Everyone procrastinates. We usually do it to avoid a task that’s unpleasant or daunting. Some things are broad and require lots of time and effort, and may involve changing long-held behaviors or beliefs. Others are very specific one-time tasks. When procrastinating starts to interfere with our quality of life by causing us to feel worried, fearful, lazy, or irresponsible, then it’s time to get on with it.
Here are seven steps to get out of the quicksand of procrastination and reap numerous benefits, which include improved productivity, enhanced mood, less stress, better relationships, a sense of accomplishment, and feeling successful in life.
- Identify the challenge.
Start by writing down the specific task you’ve been putting off. It could be having a difficult conversation with a family member, dealing with a bad habit, or finally scheduling that appointment you’ve been avoiding. Writing down the task helps you focus on the job at hand.
- Pinpoint and deal with your emotions.
What’s preventing you from diving in to this task? It’s typically one or more of three core emotions. Perhaps you’re intimidated by all the time and sacrifice (fear). Or you’re resentful about having to do this when you think it’s not necessary (anger). Or you’re bummed that you are trashing yourself so heavily for being unmotivated (sadness). This step helps you see the act of dragging your heels for what it truly is — an emotional reaction.
It’s helpful to know that emotions — sadness, anger, and fear — are just pure energy in your body. Look at the word “emotion.” It’s energy (e) in motion. Take some time in private to express those emotions constructively. By crying to express sadness, punching or yelling into a pillow or stomping around to release the anger, or doing exaggerated shivering for the fear, you give yourself permission to express the emotion. The energy dissipates and you won’t feel stuck. It’s like letting steam out of a pressure cooker.
- Get your head on straight.
There are two steps to this process. First, start by getting clear on your goal on the task. Good planning is the foundation of success for most any project. It’s helpful to write it down so you have it for ready reference. For example, “I want to get this off my plate.” Or “I feel clearer when I exercise regularly.” Having a clear and precise idea of your goal will keep you oriented and help you to stay motivated.
Second, identify sabotaging thoughts that are hanging in the wings, ready to pounce in a weak moment. Then come up with a couple of truths to contradict them. For example if you continually tell yourself “I’ll never be able to learn all this,” you might say to yourself, “I can do this” or “If others can learn it, so can I”. That’s a plain and simple truth. To neutralize your frustration at having to do this task, you might say, “I’m doing this for me.”
- Do the planning — break your goal into a series of small, doable steps.
You’ve envisioned the task, dealt with what’s been holding you back, and fixed your destructive thinking. Completing the job requires figuring out a reasonable step-by-step game plan and deciding when you’ll begin. Write your plan down.
Once you have an outline, step back and imagine obstacles that are likely to pop up along the way. For every scenario, have a tactic ready to help you stick to your plan. You may also want to find someone to support your efforts and with whom you can check in on a regular basis.
- Just do it — gulp and leap.
With all this preparation, it’s time to tackle the task you’ve put off. Before you do, acknowledge your emotions–whether it’s anger, fear, or sadness. Take just a minute or two and release the pent-up emotion in a physical and constructive way. Without the emotional energy dragging you down, you’ll feel prepared to take the leap and be amazed how easy it is as you just focus on one step at a time.
- Battle resistance.
As you take action, you’re likely to meet with resistance in the form of excuses, bad moods, and discouragement. Meet resistance with tenacity and stubbornness, and continue to deal with any emotions that surface. At this point in the process it’s important to repeat your truths and remember your goal. Say them over and over until they’re set in your mind. “I can do this. I’ll feel better when I handle this.” Any time you are tempted to procrastinate, refocus on the goal.
- Appreciate your efforts and accomplishments.
Getting through a daunting task is incredibly satisfying. Praise each small accomplishment along the way. You’ll feel proud and virtuous when you get the task off your plate. Doing what you’re avoiding will simplify your life. You’ll feel more energetic. You’ll sleep better at night.