Procrastination is opportunity’s assassin. — Victor Klam
Debilitating. Defeating. Deadening. Disrupting. These are all words that can be used to describe procrastination. It can completely destroy your spirit, dull your senses, and mute your dreams by putting off for tomorrow what should be done today.
In effect, procrastination is a silent killer – it’s killing off dreams left and right every moment of the day.
Those goals we made yesterday are still sitting there waiting for us to tackle them, except it’s being blocked by one of the best deterrent mechanisms standing in the way of our hopes and our dreams: procrastination.
So, how do we stop procrastinating?
Well, it’s not that simple, especially when procrastination has become habitual. Since the mind operates on neural pathways that it carves out over the course of months and years of repetitious behavior, when procrastination is a habit, it’s hard to break. However, it’s not impossible. When a person is committed enough to do something, they can get over the proverbial hump, so to speak.
So how do you do it? How do you stop procrastinating and start making progress?
Well, there are several methods that work great for stopping procrastination, but the following five are my top ways for doing so. If procrastination has become a problem in your life, try applying the following methods and you’ll find yourself being more productive, and living a more meaningful life that doesn’t have you putting your dreams on the back burner.
Curing the Procrastination Disease…
#1 – Create Clearly Defined Goals and Milestones
In a recent post entitled, How to Achieve your Goals in Life, I talked about a three-part method to setting goals through active goal setting rather than passive goal setting. When you actively set your goals, and you write them out on paper or type them on a keyboard on some device somewhere, you send a visceral signal to your brain. You’re telling your brain clearly and concisely what you want, why you want it, and when you want it by.
This is one of the most important steps to setting goals that many people simply overlook. When you don’t write things down, and you merely leave your goals in your mind as some obscure abstracts, it tells your mind that you’re not only not serious about those goals, but that you haven’t envisioned them enough to put them on paper. When they’re on paper, they’re real. There’s a real date that you’re aiming to accomplish those goals, you understand exactly what it is you’re trying to accomplish, and you know why you’re doing it.
So, the first way to stop procrastinating, is to understand exactly what you want and why you want it. Then, when you know what you’re aiming for, you can break those goals down into milestones. You can take your one-year goals, break them down into months, weeks, and even days. Then, things become more achievable. You know what you have to do today, and you don’t get overwhelmed with the enormity of a huge goal.
#2 – Use the Quadrant System for Time Management
Much of procrastination has a lot to do with poor time management. When you can’t manage your time properly, then it’s hard to get ahead. And, the more we fall behind, the harder it is to catch up. But it’s not only harder to catch up, procrastination becomes habitual, and the pattern becomes harder and harder to break. So, oftentimes, we need to institute some time management skills in order to stop our tendencies to procrastinate.
How is this done?
Well, this was originally introduced by our former President, Dwight D. Eisenhower and later popularized by Stephen D. Covey in 1994 in his widely-known book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Eisenhower was quoted as saying “What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important.” And, from therein emerged his Urgent / Important matrix for time management.
As you can see in the image, it’s broken down into urgency and importance. Things can either be important but not urgent (long-term goals), important and urgent (emergencies and crises), urgent but not important (interruptions), or not urgent and not important (distractions).
Most of us are stuck in the not urgent and not important quadrant of distractions.
When we’re stuck in this quadrant, procrastination takes center stage. We would much rather be watching the game on television on a Sunday instead of working towards our long-term goals.
So, how does time management apply to procrastinating. Well, when you look at your goals and your milestones, you can break your day out into activities. Now, this applies to your free time. If you work a full-time job, then that’s a block of time you can’t skip over. However, when you do have free time, you can break out what you do into any of these four quadrants. If you can plan your day, then you can write the quadrant that each activity you have to do falls under.
So, the way to tackle procrastination is to ensure that you do the not urgent and not important activities first. Block out the first bit of your free time towards these activities. This is also a great way to look back at your day to see just what quadrant all of your activities fell under. What did you do today? How much of what you did today falls under the not urgent but important quadrant of long-term goals. If you’re not doing a little bit each day towards your long-term goals, then you’re robbing yourself of your dreams.
#3 – Use the 15-Minute Rule
Grab a timer. Use your phone, a stop watch, or a clock that you have handy. It has to be something that can count down the time, and place it in front of you. Set the timer to 15 minutes. Then, start doing the activity that you’ve been putting off and commit to doing it for 15 minutes.
Why only do it for 15 minutes?
Well, doing an activity for 15 minutes, and committing only to that block of time, helps you get over the hurdle of procrastination. Generally, when someone does something for 15 minutes, they continue doing it for much longer. And, by only committing to 15 minutes, you’re helping to overcome one of the biggest hurdles in your mind, which simply involves getting started.
So, commit to 15 minutes. Do something for 15 minutes right now that you’ve been putting off. Set aside a block of 15 minutes every single day, and over time, you’ll build better habits that will empower you rather than debilitate you. It all starts with 15 minutes. That’s all it takes.
#4 – Change your Environment
Sometimes, patterns are developed through environmental cues. Meaning, when we’re at home, we run a certain set of behaviors that our mind has become accustomed to running. But, when we can break that pattern and change our environment, we can change our behavior.
So, if you always find yourself jumping on the couch, grabbing the television remote, and turning on the television when you come home after a long day of work, change your environment. Take your laptop to a coffee shop. Or, grab a notepad and pencil and head out to a park and sit on a bench. You’ll find that changing your environment can be one of the best ways to break the habits that have formed over time.
If you find yourself stifled in a certain environment, then change the environment; go somewhere else. If you keep doing the same things, you can’t keep expecting different results. Pick yourself up right now and change your environment. Wherever you may be, if it’s not empowering you to work on your long-term goals, go somewhere else and do it.
#5 – Locate an Accomplice
The last method for eliminating procrastination in your life is to find an accomplice. What do I mean by this? Well, sometimes, what we really need is a friend or loved one helping to push us past that hump. If the goal involves getting to the gym 3 days a week, then having an accomplice can help to motivate one another. When you’re feeling down, they can help to push you. And when they’re feeling down, you can help to push them.
When you have an accomplice, you get to work as a team. It means that you’re not in it alone. It’s a great method for overcoming some of our natural tendencies to put things off. When we procrastinate, we send a signal to our mind saying that it’s okay to overlook something or put off for tomorrow what can be done today. The problem is that it’s not okay to put things off because that behavior becomes habitual.
Don’t allow the silent killer of procrastination to assassinate you. Get up right now and do something; do anything. The more you don’t act, the less likely you are to act in the future.