Imagine a task you must do today which you are really dreading. Now imagine putting it off until tomorrow. Feel that surge of relief and pleasure? Research shows that in habitual behaviour there is a surge of dopamine-related pleasure in the reward system of the brain when an individual even thinks about the habitual act.
So how do we manage procrastination?
Thanks to the following guests for participating:
Dr. Neil Fiore is the bestselling author of The Now Habit, Awaken Your Strongest Self, and Coping with the Emotional Impact of Cancer. He was a paratrooper with the 101st Airborne, a manager for Johnson & Johnson, and has worked as a psychologist at the Counseling Center of the University of California, Berkeley. Dr Fiore has been published in The New England Journal of Medicine, and been cited in the New York Times, London Times, and the Wall Street Journal and continues to contribute to popular magazines like Psychology Today, Fitness, Elle, Glamour, Entrepreneur, and Boardroom Reports. As a trainer and coach, he has helped thousands of clients and consulted many renowned companies. He is the author of seven books and is a former president of The Northern California Society of Clinical Hypnosis. We’re talking about The Now Habit.
Dr Fiore has kindly provided two useful handouts, and if you want 1-2-1 coaching, please contact: email@example.com.
Leadership coach Merrisha Gordon.
NEO 10Y, a recording artist and spiritual revolutionary.
Jessica Abel, a business strategist and coach for creatives with a focus on getting the big creative projects done.
Helen Norbury, the Free Spirit Coach who helps stressed high achieving leaders and entrepreneurs re-connect to their free spirit so that they can live with unapologetic freedom to be all of themselves.
Heather Muse, who is head of audience at Long Lead.
Dr Lisa Turner, who is a trauma expert and founder of CETfreedom.
Stephanie Larsen, an experienced yoga instructor and expert in mind body connection and neuropsychology, and runs her own practice.
Executive Coach & Motivational Speaker Keith L. Brown.
Here are some of the resources from the show:
Procrastination continues to be one of the largest enemies of our personal productivity, but it’s never too late to break this habit! Here is Brian Tracy’s top takeaways from “Eat That Frog”.
Books looked at this week:
Dr Neil Fiore: The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play
Brian Tracy: Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time
PS. I do not receive commission for reviewing books and talks.
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Exploring how we can master ourselves by looking at how experts say it is possible with your host Suswati Basu.
Welcome to season 2 episode 74 of How To Be…with me Suswati as your timid presenter, guiding you through life’s tricky topics and skills by reading through the best books out there.
When you search why people procrastinate, there are literally a handful of options to choose from. Procrastination is the act of unnecessarily postponing decisions or actions. Some people procrastinate because their drive to delay is irrationally stronger than their drive to act. While others may procrastinate because they are anxious about or afraid of something.
So why do we do it and how do we manage it to our advantage?
Here is leadership coach Merrisha Gordon, NEO 10Y, a recording artist and spiritual revolutionary, and Jessica Abel, a business strategist and coach for creatives with a focus on getting the big creative projects done.
MERRISHA GORDON: When we procrastinate, that has put us something that we know we need to do. People will sometimes say they are being lazy. However, uh, in my experience, procrastination is actually usually the result of one of two things. The first being the negative thoughts underpinning the task, and the second a, uh, lack of systems and processes. And sometimes it’s both. So when you notice the behaviors, take a moment to get curious and ask yourself what is really going on here? It could be that there is an element of fear. Fear, uh, of judgment, fear of putting yourself out there. But by identifying the belief, this helps you to challenge it, check in with how true it really is and using something like a forged record diary, there’s an opportunity to choose a more positive way of looking at the situation. And if it’s a lack of systems, this can really lead to overwhelm. Um, but rather than looking at the overall task in hand, look at how you can break this down into manageable chunks and what resources you might need at each stage.
NEO 10Y: More often than not, the concept of procrastination has a really bad reputation. But sometimes we need to trust the universe. And if we are not inclined to force something, then sometimes it’s actually better for us to take that time to pause, relax, heal, recalibrate and meditate before taking action. If anything, procrastination can sometimes help us make the right decision. Patience is a virtue and divine timing is never wrong.
