My three step recipe for overcoming procrastination which can help you.
Updated: Sep 19, 2021
I have spent more money on anti-procrastination software that I am willing to admit publicly.
I have tried many technical solutions - all sorts of website blockers, app blockers, digital hygiene apps... without much success.
I have always found ways to procrastinate.
Today, I wish I could get similar levels of creativity as when I wanted to avoid doing things that were pending on my todo list: I used to clean my desk, do dishes, laundry, or research not-so-useful things.
Then, one of the online courses put me in the what looked like a right direction. Procrastination did not happen because I was weak, had an attention disorder, or enjoyed fun activities more than doing what others expected me to do.
Procrastination happened because I was afraid to fail, and I was doing everything to avoid failure, and the best way to avoid failure is to not try.
It was a pretty good direction, and it turned to have a pretty simple rationale: people will latch on to any type of distraction if there is something they do not want to think about. Be it a challenging project, a possibility of a failure, not knowing what to do and not willing to admit it, preciously crafted image of self being at risk, looming conflict...
Some people can safe it is because fear drives procrastination.
So I thought I should cope with my fears hoping they will go away. And this mistake cost me a couple of month of all sorts of meditation exercises and self-reflection. I was trying to figure out WHY I was afraid and WHAT could have caused that. And I was not getting anywhere close to the source.
But then, I read an article for parents about growing confident kids, and the advice was pretty simple - give your kids challenges big enough they will struggle and small enough they can handle them. If the challenge is too big, it erodes confidence, if it is too small, it does not allow confidence growth in the first place. It was all about sizing.
What a brilliant observation.
In that moment, I have decided to become my own parent. And I use a very simple three-step process to cope with procrastination:
Recognise the moment when you procrastinate.
Figure out WHAT are you running from.
Define the smallest action you can take to lower the chance of your failure.
I have read somewhere that you gain confidence by repeatedly taking actions and learning what you can and cannot do. In this way, you do not try to tame your fears, but you eliminate them for good.
The smallest actions include but are not limited to:
experiment to learn more about the challenge you are facing (easy) - you may not know how to accomplish your goals. Instead of quitting early, go & play for the sake of exploration. I call it 'research' :).
define your direction and your single next step - you do not have to have the entire path to success defined. Commit to the next step, not to the whole project. Life gets much easier :). My shortest commitment is: 'When you see a street workout place for the first time in the day, do one exercise'.
talk to someone (intermediate) - the previous two points maybe not necessary when you speak to your boss or a friend about your challenge. Note: if your ego does not allow you for that, drop it.
reevaluate your priorities (advanced) - it may be that you have some competing desires in your life. For example, I do like TV and I do like how I feel stronger after workouts. However, I observed noticeable improvements in my strength only after making enough time for proper training and preparation, which all started with the first two approaches (go for a short walk early, do one small strength exercise when passing by a street workout place).
There are two big lessons learned for me:
actions beat thinking
reevaluating priorities is a never-ending story. It is a constant balance to be made.
Thank you for your patience. I hope this article, written on Sunday evening, will be at least a little bit helpful. Drop me a line if it is, drop me a line if it is not!
Yes, I am still afraid of failure. But it no longer prevents me from doing things.
It turns out this approach does wonders. I have built a large enough portfolio of successes that I can overcome any type of procrastination:
when I do not feel like getting up in the morning - I know I felt like this a lot and I know it gets much better after a walk. It is easier to get up and to things when you know that the unpleasant feeling usually goes away.
when I want to play CS:GO - I look at my task list, find something I can do in 30 minutes and dedicate 15 mins to doing that thing. I am OK playing a game if only I resist for 15 minutes. I have not played for a really long time as the urge to play goes away in that time.
when I am anxious about my job - I just need to remind myself that I have my time for thinking about my personal strategy, and I just make notes to myself.