This is the second part of my post on procrastination. Here I talk about the actions that I’ve taken to stop myself from procrastinating.
In the first part I talked about my process for identifying how, when and why I procrastinate.
I’d figured out the why, when and how. I was ready to try and build a solution.
Although it seemed clear that I needed to push myself to complete the tougher tasks, my existing routine clearly wasn’t providing enough of a push.
My first step was to provide myself with real motivation to push myself. I researched expertise and endeavored to better understand how people reached the top of their fields. I wanted to see the evidence that they had pushed themselves and to feel like I needed to do the same thing in order to reach the levels that they had reached.
I listened to The Tim Ferriss podcast, picking out the segments where world-class performers talked about their route to success. Many of the episodes were useful but the episodes with Josh Waitzkin (first appearance and second appearance) really opened my eyes – here was someone talking in detail about the specifics of his journey to expertise.
I read Waitzkin’s Art of Learning, a book about his journey to becoming a chess grandmaster and world champion martial artist. There’s so much great stuff in that book that I’ve written a whole post about Waitzkin’s insights on learning.
The main takeaway, however was simple – focus on very specific areas of improvement and push yourself to improve. I had my motivation.
Building a solution
My solution needed to address my immediate desire to take the easy option. I needed to translate my new-found motivation to push myself into actually pushing myself. I needed a better structure to my day-to-day work.
It seemed like there were three specific things that I required:
- A clear idea of which task was most important at any time
- The ability to push myself to get started on the task, overcoming the initial desire to procrastinate
- The ability to focus solely on that one task until it was complete
I researched and experimented. I tried numerous methods for prioritisation and task-management, including using the Getting Things Done method for productivity. Many things helped, but the best solution that I’ve found so far for meeting those three requirements has been as follows:
- Set daily goals – a list of the things that I want to achieve that day. I ensure that I never let lack of time be an excuse for failing to achieve my goals – I make sure that they’re achievable in the time that I expect to have that day. Some days an unforeseen event occurs and all plans are out of the window – that’s fine, as long as it’s the exception to the rule
- Pick the most important task – when setting my daily goals, I make sure that I’m focusing on the one task that is most important for achieving my long-term goals
- Remind myself of my motivation – before starting work, I briefly remind myself of my motivation for the specific project and my motivation for wanting to push myself (the Josh Waitzkin book)
- Break work into chunks – I break my work into bite-size chunks. I identify the first step that I can take towards my first daily goal – I make it small enough to be able to tackle it immediately without being overwhelmed
- Take regular breaks – I use a fixed structure for taking regular breaks. I use a timer that lets me know when to take a break. During the work sessions I’m not allowed any distractions – I can check my phone during one of my regular breaks
The steps I listed above helped me a lot, but they’re just a start point. They’re also quite personal – I can’t guarantee that they will work for you.
The thing I can guarantee is that every person reading this can stop their procrastination. Procrastination is a natural tendency, reinforced by your brain’s desire to avoid mental strain. If you take steps to address this tendency, you’ll make progress. If you reduce procrastination by 50%, think about what you’ll achieve. It’s well worth the effort.
Here’s a recap of the steps that I’ve listed across the two posts, with tips on where in my Inspiration to Action eBook series you can find some more help. If you think one of the chapters could help you, just send an email to email@example.com and specify the chapter that you’d like – I’ll send you a free copy of that chapter.
1) I identified how I was procrastinating.
- You can figure out whether some of your work is procrastination using the Busywork chapter in the Optimising Work module
- You can also address distractions (such as social media, phones, etc) that you use using for procrastination using the Distractions chapter in the Productivity module
2) I identified when I was procrastinating and why I was procrasinating
- A journaling routine can help you to track when and why you’re procrastinating. You can start a journaling routine using the Journaling chapter in the Clearing Headspace module
3) I built a source of motivation that I could return to
- I talk about how to build a go-to source of motivation in the Motivation chapter of the Using Inspiration module
4) I set daily goals and picked the most important task
- In the Goal setting chapter of the Progress tracking module I go over a structure for goal setting. This will give you a balance of long-term and short-term goals. Your daily goals are a lot simpler to set when you have solid monthly and weekly goals – you just break off a chunk of your weekly goal that you’re confident that you can complete that day. During your weekly goal setting you’ll have already thought about which tasks were most important, so it should be relatively simply to identify the most important task to address that day
5) I reminded myself of my motivation
- This is just a case of returning to the go-to source of motivation set using the Motivation chapter of the Using Inspiration module
6) I broke work into chunks
- In the Bite-size Chunks chapter of the Optimising Work module I talk about how to break work into chunks and avoid procrastination
7) I took regular breaks
- I go over a full process for structuring your work and breaks in the Regular Breaks chapter of the Productivity module
Also published on Medium.