JESSICA ABEL: What follows comes from a challenge that I put together last summer called the Creative Compass Challenge that focuses on how to get started, how to get traction and how to finish those big projects. Part of our frenzy and overwhelm and procrastination and all this perfectionism and everything is about believing in some part of our mind that it would be possible to do all the things on your to do list ever. And it is literally not possible. There’s no way to do all those things. There’s no way to finish all of the creative projects you want to do. I’m sorry. I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but if you think about it, you just think about how long these things take. It’s just not possible. And so until you believe it, fully believe it, and live it, there’s constantly going to be this temptation to do something else and constantly switch gears because it feels like you need to fit that one and you need to fit this other thing and you need to fit all the things in. You are obligated somehow to cram them all in. It’s not possible. It’s not human, right? So I want first of all, for you to forgive yourself for the existence of time. There just is a limit to what you can do as a human being and just let that go. It is not your fault that there’s a limited number of minutes in the day and a maximum number of things that you want to do. The anxiety of trying to do it all but not consciously deciding what you’re going to do and more importantly, what you won’t do, that is at the heart of a ton of distraction and procrastination and the self blame just comes roaring out, the inner critic, all that other stuff. And that is what really stops you from doing the things that are important to you. It is this feeling that like, uh, yeah, but I should be doing all these other things and getting them all done.
(Back to host)
Our first book is from Dr. Neil Fiore, who is the bestselling author of The Now Habit, Awaken Your Strongest Self. He was a paratrooper with the 101st Airborne, a manager for Johnson & Johnson, and has worked as a psychologist at the Counseling Center of the University of California, Berkeley. Dr Fiore has been published in The New England Journal of Medicine and been cited in the New York Times, London Times, and the Wall Street Journal and continues to contribute to popular magazines like Psychology Today, Fitness, Elle, Glamour, Entrepreneur, and Boardroom Reports. As a trainer and coach, he has helped thousands of clients and consulted many renowned companies. He is the author of six books and is a former president of The Northern California Society of Clinical Hypnosis. He was kind enough to speak to me so here is a snippet but find the full interview on http://www.howtobe247.com or on the YouTube channel.
DR NEIL FIORE: We procrastinate out of fear. We avoid, like, the cat on the hot stove. It’s one trial learning if I touch that hot stove, uh, I’m going to avoid it. And if I define a task as like that hot stove, I will avoid it. It’s a threat to me. If you define something as a threat to your ego, to your life, to your joy, to your sense of worth, you’re going to avoid it. So to get around that, to be a producer, you need to approach the thing that you fear. I describe in my books being 22 years of age and being ready to graduate from airborne paratrooper school. And I am in the plane and I’m saying to myself, you have to do this. And another part, of course, is saying, this is crazy, I don’t want to. And, um I’m stuck. Which is the classic term I hear from my clients. I’m stuck. Yes, because you divided yourself into you have to a dictator voice versus I don’t want to. And you can’t move. There’s no energy. Well, to make a long story short, while being stuck in that case situation, I see the first man get in the door of the plane and he puts his hands on the inside of the door. We were trained to put our hands on the outside and to pull ourselves through a propeller blast or prop blast of 150 miles an hour. You really need to be intent on leaving the plane because the plane is going about 150 miles an hour. You’re at 1500ft. And he does it incorrectly with ambivalent putting his hands on the inside. He gets picked up by that prop class and his body gets slammed against the outside of the plane as they told us. So when that happened, luckily he survived, albeit with black and blue mark. But when you do that and you do something with Ambivalence, accidents happen. So at that moment, while being stuck telling myself you have to, but I don’t want to, being stuck at that moment, I broke free and said a no brainer, I’m not going to do it that way the sergeant is not going to kick me out. That was my second choice. My third choice. I’m in the door, I put my hands on the outside of the plane, bend my knees, jump up, and I clear that plane by about 10ft. A few minutes later, I land on the ground, roll and laugh. Not only am I without a scratch, I have fallen 1500ft. I see the other planes going by and I realize there’s a third place. It’s not just you have to versus I don’t want. Third place is choice. And when you choose to do something, those forces that are against each other support your vision, your mission. And at the age of 22, I discovered choice. There is a choice, and I didn’t know it at the time, but choice is only in the human prefrontal cortex, the human forehead. Our brain is the only brain on the planet that can choose graduate school, choose surgery, choose dental work, choose to face income tax form, do things that are different. So choice is the secret to productivity. Fear is one of the big reasons people procrastinate. So fear of being humiliated, fear of being stuck in a particular kind of job. And our parents with