We’re all very well acquainted with the problem of procrastination. Putting off things that we do not enjoy or are dreading is a very human temptation, but is completely self-destructive.
Here are a few practical tips on overcoming procrastination. Some of these tips will work well for you, others won’t. Pick and choose as you will.
Don’t think so much, act!
In his helpful article, “Do It Now!”, personal development coach Steve Pavlina cites W. Clement Stone, a giant in the insurance industry, who would lead his employees to chant together “Do it now, Do it now!” at the beginning of each day. When you’re tempted to put off a task because you don’t like it or it’s going to be hard, stop yourself, and say loudly three times, “Do it now! Do it now! Do it now!”
“There is a tremendous cost in putting things off because you will mentally revisit them again and again, which can add up to an enormous amount of wasted time. Thinking and planning are important, but action is far more important. You don’t get paid for your thoughts and plans — you only get paid for your results. When in doubt, act boldly, as if it were impossible to fail. In essence, it is.”
– S. Pavlina
Give preference to action over thought. Start! If you don’t know how to clean up the room, just start cleaning. If you don’t know what to eat for dinner, just start grabbing whatever’s in the fridge and start eating. If you don’t know what to write the paper on, just start writing. Get yourself into a creative zone, and the ideas will emerge.
Break big projects down into smaller chunks
Sometimes having big, imposing tasks can overwhelm you—the kind of thing so big you don’t know where to begin. It can lead to paralysis. Really. Many of us, faced with a big project we’re dreading, out of fear of the size of it, simply won’t engage with it, as the deadlines creep nearer and nearer each day.
Instead, face it head on! Your first step should be to sit down and break that big project into bite-size pieces. For instance, if you have to write a big paper, you can break it down into manageable steps, complete with time estimates.
- Look at the list of topics, and choose one. (15 minutes)
- Go to the library and find your preliminary list of sources (30 minutes)
- Being doing your primary source reading (4 hours)
- Brainstorm your thesis (30 minutes)
- Write a first draft (2-4 hours)
- Edit, do supporting research (2 hours)
- Polish final draft (2-3 hours)
Then each of the tasks on your list can be placed into your daily calendar over the next few weeks.
See? That wasn’t so bad after all. You’d be surprised at how much freedom that comes from just a little bit of this kind of strategic thinking.
Another procrastination elimination strategy is single handling. That is, handle each task only once. When you get the mail, sort it immediately. Pitch junk mail, pay bills, and deal with personal correspondence right away. Wedding invitation RSVPs, etc. It won’t take as long as you think. If you handle it right away, and you don’t have to deal with them again. Don’t just drop in on the end table where you’ll have to come back and give it more of your time.
When Pavlina was in college, he did single handling on his papers. He would write the entire thing in an uninterrupted 8 to 10 hour stream of time, start to finish. One shot. Done. Not everyone can do that, but for him the value of getting into “the zone” creatively was worth the effort. I’m not necessarily recommending it, but it’s worth thinking about.
The 60-second rule
Do you procrastinate on making decisions? Give yourself a 60-second rule for making all decisions. That is, once you have all the facts you need, why should it take you any longer than that? Analysis becomes paralysis quickly.
If you’re hesitant, try this: make the decision, one way or another, and then don’t do anything about it, just sit on it for an hour or two or a day or two, and see how it feels. Then you can put it into action. It’s much better that indecision and endless pondering back and forth, which will only waste time.
Make the cut
Too often, we let time slip away because we are for whatever reason unwilling to make a decision or start moving. The word “decision” is related to “incision”. When you decide, you make a cut: you cut something in, you cut something out. Stop worrying over what cut away when you decide. Make the cut! And do it now!