5 Simple Ways to Overcome Procrastination
When people come to me seeking help to get passed some type of roadblock that is inhibiting them from reaching their full potential in some area of their life, there are several primary causes at the core of their lack of productivity and progress — fear, lack of clarity, and procrastination. One of the first things that I do is establish an understanding of the law of cause and effect. Every result in your life has a cause. There are no coincidences; you are where you are today because of decisions and habits of behavior. If you want to change your course in life, it starts with the cause, not the symptoms.
You may be wondering why it is so important to focus on the cause as opposed to the symptom or result. When you focus on the cause, you address the issue at its source — having the potential to completely eliminate the cause, subsequently eliminating the symptom. When you focus on the symptom, you may be able to mask the symptom, but the cause is still present, and when things really matter the most, you will revert to what is natural.
Here, I want to deal with procrastination, which is a symptom that can have many underlying causes. When you fail to identify the cause of your procrastination, attempting to treat the symptoms could exacerbate the condition. Following are five common causes of procrastination along with some simple steps you can take to overcome each.
- The Size of the Task Appears Overwhelming
Explanation: If you have a task that appears so huge that you can’t possibly get it done. If every time you think about it, the thought of finishing it seems daunting or even impossible. This usually leads to you never starting and moving on to something you believe you can get done.
Solution: You don’t climb a mountain by jumping from the base to the peak. You climb it one progressive step at a time. Break this huge task down into smaller, more workable, parts. Bite off what you can easily chew and knock that out. Once you finish with that task, go back and take another piece and start working on it. Eventually, you will find that you are building momentum and that you are getting things done.
Example: I have written and published 20 books, thousands of articles and scholarly papers, none of those publications were engaged with page one through 400 on deck. I start each writing project, including this one, by focusing on writing the best first sentence that I can. When I complete that sentence and am one step closer than when I started. Now it is time to write the next sentence and the next.
- Too Many Tasks to Take On at Once
Explanation: There is nothing wrong with being aggressive in your goal setting. I am extremely aggressive when setting my goals. In fact, over 30 years goals my mentor told me that I would succeed by failing forward — meaning that I set my goals so high that rarely hit them on the first try, but I fail forward because I end up further along then when I started.
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“If the vision that you have for your life is not so huge that it intimidates you, there’s a good chance it is insulting God.” ~ Steven Furtick
Being aggressive will often create a monumental to-do list that seems impossible to complete. First, people who are aggressive never get all of their to-do’s done. We get the most important ones done. Interestingly enough, when we handle the to-do’s with the highest priorities, many of the other things on our list fall off automatically. It is normal to put off things that you feel you cannot get done. Most people have a mindset of why get started if I can’t finish it. You have to take a different approach or nothing will ever get done.
Solution: Group related tasks into categories that can be combined into conceptual activities and then assign a certain amount of time to each activity.
Example: Because I run multiple businesses, I have multiple email accounts, and it is not uncommon for several hundred emails over the course of the day. It is obvious that I cannot address all of the emails in one day. So, I set aside a couple of hours each day to manage my email. The first thing I do is to group all urgent emails that demand an immediate response. I schedule responses to secondary emails and group the others in time groups based on importance. Nothing is too big when you break it down into manageable parts.
- A Required Task Seems Boring and Repetitive
Explanation: If you are a person who is highly creative, you avoid boring things like the plague. It is natural for you to put off things that do not interest you; however, those things need to be done to move you forward toward your ultimate goals, right?
Solution: Find a way to make boring tasks more interesting, fun, and rewarding.
Example: Set a time limit to get a task done, and make it challenging. Now, compete against yourself to beat the time you set. When you are able to beat your time challenge, reward yourself in some way. You are actually training your brain to take on tasks that don’t naturally interest you. Eventually, proclivity to take on these tasks you once considered repetitive and boring will become second nature, and you will even experience a level of fulfillment.
- The Importance and Relevance of the Task is Intimidating
Explanation: When you have a task that you ascribe such great importance to that the fear of screwing it up paralyzes you, you have to find a way to engage it productively. It could be a situation in which making a mistake could mean losing a client or losing your job, so you freeze.
Solution: Don’t stand on an island. Get the work done to the best of your ability and then bring in someone you trust to review your work and advise you on any necessary changes. When the initial draft or presentation is done for a reviewer instead of the actual client or manager, there is little risk involved and you will find that your stress levels decrease drastically. Interestingly, the lower the stress levels, the betting you think and perform.
- You Just Don’t Feel Like Doing It
Explanation: There are times when are just not up to putting in the work. If you are like me, you pride yourself on doing exceptional work and if you can’t give it your best, you would rather not do it at all. I will be honest here, sometimes, this feeling is the result of plain old laziness. That is an entirely different topic to address — something I do in my latest book, Critical Mass: The Phenomenon of Next-Level Living. Normally, the lack of impulse and enthusiasm to get work done comes from burnout and the lack of proper internal motivation.
Solution: Here you have two options: 1. You can reschedule the activity for a time that you will be more up to the task. I don’t like this option because it actually trains you to procrastinate based on how you feel at a given moment. If it needs to be done, get it done. 2. Find a way to motivate yourself for the short-term. Everyone, including myself, has those moments when they just don’t feel like it. This is where the exceptional and phenomenal people in the world separate themselves from the rest — doing what most simply are not willing to do. Find a way to get motivated by promising yourself that you can have or do something you really want once you get this task done.
Procrastination is lethal to progress, and it is one of the most common causes of failure in the pursuit of worthy goals. No one gets everything right, but those who take on every challenge are the ones who get on in this world. If you suck at something, the only way to get better is to keep doing it until you master it. Failure is a part of the process that produces success. The greatest performers in history will admit that they have failed more times than they have succeeded. Put in the work and trust that your diligence will reward you. ~ Rick Wallace, Ph.D., Psy.D.
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