good intentions want to keep us from a lot of pain in life and society. And so they want us to be perfect, but we can’t be perfect. So we develop a fear of failure. And one of the things that so many wise people have told us is learn to accept failure, fail and recover. Overcome very early your fear of failure. And Malcolm Gladwell has said repeatedly that those people who have failed early in life are the ones who succeed because they’re not afraid of David and Goliath, his books. He talks about any of it. The people who have not done well early in life, and I would include myself, have no fear of failure. So what, uh, are you going to do to me? I’ve experienced it, and I’m still here, I’m still fighting. Let’s see what happens. So our society, you have to succeed. You have to do this and be afraid of failure. Uh, but we want to embrace failure in a sense, small failure, and learn. I still recover because I have a sense of self. My sense of self is separate from my work. So one of the big things that people do that causes problems is they equate, and society does this too. They equate your worth as a person with your work and your net worth in the bank. So schooling and we have a, ah, system of ABCs. If you get an F on your work, then you are an F person. No, not at all. If you get an A, you’re an A person. No, not at all. You want a sense of worth that is safe. So the thing that we fear most is self criticism because you can’t get away from the thoughts in your mind. So we want to develop a sense of robust sense of self worth that, uh, regardless of what happens, regardless of what they say, regardless of what they think, your worth is safe with me. And then, of course, you have that little what if voice, that little sock puppet that says, yes, but what if this happens? What if that happens? That voice needs to be answered. Yes. And we’re not denying, yes, that would be awful if that happened. That would hurt. And in approximately two to six breath, ten to 30 seconds, I will be over it, and I will reestablish a sense of worth and decide what to do from, again, the leadership brain, the human brain, not from the animal brain. The animal brain reacts. The human brain chooses how to act in a way that is consistent with her values and goals. I choose to act where we’re just learning machines and we’re eager to learn, so we are not naturally lazy. Human nature has been sold short. Abraham Maslow said, we all have a natural drive to do good work, to be fair and just, and to make a contribution. If that’s missing, something in the society has suppressed it.
(Back to host)
Dr Fiore is convinced that procrastination isn’t innate, that is, we aren’t born lazy. In fact, we learn and adopt this unhealthy habit; it’s taught in our schools, by our parents, and at the workplace. And it’s usually tied to very specific situations. Usually, we procrastinate on work, that is, when there is a certain task we’re required to perform like writing a report, organizing a seminar or making a presentation in front of a team.
These tasks are all significant and not part of your routine. You don’t procrastinate going to the bathroom or answering a colleague who wants to take you to lunch, but you might put off starting an important presentation.
Habits are learned when an activity is instantly followed by a reward. Procrastination is rewarding because it provides temporary relief from our stress and anxiety. In particular, we use procrastination to achieve 3 things:
• Express resentment or resistance toward authorities and our sense of powerlessness.
• Avoid the fear of failure or disappointment, which often comes from perfectionism and self-criticism.
• Avoid our fear of success.
The types of tasks we procrastinate on usually have three important characteristics: First, when you want to do a good job on something so you can live up to others’ and your own expectations. Second, you find the work dull. It’s no fun and getting started takes motivation.
Finally, it’s unclear what qualifies as a “good job”: you simply don’t know how to live up to others’ expectations and deliver a great presentation or write an outstanding report. What is “good?” What is “good enough?” And what if you pour your heart and soul into a project that completely fails?
When faced with these kinds of tasks, the inevitable consequence is a choice between two options: If you start working on the task, you spend your time on something boring, plus you risk failing and disappointing both yourself and others as well.
If you don’t start working, you can avoid this boredom, uncertainty and the fear of failure. So what do you choose? Most likely, you’ll choose the second strategy and delay the unpleasantness associated with your task. And, in a certain sense, it works: you learn that procrastination helps you avoid boredom and fear of failure – at least temporarily.
Dr Fiore then goes on to explain that we’re taught to dislike work and fear failure. After all everyone has certain things they can do without procrastinating and without the threat of discipline or the lure of a reward.
Interestingly, before they’re “educated,” young children never procrastinate. And when they play, they never rate their performance afterwards or wonder what others think about them. First of all, we learn at a young age in school that “work” is no fun: in fact, it’s the opposite of “play.”
Second, we’re instilled with unhealthy perfectionism. We feel very conscious of our performance, that we need to do the best – because otherwise it implies that we “weren’t trying hard enough.”
This, in turn, leads to unrealistic expectations: when everyone thinks that anything less than the very best isn’t good enough, virtually no one can live up to their expectations!
