You hear it around the office; you hear it talking with friends, overhear it at restaurants and parties, you’ve probably even said it or something like it yourself. Over and over again. I need to do this, we should do that, yet we often make empty promises to ourselves, have endless false starts and struggle to stop procrastinating and get things done.
Typical buzz we hear or say to ourselves:
- I need to find a better job
- I need to start saving money
- We should pay off our debt
- We should get rid of the junk in our basement
- I should start volunteering
- I really need to give up eating sweets
- I’m not a runner, but I’d like to be
- We can’t afford that yet
- I wish I could fit in my clothes; I’ve just got to lose weight
Why do we say these things and yet never make any progress towards them? Perhaps we don’t know what we really want. Maybe we don’t know how to achieve it. Is it fear labeled as procrastination? Whatever the real reason we’ve gotten excellent at not doing those things we say we should, need, or want to do.
“How does a project get to be a year behind schedule? One day at a time.” ~ Fred Brooks
I’ve written on what it takes to make significant changes in your life and mindfully engaging in the process of goal achievement. Today I’m tackling procrastination. While there are many common causes and grounds for procrastination, there are lots of potential solutions too.
What works for me, might not work for you, but I challenge you to find out what will get you to stop procrastinating and get things done. Remember no one will do it for you. It’s your life, your body, your money, and your future. Do you really not want to do the best you can with it?
Kick Procrastination in the Tush
One of the most helpful things for me is to think about my why; drilling down to why I want to achieve a particular goal and what it will look like for me and how it will make me feel. A clearer image equals an easier start.
Then I may remind myself I don’t ‘deserve’ to take the night off from exercising, splurge on dessert or buy a new dress just because I had a rough day at work. Instead, I owe it to myself to take care of my health, my waistline, and my financial security.
So if you want to pay off debt by the end of the year, lose 15 pounds before your next birthday, or retire when you are 50, read on for some ways you can stop procrastinating and get things done.
- Abolish the Guilt
Procrastination can be a type of avoidance behavior. For those of us who feel habitually powerless, we take back personal power in the one way we know how; by procrastinating on tasks or goals, we feel compelled to do.
Unfortunately, with this avoidance-based procrastination technique, we get its offshoots—guilt and shame. We may hear the voices of an authority figure (parent, teacher, or boss) or ourselves even, telling us we “blew it yet again,” “can’t be trusted”; even all-or-nothing statements like “you’re a total failure.”
Guilt and shame won’t help us become the person we were born to be. Beating ourselves up won’t help us stop procrastinating and get things done.
Instead, an unhealthy dose of shaming (especially from yourself) and you’re likely to suit up your defenses with the one thing you’re actually good at, procrastination. Or the mental equivalent of hiding under the covers in your darkened bedroom.
Learn to abolish the guilt instead with cognitive restructuring. Replace those negative self-lashings with reality-based thoughts instead. For example, replace, “I did it again. I’m a complete screw-up!” with factual statements such as, “I enjoyed an hour of fun with the friends, now it’s time to put that aside and go exercise.”
It feels much better and is way more productive when you take the blame-and-shame away and focus on practical steps to move forward.
What’ Going On?
- Discover What’s Really Going On
You can’t change a habit until you understand it. The next time you find yourself ordering takeout instead of making a healthy dinner, or watching tv instead of going for a jog, stop the activity you’re doing, and ask yourself: “What is actually going on here?”
Try to figure out if you’re merely daunted by the thought of starting a task or exercise you find difficult, or you only hate that particular activity, or you’re angry because you had to work late and traffic sucked—or whatever is really behind the procrastination.
Getting in touch with your real feelings can tip you towards finding the right solution to that particular procrastination problem: For example, if you absolutely hate jogging, try cycling instead. Don’t enjoy making dinner but are okay with washing dishes, try swapping tasks with someone in your household.
- Secure Your Inner Child
You often hear talk about “letting out your Inner Child” which can be a good thing… But with many people, their Inner Child is the real procrastinator. It’s the child in you that finds it doesn’t care about the end goal or even just that day’s goal. It just wants to play.
It wants to look at every toy in the toy box, hog all the good crayons, build forts and have water balloon fights. Or maybe it just wants to sit and read lifestyle and personal finance blogs, watch American Ninja Warrior or listen to Mr. Groovy Trash Talk.
It’s a lot about instant gratification. So how do you put that child to bed?
Try this exercise for a week. Take a piece of paper and divide it into three columns. In one column, list what you should be doing that day. For Column # 2, write what you actually did for the day. In the final column, list any and all adverse effects any procrastinating Inner Child behavior had on you or any others (family members, co-workers, business partners, etc.) that day. Do this for one week.
