For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had difficulties overcoming my need for momentary recreation and focusing on my long-term goals instead. Being easily distracted by both noise and silence, I created the annoying habit of putting things off for as long as I humanly could, blocking every possibility that would push me towards my dream life. It took me years of practice to break this pattern of negative behavior and to increase the overall quality of my daily routine.
If you are a serial procrastinator like I used to be, then this article is a must-read for you! The following nine steps are laid out in such a way that it won’t have to take you years to beat the habit of procrastination, so you can finally start doing the things you care about the most.
Take small steps
Patience and perspective. These two babies are probably the most important characteristics you should adopt if you want to be successful. Honestly, I am astonished by how undervalued these traits are, despite being constantly praised and emphasized by the most successful entrepreneurs such as Gary Vaynerchuk and Grant Cardone. However, I can also relate to how difficult it can be to change certain behaviors that have been enshrined in your system for as long as you can remember.
In today’s modern society of Social Media, we are constantly reminded of the importance of having high aspirations and big dreams. Although I’m not arguing against it, I do however, need to add a few things to this notion. Living in an age in which people share their successes publicly more than ever before, it is easy to get caught up in the never-ending game of ‘’who has most?’’. Meanwhile, the majority of us forget that the most successful people on this planet earned their success over time, and made a boatload of effort to get where they are today.
So next time you’re in a hurry, don’t forget: no matter which mountain you want to climb, you cannot jump to the summit. Real growth takes time and small steps build momentum. So in the future, when you need to take care of a project or achieve a specific goal, make sure you break it down into little stepping stones that are more attainable, which in turn will help you to get started with less resistance.
Focus on your ‘’why’’
Reminding ourselves of the very reasons why we want to accomplish things is the biggest motivator and probably the best way to get our butts to work. Likewise, doing things just for the sake of doing them usually creates the opposite effect. Someone once told me, ‘’Without a why, we’ll always cry’’. Though it didn’t make much sense back then, I definitely understand the underlying message behind it today.
We need to know why we do what we do. Moreover, to finish what we started, it is essential to have a compelling enough reason to begin something in the first place. Personally, I also like to remind myself frequently of the consequences of me not taking action. Having both the reward for persistence and punishment for laziness in mind, I feel better equipped to finish what I start.
Work with deadlines and non-negotiables
No matter what kind of task or project you need to take care of, make sure you always work with deadlines. Having an end date in sight is not so much about getting there as quickly as possible, it’s about having something to navigate towards with a sense of urgency, regardless of whether the target is attainable or not. Deadlines can always be adjusted along the way, if necessary. However, be sure that your reasons for postponing are valid and not because you have to watch the next episode of ‘’Stranger Things’’.
To make it easier for yourself, you can come up with a few non-negotiables that are related to your specific project. A non-negotiable is a daily task you commit yourself to, regardless of whether you feel like doing it or not. For example, you don’t argue with yourself about brushing your teeth twice a day, you just do it (I hope). It’s non-negotiable. A more suitable example of a professional non-negotiable could be:
‘’Until I meet deadline X of project Y, I will commit myself to writing 500 words each day / making 50 cold calls each day / creating 5 new videos each day, etc…’’
These are just a few examples. See if you can come up with one or two non-negotiables for yourself that are related to the things you care about the most.
Be gentle with yourself
This one is somewhat tricky, as it contains an interesting paradox. On one hand, you should hold yourself up to a high standard and be as strict as possible with the arrangements you make with yourself (and others for that matter). On the other hand, you have to accept that no one is perfect. There will be days in which you will not be able to deliver, due to either unforeseen circumstances or just utter laziness (keep in mind some days).
Either way, not being able to function at our maximum potential for whatever reason can be frustrating. However, the way we respond under these circumstances is a crucial indicator of whether we’ll be able to persevere or simply give up. Numerous psychological studies have proven that feelings of guilt and anxiety due to procrastination or not sticking to a commitment, result in an increased likelihood of relinquishing an endeavor in its entirety.
Simply put, beating yourself up with guilt and anxiety will only make things worse. Be kind to yourself and understand that self-forgiveness is an essential component of overcoming procrastination.
Identify the underlying cause of your procrastination
While procrastination may start out as a way of avoiding any type of affliction, it generally ends up in being exactly that. Scrutinizing the underlying cause of your behavior is therefore an imperative measure in order to gain more in-depth knowledge of what’s going on. Just think about it. Have you ever asked yourself why you procrastinate?
It may very well be that there is a deep-seated reason for your inclination to postpone every form of responsible action. Just take a brief moment to think about what’s holding you back. Is it plausible that it’s your fear lingering? Maybe it’s fear of failure, fear of commitment, fear of change, or maybe just fear of the unknown. Whichever it is, don’t be afraid to ask these questions and to confront yourself, for if not, you’ll carry these fears with you for so long until they seem inseparable from who you truly are.
Get rid of distractions
We all know how it goes. First thing we want to do when we wake up is check our smartphones and scroll through other people’s profiles on Instagram and Facebook. Likewise, first thing we want to do when we get home from a long exhausting day at the office is knock ourselves down in front of the television and watch another episode of our favorite show on Netflix. In fact, we are surrounded by distraction and recreation pretty much everywhere these days. Nonetheless, being surrounded by distractions cannot be a valid excuse for not executing on your mission.
If you want to get the best out of your day, you need to make a fresh start. You can do this by avoiding looking at your phone for at least the first 30 minutes of your morning and squeezing in a new healthy ritual or habit instead. This could be something like reading 10 pages, doing a guided morning meditation, or just going for a quick jog. By doing this, your body will put itself in victory mode. Furthermore, avoid checking your email before 11 a.m. and make sure you prioritize your tasks, starting with the most significant one. Make sure you have regular breaks and allow distractions only during this time.
Have someone holding you accountable
Sometimes doing something for ourselves is just not enough. Having a close friend or relative holding us accountable can therefore be of great benefit. The main reason is that, compared to ourselves, we generally find it less acceptable to let someone we care about down. It sounds kind of ironic, but if you think about it, it makes perfect sense. As soon as we involve other people, there is a good probability that our ego will get involved as well. Knowing that there is someone out there following every step we take, makes us want to prove ourselves worthy and not give up.
Yes! You should praise your efforts as much as you can. After all, what’s the point of achieving one victory after another without celebrating them along the way? If you sacrificed your precious time and energy to take care of business, you deserve to give yourself a nice treat. Allow yourself that guiltless time off, so you can fully enjoy the fruits of your labor.
Having a reward at the finish line is often an extra motivator to increase effort. Be aware though, when I say ‘’give yourself a nice treat’’, I don’t mean taking yourself out to fancy dinners every night or spending all your life savings. Just making sure we’re on the same page here…
Allow free time in your schedule
If you know that you’re having difficulties concentrating on certain types of tasks, you should squeeze in sufficient breaks in your schedule in order to regain a sense of clarity. Having intervals after working for every one hour to 90 minutes is highly recommended, as studies have shown that on average, peak performance drops after working constantly for longer than 90 minutes on the same task.
Similarly, if you attach great importance to your free time, you should time block leisure in your calendar and stick to it. There is no point in going through your day completely indecisive as a result of you being endlessly torn up between doing something ‘’fun’’ and doing something productive. Nonetheless, it goes without saying that if you’re doing something that you absolutely dislike or maybe even hate on a consistent basis, you should probably have another look at your calendar as a whole. I’ll reflect more on that in another article soon.