So it’s natural that most people find work unpleasant: on the one hand, we expect it to be dull and boring; on the other, we’ve learned that anything less than “the best” is unacceptable, and it’s therefore likely we’ll fail.
Dr Fiore goes on to say our self-esteem is linked to work and procrastination helps protect it. Each and every human being wants to be valued and held in high regard by others. If we can avoid it, we usually don’t surround ourselves with people who constantly make fun of us or put us down.
We even employ a number of strategies to combat any threats to this desire to protect our own self-esteem. In the Western world, this is complicated by the fact that an individual’s self-esteem is usually strongly linked to their work and work accomplishments.
Early on we learn that we’re only worth something if we work hard and achieve a notable career. People value doctors, managers and professors, believing that the poor and unemployed haven’t tried hard enough and are thus less valuable.
Since they’ve learned that work is the main source of self-esteem, it’s quite natural that most people are driven by a rather unhealthy perfectionism. Of course, it’s impossible for everybody to become the most successful person in their field, so it only makes sense that many people would employ strategies to protect their self-esteem from failures.
We say things like: “We’re not failing because we’re not good enough; we just haven’t really tried.” In this way, procrastination helps us avoid the stress and anxiety caused by our unrealistically high expectations and the uncertainty of our success.
Which is why you need to adopt the anti-procrastination mantra “you only learn when you fail”. The thing is if you never try then you never get better. What do chronic procrastinators do instead? They freeze in the face of fear and avoid work, assuming that the only way is the perfect way, that is, getting it right the first time. Anything else means total failure and, consequently, a great depreciation of self-worth.
What they forget is that most great works, from Picasso’s paintings to Thomas Edison’s inventions, started with a set of failures and many half-baked attempts. Simply put: failure is an inevitable part of learning, so he who never fails, never learns!
The important place to start is to change your self-talk from “I must”, “I should” to “when can I start”. It is possible to overcome this conflict and change your inner monologue, transforming your role as a powerless victim into that of a producer – someone who doesn’t just have to get things done but actually wants to and produces results. Unlike procrastinators, producers have a clear goal in front of them that they want to achieve.
Procrastination is a vicious cycle: once you start delaying your work, the guilty feeling of having to catch up on everything later accumulates into a larger and larger pile of guilt.
Thus procrastination leads to a life where you constantly feel like you have more work to do than you will ever manage to get done.
Such a lifestyle means you never really have time for true relaxation, real play or a private life you can fully enjoy. In order to manage the growing pile of work, all this has been put on hold until some point in the distant future.
Strangely, chronic procrastinators share the mind-set of a workaholic: both groups always feel that they have a ton of unfinished work waiting for them and that they don’t have any time to rest and relax. And they feel a sense of guilt about the time they spend not working.
Producers don’t do this. Instead, they set aside significant amounts of their time for their private life, holidays, health, real relaxation and play. High performers understand the true importance of rest, relaxation, play and fun, and therefore consciously use breaks and rewards as a means to recharge their batteries so that they can be productive again later.
Guilt-free play and relaxation are absolutely essential for anyone who wants to become a high-performing producer. Moreover, those who know that a challenging task will be followed by play will have a much easier time motivating themselves to get started.
So if you want to make a task less threatening, break it down into small, manageable units. But the hardest part is actually starting. Why? Usually because the task itself seems so large and insurmountable that we can’t see a light at the end of the tunnel.
This is especially true for vague goals about the distant future. These don’t offer us any rewards along the way, and are therefore totally unmotivating – you just work and work, hoping that you’ll one day reach this huge goal. In the face of these lofty, nebulous future goals, we tend to procrastinate and do things that offer quick rewards, such as checking email, surfing Facebook and so on. Which is why you need to chop these into small tasks.
If a task can be done in less than half an hour, it’ll be easy to muster up the motivation to start, and once you’ve completed it, you’ll be rewarded with a sense of accomplishment that gives you back a sense of control. In addition, you can boost your motivation by following those small tasks with small rewards, such as short breaks where you relax or take a quick stroll. Focus on starting the task not finishing a big task.
One simple technique to make your work week both more pleasant and more productive is to employ the Unschedule technique for time management. The primary objective of this technique is to get as many short (around 30-minute) periods of uninterrupted, focused work into your day, instead of spending ten hours “working,” half-focused and riddled with procrastination and distractions.
By structuring your day into many short, focused units, you not only get a whole lot more done but also enjoy a shorter workday.
