How to Beat Procrastination

'Mount Everest'Do you procrastinate?

If so, welcome. This post is for you!

The reason I am writing about procrastination is that so many of us seem to suffer from this. That sense of ‘stuckness’, not being able to move forward with something, or just constantly putting things off.

So what can you do about this? How can you beat procrastination so you get back on top of things again?

Not moving forward with something is often about a sense of overwhelm, of confusion. A task too huge to contemplate, or simply not knowing where to start. Your own ‘Mount Everest’.

When this affects us, we often simply ‘freeze’ – a classic stress response – and feel unable to move forward.

Instead, just as you would if you really climb Mount Everest, have a go at just getting to base camp first. Just make a start.

Consider now, what would your ‘base camp’ for this task be? What is your first step? Something you feel confident you can actually achieve in the time available?

As the Chinese proverb goes: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with but a single step.”

Let me give you an example from one of my clients.  She felt overwhelmed by the enormity of sorting out her study.  As a result, she’d put this task off for over a year.  As the days and months ticked by, the job weighed ever more heavily on her shoulders. And of course the task grew larger – both in her mind and in reality. It just felt too huge, too overwhelming to start.

When I asked her to consider what she could achieve in one week, she replied that she could sort it all out.  But the task still weighed heavily on her shoulders. So I then asked her what she really could achieve in one week. She identified one element of sorting this study that she was confident she could achieve success with in seven days.

I asked her how she’d feel once she’d achieved that task. What difference that would make. She identified the sense of relief and of getting started, of taking her control back again. She could even imagine how she’d feel when she finished sorting the whole study. It felt good.

My client laughed. She realised that she often sets the bar too high for herself and as a result fails in what she sets out to achieve.  This fuels her sense of overwhelm and failure and leads to even more procrastination.

Instead, we’d discovered something that she felt she could realistically achieve – sorting out her email inbox.

For some, this would be too large a task.  Their first step might be to spend just one hour sorting out the study, or to sort through just one pile of papers, or to spend 20 minutes each day sorting out. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that it feels to be something that you can realistically achieve in the timescale.

The next week, when I saw my client, her relief was palpable. She told me the task turned out not to be anywhere near as large as she thought it would be. It was such a relief to feel she’d already started to sort the study.  For the first time in months, she felt she was moving forwards. She felt successful.

Steps to beat procrastination

  1. Work out what it is you’re putting off
  2. Identify what would be your first step
  3. Check that step is realistic in your timeframe
  4. Once you’ve identified a realistic first step and a deadline, commit to that – write it down, tell a trusted friend perhaps
  5. Imagine how you’ll feel, and how things will be different when you’ve achieved that step
  6. Start!
  7. Notice your success – pat yourself on your back, tell your friend
  8. Repeat as many times as needed
  9. Enjoy the sense of motivation and momentum. Enjoy your success!

Do let me know too. Then I can celebrate with you!

If you want to know more on the subject of how to beat procrastination, take a look at this fun talk from Master of Procrastination, Tim Urban.

Just make a start. Start with your single step!

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