Monday, December 13, 2010

A Very Short Guide to Overcoming Procrastination

As we start the New Year, so many people say, "I'm going to stop being a procrastinator."

I've written widely on overcoming procrastination, most recently this. But readers have said its comprehensiveness is overwhelming.

So here's a highly abridged version. These are the strategies that have worked the best for the most people. Perhaps you'll find one or, dare I hope, all of them useful.

Be aware of the moment of truth. There's a moment when, consciously or unconsciously, you decide whether to do the task or go do something more fun. If doing the task is in your interest, steel your will and make yourself get started.

Accept uncomfortability. To be even modestly successful in life, you must accept that life often requires you to do the uncomfortable, tasks that require effort and aren't as fun as what you'd enjoy more.

Value accomplishment. Your worth is heavily dependent on what you accomplish. Once you believe that, you won't even think about whether to do the task. You'll do it automatically. Contributory people think, "How much can I accomplish." Societal takers think, "What's the least work I can get by with." Decide you'll be as big a contributor as possible.

Recognize that you can survive failure. Yes, if you fail at the task, it will be evidence that you're not that competent. But not trying ensures that you fail and perhaps that you'll be perceived as a loser. The good news is that probably, if you follow the advice in this blog post, you 'll succeed, at least succeed often enough that you're not perceived as a loser. If you're failing at work tasks too often, perhaps it's a sign you need a better-suited job.

See yourself as a follow-through person. A number of my clients have said, "I just can't picture myself as a follow-through person." It may help to retrain your brain neurons: Even though it sounds touchy-feely, frequent affirmations like, "I will be a follow-through person" may help and certainly can't hurt.

Divide the task into baby steps. Write them down. Don't know how to divide it? Ask someone for help.

What's the fun way?
Every step of the way, ask yourself, "What's the fun way to do this task? Do it half-baked? Alter the task so it uses more of your strengths? Find a partner to work alongside you? Listen to music while you work? Whatever.

Get started. Ask yourself, "What's my first one-minute task?" Do it. Take a low-risk action.

Make yourself stay focused. Take your mind off everything else: other problems you're facing, the fun activity you'd rather be doing, etc. Stay focused on the task at hand. Perhaps remind yourself how good it will feel when you've gotten it done.

Use the One-Minute Struggle.
When you reach a hard part, struggle to figure it out for no more than one minute. After that, chances are you won't solve it. You'll just get frustrated and stop doing the task. At the one-minute mark, decide if you could complete the task without doing that hard part, or get help.

What task should you be getting done? Should you force yourself to get started now? Do you want to use one or more of the techniques above?


RunningEnthusiast said...

hello sir.

I'm a big fan of yours. Can I repost a copy of this article on my blog? I find it very interesting and helpful. I will place it in quotes and refer your site as source.



Marty Nemko said...

Yes. Thanks for asking.

Anonymous said...

“If you're failing at work tasks too often, perhaps it's a sign you need a better suited job.”

Sometimes this is a sign that the process is flawed or management cannot clearly define the requirements of your position. (Especially if you work for the Federal government.)

Oliver said...

The moment of truth - I think this is THE critical point, because this is where I fail consistently. I find all advice on the topic almost taunting, because yes, I KNOW I need to make the right decision at the moment of truth. But I don't.