Essentially, the technique is thus:
– Select a task from a list of important things you want to get done; set a timer which ends each little “sprint” after 30 minutes; and spend all 30 minutes working with absolute focus.
– After each sprint is finished, you “book” the unit in your working hours account.
– At the same time, you compile a list of enjoyable things you want to include in your week, for example, meeting friends for lunch, taking a walk or going to the movies.
– Unlike in a normal work planner, you schedule the pleasant things – not the work units – in your calendar. They build the framework that you will use to structure your work days.
Using this system makes your mind aware of two things:
– First, your life is not just work! You get to enjoy many other pleasant, non-work-related things as well.
– Second, the amount of time you have to get things done is limited, so you’d better make good use of it!
Since unscheduling means scheduling your work around your play, you only select tasks whenever you have time to work on them, and only book them in your working hours account if you’ve managed to get half an hour of focused work done first. This way, you end up spending quite a lot of time on real, focused work, yet never feel like it’s an obligation.
Distractions are unavoidable, so the trick is to keep the right tool at hand to capture the incoming distractions. Just grab a piece of paper, a notebook or whatever it takes to create a little list, and collect every little thought and anything else that might otherwise distract you. Whatever is trying to steal your attention away from the task at hand, write it down as fast as possible on your list and get right back to work.
Afterwards, once you’re done with what you wanted to do, look at your list and see if what you wrote down is still so urgent or such a great idea. You’ll likely be surprised at how rarely that’s the case! So here are the tools:
• Create a psychological safety net to reduce the perceived threat of failure or imperfection, and to help yourself bounce back stronger from your mistakes.
• Use positive self-talk to focus your energy constructively toward a desired outcome, shift from resistance to commitment, and reprogram your attitude.
• Replace habits: Use old habits to trigger new ones, or unlearn your procrastination in the same way you learned them.
• Use guilt-free play to inspire quality work
• Overcome the fear of being overwhelmed with Three-dimensional thinking and the Reverse Calendar, which is working backwards from your end goal.
• Overcome the fears of failure and imperfection by finishing the work of worrying.
• Overcome the fear of not finishing through persistent starting.
• Train yourself to get into the state of flow.
• Use controlled setbacks to train your responses and improve your resilience and focus.
• Learn to set effective goals that you can achieve and build your confidence.
Before the next book, here is Helen Norbury, the Free Spirit Coach who helps stressed high achieving leaders and entrepreneurs re-connect to their free spirit so that they can live with unapologetic freedom to be all of themselves, Heather Muse who is head of audience at Long Lead, and Dr Lisa Turner, who is a trauma expert and founder of CETfreedom.
HELEN NORBURY: Procrastination is not laziness. It is not being unclear on what to do scientifically. There is some evidence to suggest a short term hit from procrastinating but long term it’s only pain. Procrastination is actually related to low self esteem, anxiety, stress, depression and poor self regulation. And the reality is that, uh, procrastination is likely to show up in order to prevent us from some other future state that our nervous system may perceive to be dangerous or unsafe in some particular way. So what can we do about it? We can put in place some strategies such as being realistic, time blocking, focusing on what’s important and getting an accountability partner. We can take care of our energy, changing our state at least every 50 minutes, get the blood pumping around our body and get a power song that really motivates and energizes us. And we can get curious about our mindset and ask ourselves why we’re avoiding a certain task what’s the fear? And finally give ourselves a reward for completing major challenges and milestones.
HEATHER MUSE: Why do I procrastinate? Probably you should ask me why I don’t. I’ve been doing it my entire life and no matter what I try to do, it always is something I end up doing. So I can’t really nip it in the bud just yet. But there are three main reasons that I found that I procrastinate. One is a fear of doing something wrong. It will cause me to have this paralysis where it’s way more than perfectionism, it’s more an avoidance of humiliation because I’m just afraid that if I do something and it’s wrong I’m just going to be completely embarrassed and that causes me to be afraid to ask for help, which causes me to push things back further. So I worry a lot about how hard something’s going to be and to avoid the hard feeling, I procrastinate. Another reason I end up procrastinating is because of time blindness. I always think something’s going to take more or less time than it actually does and as a result I end up putting something off because, oh, it’ll only take me five minutes when in actuality it takes me 2 hours. So that’s another reason I end up, um, procrastinating because I just have no concept of time. Something quick and easy I think I can put off, as I said. And I find myself also sometimes getting into flow or hyper focus with another task and that will cause me to not notice what time it is. And I’ve been putting off something that I was supposed to do hours ago. And finally, one of the other reasons I end up procrastinating is if something is tedious or a meticulous activity that I hate doing, I’m not going to do it right away. I hate finicky ends of, uh, checking everything, parts of projects, for example, when I’m writing a paper. When I was an academic, I loved everything about it. The research, putting thoughts together, even writing a paper was okay. But the minute it gets to proofreading and checking citations and formatting the bibliography, that was a nightmare and I would put that off as much as possible. Another example of that is I can say is that you do not want to know how long it takes for me to put away laundry. Because doing laundry, drying it, folding it fine, putting it away, it may be weeks, there are piles everywhere. It’s just how I am. I’ve learned to live with it and I am doing my best to be kinder to myself.
