I am 44 years old and a fairly successful executive with the federal government, but I’m also the world’s worst procrastinator! My question is this: How can I stop? Urgent, please help!
Procrastination is the easiest problem in the world to cure, and I’ll prove it. Think of a task you’ve put off. Now stop reading this blog and go do it. At the very least begin it. Don’t finish reading this until you’ve done that.
****Stop here and go do something you’ve put off.
Welcome back! And congratulations, you’ve just learned how to cure yourself of procrastination. Next time you find yourself about to putt off a task, drop whatever you’re doing and wade into it. Don’t think about it. Don’t weigh the pros and the cons. Don’t keep telling yourself you’re a procrastinator. And for goodness sake don’t tell yourself that you have more important things to do. Just do what you’ve been putting off, or at least begin it, and you’ll find that your tendency to procrastinate is a thing of the past.
If you think I’m joking about this, or taking it lightly, you’re missing the point. Procrastination is one of the greatest obstacles to success. But it’s also one of the easiest to overcome. All you have to do is to take action on something you’ve been putting off. Any action will do the trick, no matter how trivial. In fact, the easier you make it on yourself to take action, the easier you make it on yourself to beat procrastination.
Think small. If you are so intimidated by a task that you just can’t face it, break that task into smaller steps. Then tackle each step one at a time. Start with a step that doesn’t intimidate you. You don’t even have to start at the beginning. You can start in the middle if you want, or you can start at the end. But whatever you do, start. The moment you take action—any action—you beat procrastination.
Just remember, don’t tell yourself to stop procrastinating, tell yourself to start doing whatever it is you’ve put off. Focus on what you want to do and not what you want to avoid. The human brain can’t tell the difference between a mental image of what you want and a mental image of what you don’t want. Whatever you picture clearly enough in your mind, your mind will try to reproduce in your life. So if all you can think about is procrastinating, that’s exactly what you’ll do. To avoid that trap, think about what you want to do (the task you want to get started on) instead of what you want to avoid (procrastinating).
If you really want to beat procrastination, turn that new mindset into a habit. Whenever you’re tempted to put off a task, drop whatever you’re doing and start on that task. Do this for thirty days, without missing a day, and I guarantee that your procrastinating days will be behind you for good.
There is a special case of procrastination called “avoidance behavior” that occurs when you’re trying to avoid a particularly intimidating task. Run of the mill procrastination is just a bad habit. With a little practice, you can correct that habit. But avoidance behavior is far more challenging. The only way to beat it is to tackle it head on.
If you’re showing symptoms of avoidance behavior, try this simple cure and it will change your life. When you start work each morning, choose the task that you most want to avoid and make that the first thing you do. It might be a phone call you’ve been dreading, or a conversation with an associate, or a chore you find particularly distasteful. Whatever it is, do it first. Make your mission in life to do it first. Tape the words “Do It First!” to the dashboard of your car. Tape them to your bathroom mirror. Tape them to your computer at work. Repeat them to yourself ten times a day. Write them on a pad of paper ten times a day. Before you know it, you will have created a new habit. Then, when you’re faced with a task that you’re tempted to put off, you’ll hear a little voice in your head say, “Do it first!” You’ll start looking forward to tasks you used to dread, because you will no longer be afraid of them. You will no longer waste time inventing ways to avoid these distasteful tasks because you will have conditioned yourself to do them first.
Procrastinate Your Way To Success
We all know about the downside of procrastination. What about the upside? Procrastination is one of the most powerful success skills in existence, a skill that can help you change your life. You just have to learn to apply it to those things that are holding you back.
When you’re tempted to do something that you know you shouldn’t do, such as eating too much, drinking too much, playing hooky, or blowing up at a colleague, simply put it off. Don’t deny your feelings. Don’t forbid the urge. Don’t threaten yourself. Don’t get down on yourself. Just procrastinate. Put off until tomorrow whatever counter-productive behavior might tempt you today. If you want to eat a hot fudge sundae you know you shouldn’t eat, just put it off. If you want to cuss out your boss, put it off. If you want to yell at your kids, put it off. If you want to start smoking again, put it off. If you’re tempted to drink too much, put it off.
The beauty of procrastination is that it gives you nothing to resist, nothing to rebel against, because you’re not telling yourself no, you’re telling yourself later. When later comes, the urge may have passed. If not, just put it off again. Keep putting it off, and later will never come. Then you’ll understand how to take advantage of procrastination, instead of letting it take advantage of you.