I procrastinate because I’m a perfectionist. On an emotional level, it’s better to not do it at all then to feel like it’s not perfect. Most people procrastinate for the same reason, not because they’re lazy. Rather, they fear failure and psychologically they view something that’s not perfect as failure.
Clients share with me frustrations about not getting things done. They put off reading, exercise, eating healthy, hobbies, getting up early, going to bed early, building friendships, meeting new people, preparing for work projects, going on a dates with their spouse, and more. They know what they need to do, but they don’t do it.
Here are 4 strategies I use to help myself and clients overcome procrastination.
Key #1: Count the Cost if You Procrastinate
Identify tasks where, if you continue to procrastinate, the consequences could be significant in the long run. Activities, that if you neglect them, will harm friendships, hurt family, or cause long term health consequences. Connect how neglecting to do something now will impact your future in a negative way. The potential pain caused by not getting the most important things done is motivating.
Here are the types of comments I hear from clients as they count the cost.
“If I don’t overcome my fear of flying, I won’t be a viable candidate for a promotion.”
“Continuing to neglect my friendships will leave me with a lonely life 20 years from now.”
“If I keep neglecting my health like this, I will become diabetic.”
“Not challenging myself to learn and grow professionally is decreasing my career options.”
“If we don’t live by our budget, we’ll never have financial independence.”
Pay attention when you have thoughts like these. They’re clues to where you need to invest your energy. Feel the potential pain now so you won’t need to live with the consequences later. If you keep avoiding getting things done in an important area of your life (i.e. health, marriage, spiritually, etc.) what might be the long term cost?
Key #2: Break Down Tasks
If you keep putting off a project or feel overwhelmed by something you need to get done, break it down into 3 – 5 different manageable steps. Writing down steps and viewing them visually will psychologically allow you to start seeing the project as manageable. View each 15 minute increment of focused attention on a project as progress regardless of whether you complete the task or not. In actuality, each 15 minutes of focused attention is a step towards achieving your goal. Procrastination will become less of a temptation as you make projects more achievable.
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Key #3: Ask for Help
Ignoring my ego and asking for help is hard for me. Being vulnerable by letting people know I’m struggling almost always helps me. Support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Weight Watchers work when people openly share their challenges and accept the support of others. For years, my friend Dave and I asked each other questions weekly about important life areas that we tend to neglect. These conversations helped find new perspectives and prioritize the right people and tasks. What people can you ask for help in the areas you’re avoiding?
Key #4: Strategically Procrastinate
Give yourself the freedom to say “no”, delegate, and move slowly on many tasks. Neglect and disappoint the RIGHT tasks and people (i.e. those not high in importance). Using the 4 Quadrants of Time Management Matrix can help you see where you should focus. Maybe you should neglect cleaning your house so you can have more time with your friends today. Maybe you should hold off on responding to email so you can leave the office and go to the gym. Prioritizing the most important activities in your life pushes the less important to the side. Scheduling your priorities blesses you with legitimate reasons to say “no”. What are some things that should be less of a priority in your life?
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