You know you need to get this one thing done.
It’s been sitting on your to-do list for two weeks now. It’s always nagging at your thoughts. You understand it’s important. You want to do it.
So why do you keep procrastinating?
Procrastination is a trap that many of us all into many times throughout the course of our life. Or let’s be honest, throughout the course of our month. Most of us consider it being lazy or unmotivated to do the work. Tim Urban of Wait But Why describes procrastination as “the action of ruining your own life for no apparent reason.”
In reality, procrastination is when we actively choose to do something that isn’t what we know we need to be doing.
We delay the important for something much less than.
And it’s not just you. It’s all of us. Our brains are programmed to seek easy rewards over meaningful ones because the easy rewards give us quicker feelings of accomplishment. That’s why we spend hours scrolling social media but struggle to spend 30 minutes working on a project. We get immediate reward from scrolling social media (new likes, pictures, content) whereas we don’t actually see or know the reward for working on that project.
Our brains love a tangible now reward over a not-quite-clear later reward.
The problem we run into is that the more we choose to procrastinate meaningful work for the meaningless work, the more we build that muscle (or habit) to continually do the same. We create a system of bypassing deep work that builds the big picture for shallow work that gives us the quick fix, like a drug addict’s high.
And you can’t overlook the mental turmoil that choosing procrastination creates when we get down on ourselves for procrastinating.
So how can we get our butts in gear and beat procrastination?
By getting started.
1. Come to grips with what you’re doing.
What’s the line? The first step is admitting you have a problem. We have to build our self-awareness and be honest with ourselves that we are procrastinating. Learn to pick up the key signals:
- You keep pushing important work down your to-do list until “tomorrow” or next week
- You know you need to start on something but keep choosing “busy” work that you can more quickly achieve.
- You start beating yourself up mentally about that one thing you “should have” already started.
You can start to catch yourself only after you learn to recognize when you begin sliding into the cycle of procrastination. Audibly tell yourself, “Jake, you’re procrastinating. Let’s stop pushing off the immediate for what is really important.”
2. Create a detailed plan of small steps.
After recognizing that you’re delaying the important, start sketching the initial steps of a plan to get the work done. Being vague destroys your chances of getting into gear, too. Take for example, writing this blog post (which ironically, I battled procrastination to get done).
1. Initially noticed I was putting off this post for more immediate tasks. I called myself.
2. Then I started writing an outline of the post. What small steps can I take to complete it? I started with making a mini-checklist of 6 items, such as:
- Name post.
- Research additional supporting data.
- Outline article.
- Write introduction.
- Write sub-plots
- Write closing
This gave me small, tangible targets to aim at getting started. Each time I achieved something, I was able to cross it off my life – giving my brain the short-term sense of accomplishment it craved while simultaneously moving my longer-term project forward.
This wouldn’t have worked if I’d written down:
- Write first draft
Those are two smaller steps to one article, but they’re vague. The first list of 6 steps gave me more concrete starting points to work off of. Unclear goals aren’t achieved goals. Be specific. Start small. Then…
3. Set a timer.
Start your clock and set a timer for five minutes. James Clear even recommends two minutes in Atomic Habits. The point is to set a timer for a really short amount of time to get you moving. You can stop after five minutes, but the hope is that once you get moving, you want to keep moving.
But if you don’t, you can stop after five minutes, knowing that you got started on something that you’d otherwise kept putting off. This can help build confidence in your ability to beat procrastination by showing that if you need to get started, you can (even if in short bursts of time).
0.1 > 0.
4. Commit to accountability publicly.
My friend Jason recently posted on Facebook his challenge to stop procrastinating his health & get it “back in gear.” He was vulnerable with his shortcomings and his commitment to improve. He then shared he’d be posting every day for accountability, and he wanted to be held to it.
He committed to stop procrastinating toward the challenging work of improving his health publicly, increasing his accountability to follow through. People saw he was doing this and would now expect him to a) stick to the work, and b) update them on the progress.
Be willing to share when you’re procrastinating and ask those closest to you to call you out if you don’t get it done by your set deadline.
5. Turn up the pre-game music and get going.
The last step to battling procrastination? Crank up your favorite Spotify playlist, hit Start on your timer and get after it. You don’t need to feel motivation, because at this point, you just need to get your butt in gear and GO.
Procrastination doesn’t have to rule your life. You don’t have to beat yourself up mentally for “feeling lazy” and can instead create a gameplan to overcome procrastination before you face it the next time.
Everyone fights procrastination.
Average people procrastinate the meaningful work because they don’t see immediate results. Champions create a plan to overcome their procrastination so they can complete the work required to win championships.
Pursue your victory.