DR LISA TURNER: We procrastinate because you don’t know how to do it. You don’t actually want to do it, you want it done. Maybe you don’t really care about it or you’re not in the mood. You might also to believe that you work better under pressure, so you leave it to the last minute using time pressure to give you the motivation to do the thing you don’t know how to do or you don’t want to do. Being afraid that it’s not good enough because it’s way better in your head than it could ever be in real life. So how do you overcome it? Well, just start, get the tools, open the document, get all the things in place ready to do the thing, even if you trick yourself saying I’m going to do it later, but I’ll just get myself started now and notice what happens. Narrow your focus and break it down into much smaller steps. And every time you complete one of those steps, tick it off. So write the steps down and then tick it off on a list. This triggers dopamine, which then releases noradrenaline, which leads to releasing a little tiny bit of adrenaline, which is the brain chemical that gives you the motivation and energy to keep going and do the next thing. So you can tick that off as well.
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The next book is one of those reads in the front shelves of bookshops. Brian Tracy is the bestselling author of over 50 books including Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time. Here he is
BRIAN TRACY: Mark Twain once said that if the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing that that is probably the worst thing that’s going to happen to you all day long. Your frog is your biggest, most important task, the one you are most. Likely to procrastinate on if you don’t do something about it and get it done. This is another way of saying that if you have two important tasks before you start with the biggest, hardest and most important task. First, discipline yourself to begin immediately and then to persist until the task is complete before you go on to something else. The key to reaching high levels of performance and productivity is for you to develop the lifelong habit of tackling your major task first thing each morning. You must develop the routine of, uh, eating your frog before you do anything else and without taking too much time to think about it. This habit is well adopted by many successful people. So much so that I consider it an essential leadership quality for any CEO or person who wants to be successful who intends to accomplish great things. The next takeaway from Eat That Frog is that you must take action immediately. Successful, effective people are, uh, those who launch directly into their major tasks and then discipline themselves to work steadily and single mindedly until those tasks are complete. Failure to execute is one of the biggest problems in organizations today. Many people confuse activity with accomplishment. They talk continually, hold endless meetings and make wonderful plans. But in the final analysis, no one does the job and gets the results required. Your dream and all of those potential benefits from achieving your dream will not do anyone any good, uh, until you take action on your thoughts and feelings. Set the goal and then get going.
(Back to host)
Every successful goal starts with a good plan which means you have to define your goals. Clarity is an essential part of productivity: you can’t work unless you know what you have to do. So figure out what tasks matter the most – the first step in overcoming procrastination.
It’s a good idea to write your goals down instead of trying to sort them out in your head. Here’s an important fact to remember: only three percent of adults manage their time with written goals, and they accomplish five to ten times as much as other people. Even highly educated individuals are less productive than those who write down their goals.
After you’ve outlined your goals, plan your time in advance. Break your goals down into a series of steps you can deal with one after another. And use checklists. They help you visualize your goals. When you look back on the tasks you’ve completed, you’ll feel proud. You’ll also be more motivated to keep going!
Did you know productivity improves by 25 percent when you work from a list? You save a lot of time when you don’t have to decide what to do. Finally, work even more efficiently by using the 80/20 rule, also called the Pareto Principle. The 80/20 rule says that every list of ten tasks should include two that are much more important than the others. Focus on those two.
Most people mistakenly focus on the easy things first – the 80 percent – and procrastinate on the 20 percent that really matters.
Next you have to set your priorities. First, think about the consequences of your actions. What do you want to achieve? People who envision how they’ll feel in the future are much more likely to make the best everyday decisions.
Research has backed this up. In fact, a study from Harvard showed that having long-term goals is the highest indicator of social mobility. It’s an even bigger indicator than education level or social background.