At the end of a week look for the glaring downsides. Then try setting boundaries with your inner child—so you can stop procrastinating.
Stop Procrastinating and Get Things Done
- Tame Your Expectations
Tune into yourself and your personality. Then consider if you regularly “make” things harder than they have to be? Do you often expect the worst? Tell yourself “I can’t do this” fifty times before you get started? Do you run into trouble because you’re rushing on something as a result of starting late?
If you do, take another look at cognitive restructuring and reframing. Start giving yourself positive messages about the activity instead. Understand that an action doesn’t always have to be completed to perfection—it just has to get done.
- Be Specific and Include the Details
You need to be specific when starting goals, including the details. For example, instead of thinking “I’ve really got to start an emergency fund,” change that thought to: “I’m going to save at least $500 per month for the next 10 months, by canceling cable, brown bagging my lunch at least 4 days per week, and making dinner at home at least 5 days per week.”
- Chunk it Down
If a goal seems overwhelming, break it down into its smallest steps. Then focus on only performing “the next step.”
You’ll find you are more easily able to start even the most overwhelming activity if you can identify and take that all-important first step.
Tell yourself: “It’s not a big deal. The first step is…”—and focus on that first step. Start.
Keep up positive reframing self-messages all through the project. Taking the next steps one at a time.
Poor Habits, Excuses, Crashes?
- An Excuse is Just an Excuse, not a Reason
When you tell yourself you can’t do something yet, stop yourself and identify your reasons.
Chances are, more than ninety percent of these reasons are actually just excuses. For example, “I work better under pressure” really means “I’m in the habit of waiting until the last moment and using the pressure of a deadline as a motivator.”
It’s really a habit that adds stress on you—not rationale for waiting.
- Create Better Habits
Are you continually “forgetting” to do activities or steps towards your goal? It’s possible you simply don’t have a consistent habit.
Habits take time to create. Some say two weeks, other 21 days, and still others 30 days or more. One thing that’s pretty clear though is you should only tackle one new habit at a time.
Once you have one new habit established stack the next new one on to it or on to another good practice you have. For example, add the habit of exercising after brushing your teeth or packing your lunch for the next day after doing the dinner dishes.
- Prepare for the Crash After The High
While initially pursuing your goals or changing habits, recognize there may be a “high” period early on. You are all fired up, highly motivated and even feeding off your early successes.
Then reality enters the picture. You may miss a day of practicing your new habit due to illness or an unexpected event. Your world comes crashing down. You feel disillusioned and perhaps even guilty. Then the negative self-talk starts.
Don’t go there! It’s not a catastrophe. Reframing works here again. “I missed a day. I’m human. This isn’t over. Tomorrow I reset and get back on the horse. I can do this. I will do this.”
- Use Reminders and Triggers
Sometimes we procrastinate almost by accident. Such as a quick trip to Twitter or Instagram to ‘catch-up’ that gets us sidetracked by an article, conversation or real-time news.
Try scheduling reminders in your calendar, setting alarms on your watch, iPhone, or Fitbit, or any other technology prompts that remind you to work on your goals.
Use visual prompts or triggers that you’ll see while on your computer. Make a list of your favorite inspiring phrases that you can frame for your wall or keep on your desk, your bulletin board or anywhere that makes them catch your eye.
Also, try to move your prompts around on occasion or change them up. They’ll blend into the scenery in your mind’s eye if they stay in one place too long.
- Find Your Buddy
It’s sometimes helpful to team up with a buddy. Perhaps it’s a formal “accountability” partner or merely an acquaintance or friend who is equally motivated to develop a healthy lifestyle, learn to cook or get out of debt. Arrange a meet-up to take a walk, create a budget, or try out new recipes.
Allowing others in on our goals and working with them to accomplish activities will help us stop procrastinating and get things done.
You Gotta Be Honest With Yourself
Have you read this post thinking “I’m not a procrastinator?”
Yet, somehow, three months have passed since your doctor suggested you start an exercise program. You find your clothes are getting tighter, your bank account hasn’t grown, you still have consumer debt, and you haven’t increased your 401k contributions.
It’s time to look in the mirror and be honest with yourself. Because procrastination is typically a sign something isn’t right.
- Just Do it Now!
Why wait until tonight to take a walk, go on your lunch hour. No reason to wait and pay bills at the end of the month, schedule them to auto pay on their due dates. Telling yourself, you’ll start your diet on Monday is just another excuse to not take care of yourself today. Instead, start now, just do it!
Try some of the strategies above to find an effective one that works for you so you can kick procrastination in the tush every time.
Now, get over your buts, stop procrastinating, and get things done.
Have you tried any of these strategies or do you have an approach to share? Let’s discuss in the comments.
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