10 Powerful Strategies For Overcoming Procrastination (and Saving Time)
Surely you’ve heard the old cliché that says, “We are our own worst enemy.”
It’s cliché because it’s true. Nothing and no one hinders us, blocks us, and holds us back as much as we do, ourselves. By far our worst enemy, and our biggest obstacle to success, is our own resistance.
Personal growth, progress and success are all forms of change; and there is a deeply rooted, mostly unconscious part of us that resists change, even if it’s change for the better.
This inner resistance can show up in a lot of ways, like laziness, cowardice, complacency, pessimism and self-doubt. But for me, at least, the biggest, most common and most dangerous form of resistance by far is procrastination.
We all have dreams, right?
Maybe you have a brilliant idea for a novel or a business. Maybe you want to start a meditation practice, find inner peace and enlightenment. Or maybe your goal is to start exercising, get in shape, become more healthy and fit.
Whatever it is that you dream of doing, to make yourself a better person, and the world a better place, I’m willing to bet that the number one obstacle to your achieving that dream is procrastination.
Moment by moment, day by day, we just keep going about business as usual; doing what we need to do to get through today, always putting off our highest calling until tomorrow. As if we will live forever. Like we have all the time in the world.
“I’ll get around to it someday,” we think to ourselves. “But right now I’ve got better things to worry about. I’ve got too much on my plate.”
The problem is, of course, that someday never comes. Days turn into weeks, turn into months, turn into years, and we are no closer to achieving our goals, or living the life we long for, deep down.
Well it’s time to stop putting it off. Here are 10 powerful strategies you can use to overcome procrastination, and start making the most of your life today.
1. Make A Schedule (And Stick To It!)
One of your most powerful weapons in the fight against procrastination is your habits. But like any sharp weapon, it can cut both ways.
For instance, you can get in the habit of waking up on time, and getting an early start to your day. Or you can fall into the habit of hitting the snooze button three or four (or twelve) times, oversleeping, and starting every day behind schedule.
Use the power of habit-forming to your benefit! Make a schedule, a daily routine. Set aside the same block of time every day to work on your projects. Whenever you get your best ideas, or do your best work.
For me, it’s in the morning, after a shower and a cup of coffee. For you, it might be in the afternoon, when you just get home from work. Or after midnight, when everyone else is asleep.
But whatever your decide, stick to it! Don’t make excuses to yourself, like “Oh, it’s okay if I just skip one day… So-and-so is coming over, and my favorite show is on.”
NO! It’s not okay. That’s how bad habits take root. Skipping that one time is the first step on a slippery staircase that spirals down into procrastination, failure, darkness and despair.
Don’t do that to yourself. Don’t do that to your dreams.
Stick to the plan. Tell so-and-so to get lost. Forget the stupid show. Make this the day you turn things around, and start forming new habits. Good habits that lead to progress, growth, success, self-esteem, and awesomeness.
2. Start With Something Easy
So you’re facing a huge to-do list, and it seems overwhelming, and it just makes you wanna forget the whole thing and go bury your head in the sand. I’ve been there. I feel your pain.
But don’t give up! There is still hope.
Here’s what you do: pick the easiest, most insignificant thing on the list. One of those little tasks that only takes a couple of minutes, but you’ve been putting it off forever. Like changing the light bulb in the spare bedroom, or calling to make an appointment, whatever.
It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it’s quick and easy; no stress, no pressure. Go do that one simple thing. Now come back to your list, and cross it off.
Ahhh… doesn’t that feel good? See how easy that was! Now pick something else quick and easy, and go get that done. Cross it off.
Whoa – now you’re really on a roll!
The idea is that doing these simple little things builds momentum. Just the act of accomplishing something, no matter how small, and crossing it off the list, helps you to shift gears and get in an active and productive frame of mind.
3. Break Up The Big Jobs
But there are still some things on your list that are pretty intimidating, right? Sure, you can change a light bulb or make a phone call, no problem – but eventually you’re gonna have to face the whopper, the Big Job, the long term project that requires months of work.
Stop right there. There shouldn’t be any big jobs on your to-do list. If your list has things in it like “Write novel” or “Fix up Grandpa’s old Camaro,” then you’re doing it wrong.
Break up those big projects into bite-size morsels that you an handle in one sitting. Instead of “Write novel,” it should be “Draw up outline for novel” or “Write 1,000 words.” Fixing up the old Chevy can be broken down into “Rebuild carburetor” or “Fill in dent in passenger door.”
The idea is that you never put anything on your list that you can’t accomplish in one day. Take those big, intimidating jobs and reduce them to a series of simple, manageable steps. And as you complete each step, you cross it off and add the next step to the list.
That’s not so bad, now is it?
4. Embrace the Random
One of the most common ways that we get hung up is when we are facing a big decision, and we don’t know which way to go. Whether the decision is big or small, if we aren’t careful it can become a major stumbling block that keeps us stuck for God knows how long.
