How to Avoid Procrastination (or the Art of Unprocrastination)

Jan
06
2013

procrastinateI am the type of person who will try to carry out several changes in my life at the same time.  It can be overwhelming at times, but also exhilarating when it works.  Many books and blogs I have read on goal setting and implementing change have recommended picking one or two small goals and focusing intensely on them, then moving to the next goals later.  While I cannot say that I am able to do that yet, I am making a huge effort to  focus on a few changes this

month.

Tops on my list is overcoming procrastination.

Procrastination is one of the most common problems people have when they work; we know what we should be doing, but we put it off.  That means check our phones, surf the net, check Facebook/Twitter and other social sites, chat with colleagues, check our email and other inboxes, do a bunch of busy work and smaller tasks … everything but the tasks we know we should be doing.

Not only do we procrastinate, but many of our colleagues do

as well, which just perpetuates the problem. There is a lot of inertia to fight when you go to work if you are not careful.

Why do we procrastinate? Because focusing on the important is often uncomfortable — hard, unknown, unfamiliar, boring, or something that takes us out of our comfort zone. So we turn to what we’re comfortable with instead.

I have been spending time at Zenhabits in Leo’s Sea Change program.  I enrolled in the program to watch and learn how he implements it (so I can run something like it soon!) but nevertheless, there is much to learn from his blog.

So how do we turn procrastination into Unprocrastination?

First off, commit to only practicing unprocrastination for 5-10 minutes each day.  The rest of the time (for now), let yourself procrastinate if you must.  Like all good habit changes, we are starting off slow here.

1. Set aside this time every day for unprocrastination.  Set it at a specific time (earlier in the day is better).

2. Before your start time, have ONE important task picked out (no more than that).  You are only going to spend 5-10 minutes on the task.

3. Before your start time, unplug from the internet (if the task isn’t internet based) and set up your work area in a way conducive to getting your task done.  For instance, before I started writing this post I turned of

f all distractions, turned on Ommwriter and put some headphones on.

4. When your start time arrives, focus on just getting started. You absolutely need to start on the task right then and there.

5. At this point you may be home free, but if you are like me, the urge to switch to something comfortable will arrive.  When this happens, don’t do anything; just pay attention to the feeling. It’s okay and normal to feel like putting off the work, but you don’t have to act on it. Take a few cleansing breaths, and get back to your task.  After all, we are only talking 5-10 minutes here.

When we don’t want to do something, we put it off (not rocket science!).  I’m not sure I will ever get to the place where I enjoy doing the dreadful tasks themselves, but I do enjoy the process of getting something done and not procrastinating.

At the end of  5–10 minutes, stop and go do something more comfortable. I take a quick walk around, chat with a colleague, or get a drink of water. If you feel like repeating unprocrastinating during the day, do it!  You’re practicing being comfortable with unprocrastination, and as you do so you’re less likely to procrastinate.

Procrastination is a universal human condition, in my opinion.  To try and get rid of the feeling altogether can be frustrating and unrealistic.  As I have mentioned in other posts, I build in “procrastination time” to my activities.  When I sit down to practice the trombone and I have 45 minutes of work to carry out, I budget in 15 more minutes.  Usually I spend the minutes (which occur at the beginning of my session) taking small breaks, walking around, whatever.  This “time buffer” allows me to not feel stressed if I am not using every minute wisely.

What methods do you use to battle procrastination?  Leave a comment below!

Some other resources an procrastination:

 

Overcoming Procrastination

Plan an Unprocrastination Day

 

 

The Little Guide to Unprocrastination

 

Comments

  1. Some good points in the Zenhabits post one them cleaning out email and not subscribing to every comment you leave is big for me. I clean out my email a few times per day if I can as I loathe having 100’s of emails sitting in my inbox. I procrastinate at times,we all do but I have to make the decision to find out why I’m not starting something and then just do it. Whether it be writing a blog post, tweeting, or like early 2012 quitting smoking (almost 1 yr smoke free this month). The point is we need to get the job done and we need to stop making excuses. Life is much better when we achieve the goals we set out for ourselves but with out the distractions we allow. Cheers and great post. MR.CBB

  2. I’m definitely going to read this whole article soon….

  3. Thanks for this. I’m definitely an under pressure kind of gal; unless I have to get something done under pressure, I’m likely to procrastinate. Presently, studying fir the bar, I’m again in another pressure situation with no room for procrastination – however, I have learned how to deal with the urges to make certain “deals” with myself – like if I read an hour I can do a, b or c. Still procrastination. So knowing this, I made a bunch of index cards with questions and inspirational/aspirational goals on them… For example one that has really helped was pne that i posed the question to myself (on an index card next to my laptop, “What else would you do if not this?” I look at it and the answer usually is, um Facebook? Tv? And so, I’m literally challenging myself and motives all the time. Something so little like an index card with a question I ask myself has been a huge learning lesson for me.

  4. Wes Krygsman says:

    Another good tip is to break up the tasks even smaller. Usually the to-do item we are avoiding is a project, consisting of many smaller steps. Breaking it up into stupid small tasks helps do each little one and clears it up. “Clean the basement” isn’t specific enough and is a blanket statement. Breaking that up into “clear all shelves in back left corner of basement, dust off empty shelves, move empty shelves and vacuum underneath, put shelves back, sort through shelved items to try to get rid of some stuff, place kept items on shelves, place discarded items in trash” and that’s just the back left corner. I am trying this lately and it seems to work.

    • Absolutely, Wes. We must break down larger tasks into tiny manageable ones in order to Get Stuff Done! Thanks for the comment.

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