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Seven Ways to Overcome Procrastination

Posted on October 28th, 2009 - last modified on January 30th, 2010

20% of people identify themselves as chronic procrastinators. Some call it “the silent killer.”  It strikes everywhere. We all want to avoid the pain or discomfort of doing something we feel is boring, stupid, pointless, hard, risky, possibly emotionally painful, or whatever other terms your procrastinating mind has come up with to avoid doing it.

For these 20%, procrastination is a lifestyle, although a miserable and unhappy one.  It promotes guilt, anxiety and fear.  It affects all areas of life.  Bills don’t get paid on time.  Opportunities are missed.   Gift certificates expire.  Income tax gets filed late.  Christmas shopping isn’t done until it’s panic time on Christmas Eve.  The house doesn’t get cleaned until company is at the door.

Overcoming procrastination is not a trivial matter.  As a culture, we seem not to take it seriously and jokes are made about it,  but it is a profound problem for those who suffer with it.   Jobs are lost, marriages break up, students flunk out of school and houses are foreclosed on.

Procrastination is not a problem of time management.  Procrastinators are no different from anyone else in their ability to estimate time, although they may be more optimistic than others in how much time they have to do something.  They just can’t seem to get it together.

Procrastinators tell lies to themselves:  Lies such as, “I’ll feel more like doing this tomorrow,”  or “I work best under pressure.”  They also protect their sense of self by saying, “This work really isn’t so important.”  They pretend that being under time pressure makes them more creative.  But they don’t turn out to be more creative.

People procrastinate for different reasons.  There are three basic types of procrastinators:

a.  Arousal types or thrill-seekers - Those who wait until the last minute for the euphoric rush of adrenaline to start pumping under time pressure.

b.  Avoiders - Those who may be avoiding fear of failure or even fear of success, but in either case are very concerned with what others think of them.  They would rather have others think they lack effort or are lazy than that they lack ability.

c.  Decisional procrastinators - Those who cannot make a decision.  Not being able to make a decision absolves procrastinators of the responsibility for the outcome of events.

There are big costs associated with procrastination.  The stress of it weighs health costs down.  Procrastinators tend to have compromised immune systems with more colds and flu, and more gastrointestinal problems.  They also have more insomnia.   The missed payments increases late fees and charges.  There is also a high cost to others.  It shifts the burden of responsibilities to others who then become resentful.  It destroys teamwork in the workplace.  It adversely affects personal relationships.

Seven  Ways to Overcome Procrastination

1. Recognize that there is more pain in procrastinating than doing the tasks you are avoiding.  Once you realize the true amount of pain in each of the choices, it will be easier to get things done.

2. Force yourself to do something before you absolutely have to do it,  and your self-esteem will increase.  And the next time you consider procrastinating, remember that when you did force yourself to do what you didn’t want to do, you felt better when the task was completed.  Remember that there was a good reward when you were finished.  This will give you a push forward when you are thinking about procrastinating.

3. Create a flow.  Instead of doing nothing, begin by doing something.  Take out the garbage, make the beds, recycle the newspapers.  Just perform a few simple actions to create a flow and get a momentum going.  Once you’re in the flow and going forward, getting started with what you need to do will be much easier.  Cleaning up can help you to feel more motivated.  Messiness seems to reinforce procrastination.

4. Get some leverage.  Sometimes we procrastinate on big things, important things.  Perhaps you are blocked and unable to take the next step and fearing some deep personal pain.  If you are considering changing jobs or your career,  or taking the next step in your relationship, you are no doubt focusing on all the things that could go wrong.  What you need is some leverage to both push and pull you forward.

The way to get leverage is to take a pen and some paper and write down as many things as you can come up with that you will miss out on, not just now, but over the next few years, if you don’t take this step now.  Really dig deep down into yourself, and feel that pain that you will feel not just tomorrow but in a year and in the next five or ten years.

Then write down all the positive and wonderful things you are likely to experience if you make this decision and move forward to where you want to go. Write down all those things you will experience and feel, not just in the next few days, but in one year, two, five years or ten. Get the old carrot and stick to work for you.  Put the problem in a longer time perspective to really give it an emotional power punch.

5. How do you eat an elephant?  One bite at a time…  Don’t look at everything you have to do.  Feeling overwhelmed is a very common source of procrastination.  Break large tasks down into smaller ones. Write these small tasks all down as a list.  Focus on just getting that one small task or part of the big thing done. Then move on to the next.  Take it one step at a time and don’t let yourself think about what comes after that step.  Before you know it, you’ll be halfway there.

6. Change your beliefs.  If you work to change your view on reality, the problems that repeatedly put you into a procrastinating state might disappear.  Examine your beliefs. Ask yourself if you could see things in a more beneficial and effective way.

Realize that you can choose your belief system about yourself and the world. The past is not the future.  You don’t have to hang on to limiting beliefs based on past experiences if you choose not to.  You are living in the present moment.  You can choose what you believe, and you can change your habits.

7. Make a small deal with yourself.  Make a promise with yourself that you’ll work on something for just five minutes.  Tell yourself that after those five minutes you can do something else if you desire.  Make a note on your schedule when you will come back to the task and work another five minutes on it.  No matter how boring and unpleasant a task may be, you can often talk yourself into working five minutes on it.

Remember, the simplest way, the experts all agree, to get out of procrastination is to just start.

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