The ABCDE method is a useful tool for helping you stick to your priorities. In the ABCDE method, you write a list of tasks and assign each of them a letter from A to E. The A items are the highest priority, while the Es can be skipped if you don’t have time. The A tasks are your ‘frogs’, so ‘eat’ them first. Accomplishing your A tasks first is the key to success. Don’t stop until your work is done. Focus all of your willpower on completing your goals.
All of this means you need to be willing to learn about yourself and keep exploring and adapting. There are a few ways to do this. First, you need the right environment. Find a space where you can truly think for and be yourself and make sure it’s clean.
Next, see that everything you need is ready to go. Collect whatever is necessary for accomplishing your most important tasks. You need all the ingredients. Another key part of knowing yourself is understanding your own skills. Everyone has a special talent that makes them unique. Find yours, then maximize its potential.
Finally, never stop improving. You can always get better at what you do. Never stop learning either. Always try to refine your skills – you’ll prevent them from deteriorating and gain more confidence. Think about all the opportunities you have to keep learning. Take advantage of the situation you’re in – set yourself on the path to self-improvement!
Your body is the engine of your success – don’t forget that. A machine functions better if it’s maintained well, so take care of yourself. When you’re physically and mentally energized, you’ll work much more effectively.
Don’t exhaust yourself, either. Did you know your productivity starts to decline after eight hours of continuous work? A human wears down just like a machine that’s been running for too long. When you’re well rested, you’ll be much more efficient. So get eight hours sleep every night.
It’s also important to figure out what time of day you’re most productive. Most people work best in the morning after a good night’s sleep. When do you feel most creative and sharp?
Ultimately, train yourself to be a self-motivating machine. Your thoughts have a big impact on your emotions, so become your own number one supporter. Apparently 95 percent of our emotions result from the way we talk to ourselves. Your thoughts create your reality, so strive for optimism: find the good in every situation, learn lessons from your setbacks and look for the solution to every problem.
Another important part of self-discipline is creative procrastination. Creative procrastination means consciously choosing which activities you can postpone or skip.
Acknowledge what’s holding you back in order to overcome it. A number of things can limit you, like people, personal weaknesses or a lack of resources. Nearly anything can hold you back if you let it. But be careful: it’s tempting to blame the external world for your failures. People often get frustrated with their jobs or families when things get tough, thinking they’re the root of the problem.
So don’t overlook your internal limiting factors too. In the beginning, you might lack the skills, experience or abilities you need to achieve your goal. But focus on one task at a time otherwise you can end up overwhelmed.
Set the bar high for yourself. Don’t wait for other people, like your boss or loved ones, to push you toward what you want. Be your own source of motivation.
Here’s a trick to use: imagine you just learned you’re going on a surprise vacation tomorrow. What would you have to do before leaving? Those are the tasks you should take care of right away. Make a habit of this and you’ll find yourself eating the frog regularly.
One more key element is time management. You can’t split up every task, unfortunately. The biggest tasks often require long stretches of unbroken attention. It’s useful to keep a clear map of the day in your mind. If you’re struggling to schedule your time effectively, start making appointments with yourself – and stick to them. Breaking your day down into time slots can be helpful.
And even though planning is essential, don’t wait too long before you take action. You can only experience the mental state of flow when you’re working consistently. Flow occurs when ideas come to you easily. You’ll be more creative and perform better and more easily when you’re in your flow.
You’ll enter a state of flow when you develop a sense of urgency about the task you need to perform. Don’t just talk about it – act now and get it done. Eat the frog and you’ll gradually gain an inner drive that pushes you beyond your current limits. Set yourself on the right path, stay dedicated and you’ll reach your goals!
So to sum up:
Dr Fiore says in The Now Habit that nobody is born lazy. In fact, putting off work – procrastinating – mostly has to do with learning a negative attitude towards work as children. Since it’s something learned, procrastination can also be unlearned by a changing our mind-set. So schedule your work around play and the things you really enjoy. This way, the time you spend working is limited and therefore has to count. Plus, you have the added benefit of not having to sacrifice play for the sake of work.
Tracy says in Eat That Frog! that you can defeat procrastination by figuring out who you are and what you want to achieve. Confront your limitations, plan your time and eat your frogs! When you complete your most important tasks first, you’ll train yourself to stay on the road to success. He recommends to-do lists as a result.
