When faced with a boring, difficult or unrewarding task, many of us procrastinate.
As much as I like to think that I am self-motivated, I am as guilty as anyone of putting off projects that don’t inspire me, but are nonetheless important.
My son was working on a lengthy book report at the weekend which required a considerable amount of time, comprehension, writing and drawing. Given that the due date fell at the end of the Thanksgiving break, and he had left most of it until the last minute, we all felt the pain of his procrastination.
As I helped him figure out how to use his remaining time to complete the project, I shared a favorite Napoleon Hill quote: “Procrastination is the bad habit of putting off until the day after tomorrow what should have been done the day before yesterday.” He rolled his eyes at me. “I know what it is,” he said, “but how do I stop doing it?”
A very good question. I told him that we
procrastinate because there is usually an underlying reason for not wanting to get started. Once we figure that out, it’s easier to take steps to fix it.
Here are some tips I shared with him:
#1. Get Clarity
If procrastination is a problem for you, here are some questions to ask yourself:
Am I trying to do too much? Is there a way to break this task into smaller, more manageable actions?
Is this task too difficult because I lack knowledge? Do I need to do some research so I can figure out where to start?
Am I afraid that I’m not going to do this well? What have I done in the past that might make me believe I will be successful at this?
Am I aiming too high? Are my expectations realistic, or am I being a perfectionist?
Would I rather be doing something else with my time? If this task is not mandatory, is it worth my time? Could I delegate it to someone else?
Do I have enough time? Do I need to be more realistic about what I can achieve in the time I have to complete the project?
When you have an idea of what might be holding you back – overwhelm, lack of knowledge, fear of failure, self-criticism, lack of interest, lack of time – you can take steps to overcome the barrier.
#2. Find your motivation
If just figuring out what is holding you back isn’t enough get you going, one critical question to ask yourself is this: “How will I feel if I don’t complete this task?”
In my son’s case, the pain of having to face his class with an incomplete presentation was sufficient to motivate him through his initial procrastination. While he was down to the wire in terms of time, the fear actually motivated him to work quickly and efficiently to get the job done. Ultimately, he was also rewarded with a boost to his self-esteem.
Of course, all of us respond to different stimuli. For some, focusing on a reward is all that is needed to break through procrastination. For others, focusing on the pain of not succeeding is more motivating. Like many who procrastinate over projects, I have realized that what I need is accountability. If I don’t have a tangible deadline to work towards, I tend to lack ‘oomph’. I like deadlines because they force me to work faster and to block out distractions like doing laundry instead of writing.
#3. Use a planner
For working parents who struggle with their own procrastination, it can be hard to watch children do the same with homework and projects. To help everyone power though obstacles, encourage the use of a planner. Show children how to break large tasks into much smaller, more manageable pieces so they can see when each component needs to be completed in order to meet the deadline.
If you are completely stalled and a deadline (self-imposed or otherwise) is not motivating you, another way to break through procrastination is to just agree to start somewhere. In other words, just do something!
#4. Do something
You can create the necessary momentum by taking action on just two questions:
What is the smallest thing I can do to get started right now? (Open a Word document, pick up a pen, dial a number, stand on the treadmill, leash the dog).
What is the next, easiest step I can take? (Write one sentence, draw one figure, make one sales call, pay one bill, jog for 5 minutes, walk around the block).
Once you have achieved the smallest and easiest forward momentum, just keep going. Before you know it, you’re not procrastinating, you’re just doing it!