also have a good excuse to indulge a little, which is never a bad thing.
3. Make it enjoyable
I know what you’re thinking: “Oh hell no. Don’t you dare sugar coat this with some positive psychology BS.”
Come on, I wouldn’t do that to you. I do believe that mindset is everything, but telling you that beating procrastination is just a mindset-shift away is about as helpful as telling you to “just do it.”
Here’s what I mean by “Make it enjoyable”: Change the way you do the task to make it a little more tolerable.
For example, I absolutely LOATHE doing my finances. I hate numbers, hate being on the computer to check my accounts, hate paying bills and chasing payments, and, if I’m perfectly honest, money in general stresses me out. Doing my finances is my personal hell.
But I have to do it.
So when I do, I pour myself a glass of wine, put on some happy music and light a scented candle. Sure, these things don’t make me like doing my finances, but they do make the task slightly less miserable, which makes me more likely to do it.
What task are you are dreading doing? And how can you make it a little more enjoyable?
We all need a little more enjoyment in our lives, so why not mix work and pleasure to help you get stuff done?
Can you put on some music while you write that proposal, or have a nice cup of coffee during that hellish client meeting, or sit outside in the sun while you respond to emails? You'd be amazed how these little pleasures can make all the difference.
4. Make it a priority
Ok, this one isn’t as fun as the last three. There’re no candy bars, or rewards, or scented candles.
This is tough love.
If there’s an important task you’re putting off, make it a priority. Put it in your calendar and do it first thing in the morning, before you start anything else. You can use the tactics above to make it easier to do, but make sure it is the number one item on your to-do list.
The reason this is important is because often procrastination-- especially around something important-- is rooted in fear. We know we should do something, but we’re afraid. Maybe we're afraid of failure, or of what the task will lead to; or maybe it’s a fear of committing to something that could actually make a difference. Our anxiety about the task keeps us from doing it, and in turn, the fact that we aren't doing something important makes us even more anxious.
I’ve said it before: being afraid is a good thing. Being afraid of doing something usually means you absolutely must do it.
Often the task we're avoiding the most is the one that's most important to do.
So what are you putting off that you know is important? And be honest with yourself: does not doing it make you feel even worse than doing it?
I’d like to ask you to commit with me to do that one thing you’re dreading. Break it down into a manageable piece to get started, offer yourself a reward for doing it, try to make it as enjoyable as possible, and then, do it. If you can't do it right this second, schedule it into your calendar first thing tomorrow morning.
Action is the antidote to anxiety. So grab a glass of wine and your favorite scented candle, and let’s get shit done.