How to Stop Procrastinating
Q: I’ve tried everything to stop procrastinating but nothing works. Do you have a method I can use to end my procrastination cycle once and for all?
A: First you need to know that not all procrastination is bad. Something I’ve long touted are the concepts of positive and negative procrastination. Think about your self-talk right now. Is it supporting you and giving you legitimate reasons to put things off? Or is it an excuse you’re making because you don’t feel like doing something? All procrastination comes back to what you say to yourself. Sometimes we say, Oh, it doesn’t really matter. I’ll do that later. No one cares. Or sometimes we might say, You know, I just don’t feel like doing that right now. That’s negative procrastination.
If you do nothing, that is exactly what you’ll get—nothing. If you do something, the possibilities are endless.
A legitimate thing to say to ourselves, when it’s true, might be, I need to take a little bit of time to gain more valuable insight before I make that decision. That’s positive and strategic procrastination. Even if you say, I need to sleep on it tonight, that’s positive procrastination because you know you’ll make a better decision if you let your intuition work throughout the evening.
Related: Why It’s OK to Procrastinate
Generally speaking, negative procrastination is putting tasks off when you shouldn’t. To make improvements, you need to take charge of your time and your life. Here are a few ways to contradict the negative self-talk that leads to procrastination.
Thought: I can do it tomorrow.
Ask yourself: What can I get started on now that will help me complete this project?
Thought: I don’t have everything I need, so I’ll wait.
Ask yourself: What can I do now with what I have on hand?
Thought: I don’t have time right now.
Ask yourself: What can I do in the next 10 minutes that will move me toward the result I want?
Thought: Someone else can do it better.
Say to yourself: Even if someone else can do this better, it’s my task and my responsibility. I might even get better as I keep working on it.
Thought: I just don’t feel like it right now.
Say to yourself: I’ll just do five minutes of work on this. Once I start the task, I’ll slowly begin making progress.
Getting started is the most difficult part. But to produce results, you must dive in at some point. If you do nothing, that is exactly what you’ll get—nothing. If you do something, the possibilities are endless.
Let’s take a short assessment to see how much you procrastinate. Rate yourself from one to 10 on these four questions, with one being often and 10 being never.
Do you regularly push tasks aside because you tell yourself you don’t have enough time?
Do you find yourself putting off things because of lack of clarity? Do you make things too complex?
Are you not productive or fast enough because you’re too focused on perfection?
How often do you let distractions become the basis for your procrastination?
How did you do? If your score was less than 25 follow these simple steps to overcome your negative procrastination.
1. Rise early.
Many people hit the snooze button for five or 10 extra minutes of sleep rather than rising when they intend to. It’s better to begin your day calm and collected rather than rushing around in the morning. You can overcome procrastination by starting your day on the right foot.
2. Create momentum.
By identifying and doing little things when you have open minutes here and there, you can complete enough small tasks to become more motivated. That momentum keeps you from procrastinating and helps you finish tasks with time to spare.
3. Motivate yourself.
Make to-do lists and mark off items once you complete them. There’s nothing like the satisfaction you feel when you accomplish something.
4. Practice Production Before Perfection (PBP).
This could be the most important of all my time-management concepts. It applies to most people, and that probably includes you. How many tasks are you procrastinating on right now because you want them to be perfect? It’s often best to jump in and make things happen first, and then you can perfect as you go.
Let me give you an example: Are taxes something that need to be perfect, or if not perfect, pretty close? Yes. Then does that mean you have to wait to get started on them until you get every W-2 or investment document together? No. You can start working on your taxes each month of the year by keeping track of your taxable expenses and holding on to receipts.
There are a few exceptions, of course. If you’re building a helicopter, you have to get that pretty perfect. Or if you’re a doctor performing surgery, you have to execute impeccably. But for what most people are doing, things don’t have to be perfect. Good enough is OK.
Get going, and then make improvements as you go!
Related: TED Talks: ‘Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator’
Have questions for The RESULTS Guy? Send them to [email protected].
This article originally appeared in the February 2017 issue of SUCCESS magazine.
Tony Jeary is an author, executive coach and presentation strategist. Jeary has published more than three dozen books about making presentations and strategic effectiveness. He coaches the world's top executives from companies such as Wal-Mart, Ford, New York Life and Texaco.
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