Self Help Sanctum

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How to Stop Procrastinating

Procrastination is something most of us are guilty of at one time or another. Essentially it means avoiding or delaying things that you ought to be doing and instead using the time for less important but more pleasurable things. Eg watching TV with a take-out meal when you should be taking exercise or tackling that mountain of dull but necessary paperwork.

Why do I Procrastinate?

Simply put, we procrastinate because we favor the pleasure of the moment over something less pleasurable that might bring greater pleasure (or avoid displeasure) in the future. Technically, the field of behavioral economics has termed this effect hyperbolic discounting [].

Another cause of procrastination is the thing you think you ought to be doing isn't the thing your really ought to be doing. There's a mismatch between what you consider to be your priorities and your actual priorities (things that move you closer to your true goals). Your subconscious is aware of this and makes it hard to build enthusiasm for the false priority.

Maybe you're not sure what you're true priorities are. In this case you need to take some time, preferably over more than one session, to figure out what you really want from life. You can then map out what you need to do to get there, ie your priorities!

Maybe you procrastinate because you lack belief in yourself or the value of the thing you're putting off doing. Complete the steps above, and if you're sure this is the right thing to do then remind yourself:

if you try you might succeed, but if you don't you certainly won't!

So you might as well try.

Tips to Overcome Procrastination

Focus on what really matters

Separate the important from the urgent. Stephen R Covey, in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, differentiates between important and urgent demands. Important matters are those that have a great impact on your life satisfaction, currently and in the future. Urgent matters are those which demand our attention now, but which aren't necessarily important. Know the difference and don't be afraid to ditch what's urgent but not important.

Set yourself short-term goals

While it's great and right to have a grand plan of what you want to do with your life, where you want to be in 5 years etc (you have a grand plan, right?) you also need to set yourself much shorter term goals, eg weekly or daily. Just after you wake in the morning, before getting out of bed, run through what you want to achieve today. It often helps to write it down. Just before falling asleep run through what you've achieved in the day just gone, it should give you a nice positive feeling.

Manage your time

After taking out time for working, commuting, eating, sleeping, family time etc etc you are left with a certain amount of discretionary time, ie time that you can use exactly as you please. Make a chart showing when this time occurs over the course of a week and allocate tasks to time slots. But, very important, give yourself plenty of 'down' time. It's OK to put your feet up on the couch to watch TV - provided you get down to your allocated tasks.

Make lists

Keep a diary, use an online document, get a whiteboard. Ticking stuff off or erasing it gives a very satisfying sense of progress.

Avoid distractions

Give yourself periods of time when you will not be disturbed. Politely tell family/colleagues to leave you alone. Let your phone go to message. Limit your Internet usage to the task in hand.

Great though the Internet is at putting the world at your fingertips it also provides great temptation to stop what you ought to be doing for a 'few moments' surfing that turns into many minutes numerous times a day. Find it difficult to keep your browser closed? Try Surfblocker.

Keep the end in mind

It's good to be able to switch between the big picture and the detail. Working on your business plan when your friends have gone to the beach doesn't seem like fun, but keep in mind that when this business succeeds you'll be able to go to the beach any time you like.

The carrot and the stick

Even though getting that business plan written should pay big dividends a few years down the road that timeframe can seem too far off to your pleasure-seeking inner child. So, if you meet your weekly progress target cut yourself some slack with your favorite dinner / movie / few beers... On the other hand, a target missed for no real reason (ie procrastination) should be punished, eg with a donation to a least favorite charity (try stickK).

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