In this situation, it can be very helpful to introduce the element of chance. Flip a coin, roll the dice, or play “Eenie-meenie-miney-mo,” it doesn’t matter. The point is, instead of staying stuck in indecision, make the decision randomly.
Oftentimes you will have an immediate, gut reaction to the outcome, which clearly tells you how you really feel about it, and what you really want. So forget the coin flip and go with your gut.
Other times, you won’t have a noticeable reaction. In that case, go with the coin toss. Embrace the random, and see where it leads. You might find that it works out perfectly. Or you might find that after following that direction for awhile, it becomes quite clear that this wasn’t the way to go after all.
Either way, it’s better than being stuck wondering, not making any progress. Your time and effort isn’t wasted as long as you learn something from it.
5. Disable Distractions
Every day, it’s the same story. You sit down at your desk with the best of intentions – streamline your business plan, get that first chapter written, design the home page of your new website, etc.
But before you can even get started, you get a phone call. Or an email, or a Facebook notification, or… you fill in the blank. One thing leads to another, and the next thing you know two hours have gone by.
And what have you got to show for it?
Sound familiar? That, my friends, is distraction. And it can turn your productive workday into a huge waste of time, pretty darn quick.
Don’t let it happen to you. Remove every possible distraction you can think of. Disable those devices – your phone, tablet, TV, all of it (wait a minute… why do you have a TV in your office, anyway?). Close your internet browser. Disconnect your WiFi, unplug your router, whatever it takes.
Be preemptive. Be merciless.
Your success, your future, depends on it.
6. Remember What Drives You
Sometimes all it takes to overcome procrastination and get your ass in gear is to remember what it is that drives you, and why you wanted to __________ (meditate, exercise, start your own business, etc.) in the first place.
And I mean dig deep. Get to the root of your dream, the very heart of why you aren’t happy with the life you’re living now, and what you need to change in order to be true to your own soul.
Maybe ever since you were a child you’ve wanted to be a writer, and everything else you’ve ever done or tried felt fake, like you were living someone else’s life. Maybe you want to rebuild Grandpa’s old Chevy as a bonding experience with your son, a precious and sacred tradition to be passed down through the generations…
Only you can answer the question for yourself. But once you’ve gotten clear on why, remember it, focus on it, draw upon it as a source of inspiration.
That should light a fire under your behind, and motivate you to get moving, and get things done.
7. Try A Change Of Scene
If you continue to struggle with staying motivated, and being productive, maybe what you need is a change of scene. This is especially true if you’re working from home, where there are countless distractions gnawing at you, pulling your attention away from your projects.
So try taking your laptop down to the library, or the local coffee shop. (Studies suggest that the ambiance of these bustling public places can actually boost our creativity.)
Or go old-school, and take a pen and a spiral notebook down to the park, and sketch out your ideas in the open air and sunshine.
Or look into the new trend of shared office space. Maybe renting a cubicle, surrounded by other busy professionals, will help you focus and take care of business.
Your environment can have a big impact on your state of mind. Experiment until you find your perfect workspace, with the right conditions that get your creative engines humming.
8. Change Your Perspective
If a change of scene doesn’t do the trick, it might that you need a little change in perspective.
We don’t all respond well to pressure and stress – and it might be that chasing your dreams just feels a little too much like… well, work.
So switch it up. Find a way to take the pressure off, and make it fun. Imagine it’s a challenge, a puzzle, or a video game – and you have infinite lives. If you try something and it doesn’t work, no big deal! You can start over as many times as you want.
This might seem silly to you, but don’t dismiss it without giving it a try. Don’t underestimate the power and influence of your state of mind.
Find a way to shift your mindset, and the impossible becomes possible.
9. Reward Your Progress
As you cross things off the old to-do list, and take steps toward your goals, be sure to reward yourself for making progress.
At the end of each workday, for instance, you might reward yourself with some TV time, or indulge in a favorite snack (but only if you actually did do your work, no cheating). You might celebrate milestones and major victories by going out for dinner at your favorite restaurant, or by opening a bottle of expensive wine.
Obviously, your rewards shouldn’t be contrary to your long term goals (i.e. don’t celebrate weight loss by eating junk food). Just find a healthy way to celebrate the progress that you make, without setting yourself back.
This encourages future progress through positive reinforcement, actually building up neural pathways in your brain, and helping you to form new habits (see #1).
10. Be Mindful
Last but not least, you can put a stop to your procrastination habit by practicing mindfulness.
In fact, you could say that all of the strategies we’ve already covered actually depend upon mindfulness, because you can’t even address the problem unless you are aware of it first.
Procrastination is ultimately a lack of awareness. It happens when we aren’t conscious of our emotions, our motivations, our decisions and actions and the consequences that they bring.
By practicing mindfulness in your life, you cultivate the kind of self-awareness that short circuits the procrastination habit. You become more present in the moment, more conscious and in control of your life.
And then, my friend, you can do anything.