Ask The Experts: How To Stop Procrastinating & Get Stuff Done
Are you a procrastinator? If so, you might be tempted to read the tips on how to stop procrastinating and do something “more important” first. (Read: Eat sweet and salty popcorn while debating about the creepiest American Horror Story plot line.) But, you shouldn’t do that. Because we have some simple, easy-to-follow things that can help you beat procrastination.
Procrastination happens. It’s an inevitable thing for the vast majority of us. However, there are ways we can overcome it. And when we do, that means less stress, fewer freakouts about deadlines, and more things crossed off your to-do list. The result is a happier, more productive you. Isn’t that starting to make you feel even just the tiniest bit more motivated? Keep it up and read the expert tips on how to stop procrastinating and how to actually get stuff done. You’re welcome.
Why We Procrastinate
Figuring out why we’re procrastinating can be the clue to unlocking why we never get around to doing a certain task. You need to be honest with yourself. Certified Mindful Stress Management Coach and Founder of The Quiet Zone Coaching Susan Petang explains that there are a number of reasons people procrastinate. They include being afraid of not being able to do the task/scared of failure, seeing it as hard and/or time-consuming, or resenting doing it because it is what someone else wants. Additionally, someone might not know how to do it.
On a deeper level, she says that a task could involve a life-changing goal and subconsciously we’re afraid of success. “Success means change, and change can be scary, even when it’s positive,” she states.
Are you being real with yourself and still struggling to figure out why you have a mental roadblock and procrastinate? Author of “Start Finishing: How to Go from Idea to Done” and founder of Productive Flourishing Charlie Gilkey says that it is often easier to understand procrastination by looking at what we do not procrastinate on. “Very few people need additional motivation, a productivity system, or an accountability buddy to eat ice cream or their favorite dessert,” he reasons.
He adds that other reasons why we might be procrastinating are we don’t have enough time to really engage with the task and we’ve lost touch with why it matters. This last point and fear of succeeding are the ones that can really get people stuck because they’ll often think of the other reasons why they’re procrastinating.
How To Stop Procrastinating
We’ve figured out why we’re procrastinating so the next thing to do is figure out how to overcome it. Petang says that begins with changing how we feel about the task involved. Additionally, weigh the pros and cons of a situation and decide whether you’ll be better off with or without the change. Gilkey says the first step is to figure out why this task matters do you. Consider how it ties into your bigger goals, values, aspirations, etc. “The more important the goal, aspiration, or value, the easier it’ll be to create the boundaries, discipline, and plan you’ll need to get started and keep going,” he points out.
Is it something you genuinely don’t want to do? e.g. a boring work project, taxes, chores In these situations, Petang encourages her clients to “embrace the distaste.” She explains, “Sometimes we just have to do what we have to do because it’s part of life that these things need to be done.” #RealTalk “Accept the way we feel about it (everyone hates doing ‘must-do’ tasks), but see it as part of life and reality,” she continues. “If it’s something we want to do but can’t get started, we can ask ourselves why we want it in the first place.”
Did your parents ever reward you and/or the dog for doing a good job? It likely had a positive effect in all cases. So, try a reward system for yourself. (It’s not cheating.) Sometimes, it doesn’t have to be a physical thing, like a cookie, but a positive affirmation such as “Hey, I not only got that done but did a great job, too!” says Petang. Alternatively, the reward could be checking your phone or a five-minute break.
Start Off Small
A lot of people can fall into the trap of procrastinating because they feel overwhelmed and they don’t know where to begin. And remember what we said about how people can be afraid of change? So, break your goal down. “Focus on small actions and habits that it’s nearly impossible to tell yourself that you can’t do,” says Gilkey. He gives the example of someone saying that they’re going to run for 15 minutes. Instead of that, say that you’re just going to run until the end of the street. And instead of saying you’ll save $50 a month, start off with $5 or $10. Over time, take things to the next stage. “Once you’ve figured out why it matters and broken it down into totally doable parts, you’ll either want to increase the joy or increase the potential discomfort,” he says. And those feelings are how to stop procrastinating.
Doing One-Off Stuff
Do you have that one thing you’re dreading doing that isn’t linked to your goals or future aspirations? You can apply the “embrace the distaste” philosophy to it. Gilkey continues that you should get real and realize that if you’re not into it now, you aren’t going to be into doing the task in the future. And you’re just going to be creating more dread, stress, drama, and possibly work while putting it off. So, do one of those one-off tasks now. Just get one out of the way. Then you can worry about the others.
How To Get Motivated
Some procrastinators focus on the “mountain” they have to scale before they can complete the project. To get motivated, Petang suggests re-framing the situation. Imagine what you want the outcome to be or how you want to feel at the end. Do you want to feel that sweet sense of accomplishment you did something (whether it was something unpleasant or a goal)? And consider the feelings of regret, guilt, or shame after not doing it. “The promise of a gain can be motivating, but sometimes, the promise of pain can be even more so,” reports Gilkey. “It turns out that the fear of pain of some type is often what’s keeping us stuck. So, it’s not like pain isn’t operating on us — it’s just that we’re not using it to our advantage to get stuff done.” Wise words.
Setting a plan is another way to bring on motivation. We previously mentioned how people can feel overwhelmed about their big goal which is why they procrastinate. Petang recommends breaking it down into manageable, bite-size tasks. To ensure that you do not procrastinate about those, lay out a timeline about when they have to be done. Write it down and check it off as you go. This works in multiple ways: First, you will feel satisfied when you can cross something off. And you’ll feel good when you see the small tasks being done. Secondly, you can look at your progress and see how far you’ve come when you’re hit with a setback or feeling discouraged.
And here’s a game-changer for how to stop procrastinating: Look for ways to make the project fun: Gilkey suggests getting friends involved and listening to music while doing it. (The latter is especially great when doing chores.) He also recommends using the reward system in this, like having a Starburst for each task you accomplish.
Gilkey says other less-intuitive-but-effective ways to get motivated are to put some money on the line and to publicly commit to something. For example, you could tell a friend or colleague about your goal and suggest monthly check-ins so you’ll feel accountable.
Falling Back Into Procrastination Mode
Were things going good and now you find yourself back in a procrastination spiral? It happens. “First, understand that we all fall in and out of the groove,” points out Gilkey. “Don’t let some slippage seed a story about you being lazy or a procrastinator or somehow unable to get yourself together.”
Once you realize this and acknowledge your current state, refer back to the previous points about reminding yourself why you want to do this, how it ties into your future goals, breaking things down into smaller chunks, etc.
Petang adds another way on how to stop procrastinating again is to recall when you didn’t procrastinate. Think about when you bit the bullet and got stuff done. How good did it feel? Remember that sense of accomplishment? Did you have fun with it? Try to get as specific as you can. Even just remembering getting a step or one task done can make us feel good, and hopefully spur us on. So start thinking positive, start small, and get doing. We believe in you.