I am notorious at procrastinating, and I’ve read that sometimes it can be due to anxiety. At the same time, procrastination isn’t always a bad thing because we do need down time too. Please join in on the conversation by following @howtobe247 on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, and subscribe on the podcast, which can be found via http://www.howtobe247.com.
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Before we go, here is Stephanie Larsen, an experienced yoga instructor and expert in mind body connection and neuropsychology, and runs her own practice, Una Doyle, a business strategist and impact coach for SMEs at CreativeFlow.TV, and the host of the She Leads Business Podcast, Gillian McMichael, a transformational coach, founder of Full Circle Global and the author of Coming Home: A Guide to Being Your True Self, as well as Executive Coach & Motivational Speaker Keith L. Brown on their thoughts.
See you in two week’s time.
STEPHANIE LARSEN: It is helpful for people to understand where the pattern of procrastination came from and why they do it. I find mostly it comes from having caregivers who dictated or impose their will onto um, the person when they were little and their mind and sense of self was forming without connection or understanding their inner motives. Since the adult didn’t help connect the child to what they were thinking and feeling inside, that motivated or demotivated their behavior. The child is more detached from their emotions and drive to do something. They are doing things because it feels like they have to, not because they want to or have learned how to overcome doing something you don’t feel like doing but need to do. A person is also motivated to maintain agency or control. So the person learns to do this through waiting until the last minute to maintain control. This pattern starts to take on a life of its own. Is the lack of understanding as to why one is procrastinating remains, but the pattern of not doing things in a timely way starts to become part of the person’s identity. They think of themselves as not good enough lazy a procrastinator. To get out of this pattern, the first thing you want to do is understand how this pattern came to be. Then stop identifying with being a procrastinator or in other words, thinking of yourself as a procrastinator. Lastly, connect to your emotions, thought patterns and physical body to better understand what you want and what is driving you. Think of yourself as someone who is and has always been capable of being productive in a timely way.
UNA DOYLE: Why do we do it and how do we overcome that hurdle? Well, I think what’s really clear to me is to make sure that you get clear on what isn’t in flow for you. So, ah, what are you naturally capable of doing and drawn to doing because of your natural strengths and personality. And so if what you’re looking to do is in flow then the chances are it’s probably some kind of mindset issue that’s getting in the way. Typically fear of failure and also fear of success, which they’re just two sides of the same coin. So the way to overcome the hurdle of procrastination is to make sure that you work out the ways of working the strategies that suit you, uh, to do the inner work in terms of letting go of any negative patterns that are causing you to procrastinate. And then there’s one further thing that you can do as well, which is just to get really clear on what are the next few steps. Sometimes when we set I work with a lot of creative people, I am a creative person sometimes we have very big ambitious goals, um, and don’t necessarily take the time to get into the detail of what will be one step towards that goal. What would be the next step after that? We don’t necessarily need to have the detail whole year’s plan, but we do need to know those next few steps. And when we take those, then the next few steps naturally unfold uh, once we actually get going on it. And there is one other thing that can really help people overcome procrastinate that I recommend all the time and it’s a platform called Focusmate. So Focusmate, uh.com, and it’s a virtual video, uh, coworking platform. And so it’s basically like making an appointment to do something but you have to show up because there’s somebody else there. So I would check that out as well.
GILLIAN MCMICHAEL: Most of us have suffered from procrastination some stage in our lives. We’re very busy, we’re living in a complex world. Life is hectic and chaotic and we have way too many thoughts and way too many tasks to do. And procrastination can paralyze us and stop us from doing the things we need to. Fear usually sits underneath procrastination. Fear of failing, fear of getting something wrong, not being accepted, not doing it well enough can really affect whether we take action or we procrastinate. So how can we stop procrastinating? How can we overcome this hurdle that we all have faced with and are uh, commonly dealing with? Simple. Get your to do list and break it down into manageable tasks. The thing that you are dreading to do the most. Do it first and reshape your priority list and make sure that you scroll or tick off one thing at a time. The only way you can overcome procrastination is by just doing it. Do the task you need to do, no excuses and just try as much as you can to get on with it.
KEITH L. BROWN: Procrastination does not pave the way for success. Pave procrastination alienates validation and elevation. Many people procrastinate due to anxiety and low self esteem over past mistakes as well as poor time management skills. But there is hope. Number one give yourself permission to make mistakes. You are not perfect. Number two have a written to do list, either on your phone or where you can see it when you first wake up in the morning. Number three, say this affirmation daily. I can, I will, I must. And I got this. Yes, you do. Be empowered.