We all procrastinate, but there’s usually a simple strategy for beating it.
That sounds such dumb advice to give, but it often really is that simple.
Last week I procrastinated on two tasks. One was something I wasn’t looking forward to. Even though it was straightforward, there was some ambiguity with it. It also wasn’t that interesting. I figured it would take me about half a day.
The other task was going to be harder. It needed some research. It also required some deep thinking and problem solving. I was confident I would be able to get it done, but it was going to push me out of my comfort zone for sure. About a full day of work.
I procrastinated on these tasks all week. Sometimes they didn’t even make it onto my plan for the day!
Throughout the week my anxiety for both tasks grew. I beat myself up for being so lame. People were relying on me to do them, so I worried about leaving them to the last minute. I could feel the pressure of rushing them close to the deadline. In a worst case scenario, I imagined delivering them late and being embarrassed.
I also started to build up some of the difficulties with the tasks to a fictional level. The first task went from being straightforward and not that interesting— to just plain painful to do. It was going to be torture! I started to dread it.
I started to doubt my capability with the second task. Maybe I wouldn’t be able to find the research or figure it out. I wasn’t good enough to get it done. Perhaps I wouldn’t be able to deliver the task at all!
I stumbled on Four Things Procrastinators Need to Learn over the weekend — and boy I’m glad I did. My main takeaway was, you just have to start. From there, everything gets easier.
So, on Sunday I sat down to do the first task, and to at least start the second task.
The first one took about an hour (not half a day). It was very straightforward and actually ended up being a pretty decent piece of work. It wasn’t super exciting, but it wasn’t as boring as I imagined.
The second one took about three hours (not a full day). The research came together quickly. It also required less deep thinking and problem solving than I’d expected. I had underestimated my experience in this area and most of it was fairly straight forward. I felt pretty good with the end result.
I had expected both of these tasks to take about a day and half — and be a mix of boring and / or difficult. They were anything but.
I felt stupid for delaying them for a week. I cringed at the time I spent worrying about them and what that did to my mood. It affected my whole week.
And I realised, all you have to do is force yourself to start. Just take the first step. After that, confidence usually kicks in. Most of the negative things you dream up in your head, never happen.
I had a similar task on my list yesterday. Something which was genuinely outside of my experience. Instead of procrastinating, I pushed aside the uncomfortableness. I sat down, and started it.
I surprised myself by how easy it came together. It reminded me that I can get my head around most things and can be pretty resourceful when I need to be. And that confidence carried through into the rest of the day.
So, if you find yourself starting to procrastinate (or even think about procrastinating), use that as a trigger to just start. Just sit down and start. It all gets easier from there.
Nike were kinda onto something with their ‘Just do it’ slogan.