The Art of NOT Procrastinating

It is the start of the day and I’m ready to rock and roll!

I get up with a full list of things I want to accomplish – get started on a work project, talk to a couple of clients about a new idea, get that presentation deck ready for an up coming meeting and etc.

Oh, there’s also a few emails that I need to send out from last week, and that other document that is pending for another project with a looming deadline, ugh, but those can still wait. right?

Before I know it, there’s this little voice saying perhaps some of the “more difficult” items can wait while I focus on the “easier” work so that I can get those done faster hence giving myself a bit more time later to focus on the harder tasks.

It becomes a vicious cycle of procrastination with plenty of stress, guilt, and frustration of not getting things done which does not seem to end!

After many procrastinating cycles and even more pending items later, I realised that there is actually a very simple way out of it – just get it done. Throw in a bit of discipline (and intentional focus), soon I was getting things completed – and that felt good!

Recently, I came across an interesting article by Heidi Grant on the Harvard Business Review which sheds light on why a person procrastinate and employing the right strategy to over come it.

In short, there are 3 reasons why we are more inclined to procrastinate. By recognising them and adopting the suggested solutions, it may actually help us be more effective getting things done.

Reason #1: We put things off because most of us are afraid of messing things up.

Solution: Try adopting a “prevention focus.”

There are two ways to look at any task. One, we can do something because we see it as a way to end up better off than we are now – as an achievement or accomplishment. This is what psychologists call promotion focused.

Or two, when we are driven by anxiety or doubt, and is afraid we might mess up a project or task. These fears and anxieties may actually paralyse us from taking any action at all.

So instead of thinking about how we can end up better off, we see the task as a way to hang on to what we have already got – to avoid loss. The author calls it prevention focus.

When we are focused on avoiding loss, it becomes clear that the only way to get out of danger is to take immediate action.

Overcoming our fear of messing up is a lot easier when we realise that there are more dire consequences if we do nothing at all.

Reason #2: Because we do not “feel” like doing it.

Solution: Ignore what our “feelings” and just do it.

Oliver Burkeman, author the book The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking points out that much of the time, when we say things like “I just can’t get out of bed early in the morning, ” or “I just can’t get myself to exercise,” what we really mean is that we cannot get ourselves to feel like doing these things.

To be honest, if you think about it, somehow we have been sold the idea that to be motivated and effective, we need to feel like we want to take action. To some degree, yes we need to be committed to what we are doing BUT we do not need to feel like doing it.

Afterall, successful people and top athletes get to where they are today because they rely on routines that forces them to put in a certain number of hours a day – rain or shine.

So what is stopping us? NOTHING! Because we really do not have to feel it to get things done.

Reason #3 We things off because it’s hard, boring, or otherwise unpleasant.

Solution: Use if-then planning.

We have to admit that our will power is limited and some days getting ourselves to do things we find tedious, boring, or awful can be a challenge.

This is where the if-then plan comes in handy.

Making an if-then plan helps us decide specific steps we need to take to complete a project and it also decides where and when we will take them.

For example, If I am unable to finish the report by 2pm, then I will stop what I am doing and work on the presentation that my colleague requested.

Deciding in advance what we are going to do, when and where we are going to do it, leaves us very little time to deliberate – reducing the demands placed on our willpower to decide at the critical moment because we have already made a decision way ahead.

So the next time you find yourself struggling with procrastination, take a step back to figure out why you are doing so and use one of the 3 strategies above to help you be more effective.

The Other Side Of Fear: Pushing Past Your Biggest Anxieties

In a recent article by Tim Ferriss taken from his book Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers, he shared that most people would choose unhappiness over uncertainty and failure no matter how brave they consider themselves to be.

Even Ferriss himself admitted that he spent years being held back by his fears and insecurities until sometime in 2004, while trying to convince himself to take a sabbatical year, he stumbled upon a very simple solution – defining his worse fears and worse-case scenarios then finding workable solutions around it.

In doing so, not only did he realise that his worse nightmare, at most, will have a temporary impact on his life but not to the extent that it is life and death. In fact, it turned out quite the opposite. Not only did he manage to that that 15-month sabbatical that he was so hesitant to take but his business flourished while he was away.

Drawing from his personal experience, Tim shares 7 questions we can ask ourselves when faced with a major or life-changing decision to help us push past our biggest fears and take that plunge!

If you telescope out 10 years and know with 100 percent certainty that it is a path of disappointment and regret, and if we define risk as “the likelihood of an irreversible negative outcome,” inaction is the greatest risk of all.

  1. Define your nightmare, the absolute worst that could happen if you did what you are considering.
    • Write down what doubts, fears, and “what-ifs” that pops up as you consider the big changes you are planning to make. Visualise them in detail. Would it end your life? What would be the permanent impact, if any, on a scale of 1 to 10? Is it really permanent?
  2. What steps could you take to repair the damage or get things back on the upswing, even if temporarily?
    • Chances are, it’s easier than you imagine. How could you get things back under control?
  3. What are the outcomes or benefits, both temporary and permanent, of more probable scenarios?
    • Now that you have defined your nightmare, what are the more probable or definite positive outcomes, whether internal or external?  How likely is it that you could produce at least a moderately good outcome? Have other people done this before and pulled it off?
  4. If you were fired from your job today, what would you do to get things under financial control?
    • Imagine this scenario and run through questions 1 to 3 above. If you quit your job to test other options, how could you later get back on the same career track if you absolutely had to?
  5. What are you putting off out of fear?
    • Usually, what we most fear doing is what we most need to do. That phone call, that conversation, whatever the action might be — it is fear of unknown outcomes that prevents us from doing what we need to do. Define the worst case, accept it and do it. As Tim Ferriss says, “What we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do.”
  6. What is it costing you – financially, emotionally, and physically – to postpone action? Don’t only evaluate the potential downside of action?
    • It is important to measure the atrocious cost of inaction. If you don’t pursue those things that excite you, where will you be in 1 year, 5 years and 10 years? How will you feel having allowed circumstance to impose itself upon you and having allowed 10 more years of your finite life to pass doing what you know will not fulfill you?
  7. What are you waiting for?
    • If you cannot answer this without resorting to the BS answer of “good timing,” the answer is simple: You’re afraid, just like the rest of the world.

Measure the cost of inaction, realize the unlikelihood and repairability of most missteps, and develop the most important habit of those who excel and enjoy doing so: action.