10 Nifty Ways to Beat Procrastination

by | Sep 1, 2015 | Creative Thinking | 12 comments

You’re stuck. Again.

You’ve been trying to make yourself work on that book/your fitness/decluttering the house for what seems like ever, but the harder you try the harder it is to resist the siren call of Facebook or Twitter. Before you know it, you’ve run out of time — and steam.

Funny, isn’t it, how much work it is NOT to do the work we’re resisting? It’s exhausting. If you had just put all that time and energy into your goals, imagine where you would be by now.

But you know that. It’s not as though you don’t beat yourself up about your procrastinating ways every day. How’s that working for you?

Don’t feel bad. We all do it.

Why do we resist? Because there is something we fear about the task at hand.

It could be as simple as a fear of the aches and pains of starting to exercise or the discomfort of doing a chore we dislike. It could be as obvious as a fear of failure. Or it could go deeper than that, like a fear of success.

Well, good news: I have battled procrastination all my life and in the process, I picked up a few tricks.

#1 – Less is more!

First, figure out if you can eliminate the task altogether. Ask yourself:
Is this really necessary? If so, can someone else do it? If not, proceed to #2.

#2 – Find the trigger that gets you going

Before you go to bed at night, plan what you will work on in the morning. What is the first action you need to take to get started? Turn on the computer? Open a file? Put on your bra? (Yes, I have a client who decided that putting on her brassiere was the trigger that would get her started on a productive day — and it works!) Write your personal trigger at the top of your daily to-do list.

#3 – Start when your willpower is strongest

Researchers have found that we only have so much willpower to get through the day. Just like energy, the more we use, the less we have — until we rest and restore. So, do the things that require the most willpower when it’s strongest. Usually, that is first thing in your day. And don’t forget to take lots of breaks.

#4 – Build tiny, daily habits that take willpower out of the equation

This one comes from a great book called Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results by Stephen Guise. You can easily build a new habit by giving yourself a “stupid small,” daily goal — write fifty words of that book, for instance, or do one push-up, or just put on your running shoes and open the door. Nine times out of ten when you reach your goal, momentum keeps you going. But if not, you can still pat yourself on the back for keeping your commitment. The point is that the goal is so small you don’t have anything to resist!

#5 – Chunk it

Like “stupid small” goals, tasks can be broken down to their smallest denominator. Break that task or project down to small/smaller/smallest chunks, and work on just one at a time.

#6 – Celebrate, early and often

Celebrating even the tiniest success (like doing that one push-up) tweaks the pleasure center in your brain and tells it to keep up the good work because more good things are coming. Never, NEVER punish yourself, even with self-criticism, for failing to meet a goal. When you hear that Inner Critic voice, just thank it and tell it that it’s not needed right now.

#7 -Still stuck? Think about why you are resisting

Is there a missing step or resource that you forgot about? Are you feeling overwhelmed by the scope of the project? Or are you having second thoughts about it altogether? Get clear in your mind what you are aiming for and why.

#8 – Keep trying

If you’ve ever tried to develop a meditation practice, you may have felt that it was was a small failure each time your mind wandered and you had to pull it back. But actually, that’s what practice is all about. Each time it happens, your mind becomes a little stronger and more focused. It’s the same with resistance. Each time you notice that you are procrastinating and pull yourself back to the task at hand, you have not failed; you are building the habit of noticing and returning. (In fact, meditating for only five minutes a day is a great way to increase your mental strength and focus.)

#9 – Get support

Find or create a network of friends or coworkers who will work alongside you and cheer you on as you tackle that goal. Consider setting up or joining a weekly or even daily “work party” on Skype or at a local coffee shop. The idea is to state what you’re going to do for the next 45 minutes to an hour, go do it, then come back and say what you did. Everyone agrees to root for each other. No judgment allowed! [My group, Stuckbuster Sessions, meets twice a week for a three-hour block. You’re welcome to join in the fun.]

#10 – If all else fails, hire an accountability coach

An accountability coach (like Jen!) can help you find and destroy the busy work and delay tactics from your to-do list, so you’re focused on the work that will really move you forward on your goals. A good coach also knows how to tap into your intrinsic and extrinsic motivators in ways your friends and family probably can’t (and shouldn’t!). If you have a big dream you’ve been tossing around for years but have never made much progress, an accountability coach can be just the push you need to get it done.

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LaVonne Ellis is the author of Getting Sh*t Done: How to Stop Procrastinating, Let Perfectionism Go, & Harness Your Creative Superpowers. When she is not battling her own resistance, she lives and travels in her van with her puppy, Scout. Read about her travels and trials at The Complete Flake.