How to Overcome Procrastination and Be Productive
Are you one of those amazing people who gets everything done right away? Or are you like the rest of us who procrastinate… probably more than we’d like to admit?
Over the years, I've discovered I’m a pretty good procrastinator, and I've come to see it as a negative – some kind of a character flaw.
First, I don't get the thing done. Then I feel guilty about it. Then I'm holding others back from getting their bit done because I haven't gotten my bit done.
Then I even start lying to myself by saying, “you know what, I'm going to do that tomorrow.” And then tomorrow rolls around and I say the same thing again, so it becomes this deadline that keeps rolling forward.
Making Procrastination a Positive
I recently attended a seminar run by Dan Sullivan, founder of Strategic Coach, which helps entrepreneurs grow their businesses bigger and faster while having a great life too.
It was so refreshing because Dan said that, in his view, procrastination is actually something positive. Something we can harness and turn into a great thing.
The way to do that is to first list out all the things that you've been procrastinating on. Give yourself two minutes and just write it down really fast.
Second, take a look at that list and circle the three items that would most move the needle for you if you were to get them done. And then for those three items, write down the reason why you've been procrastinating.
Third, for each of those three procrastination items, write down:
- What kind of commitment you need to make in order to move it forward. For example, “Sending out 12 invitations to my live event” or “Completing slide deck summarizing proposed leadership development programs”.
- Who else could be involved to help. For example, “RB could help with first draft of invitation” or “Could brainstorm with CJ and MP”.
- How you can break it down into small steps – as in, what's that smallest next action that would still move you forward? For example, “Ask RB to pull out list of last year’s invitees and mark up invitation” or “Find my notes from last meeting and set up time to meet with CJ and MP”.
- How will you feel when you've taken action: how you would be freeing yourself up to do the things you really want to do, and the confidence it would build to get those things done. For example, “I will feel like I’ve done everything I can to make this event a success and can let the chips fall where they may” or “I will be able to move forward and discuss other more important matters with the person who’s waiting for my slide deck”.
Finally, take those three things and prioritize them on your to do list for the next day. You've already pre-planned how to get those things done, and gotten in touch with how motivating it would be for you. So you’ll be ready to go first thing in the morning.
I was so energized by the session that I walked right out of the seminar and tackled one of my three procrastination items the very same day. It took me 25 minutes, and wow, did I feel great. What a huge load off my shoulders.
I want you to have that feeling too, and I know you can do this. So I highly recommend that you take 5 minutes to go through the four steps above.
The most exciting part of this is I realized there's a next step as well.
There's a bonus here because if you step back and look at the three most important things you are procrastinating on, and the reasons why you’ve been procrastinating on them, some themes will jump out at you. And it’s these themes that you can harness to start preventing yourself from procrastinating in the first place.
I'll give you an example of how I thought through mine.
So, two of the three things on my list of procrastination items were around summarizing things that had already happened. I realized that even though I love structuring and synthesising, what I don't like to do is look at things that have already gone by. I feel like I've “been there, don't that”. I've moved on. And what I really like looking at is the future.
What I could have done instead, and what I'll do next time, is to take action at that moment when the idea is still fresh. I could have jotted down an outline or a summary right then and there. Maybe I could have used Evernote, which is something that I've learned to use and it's fantastic.
Doing that on the spot would have saved a lot of time later, and I would have something that I could recall and work on.
The third item that I circled on my list of procrastination items was about having to chase somebody for something they'd promised to do but hadn't yet done.
The reason why I was procrastinating is that I didn't want to sound like a nagging, difficult person. I didn't want it to hurt our friendship. I was afraid that they might say, “I’ve thought about it some more and no longer want do it.” These were irrational fears, but they seemed very real to me at the time.
What I could have done, and what I'll do next time, is right when they agreed to help me, I could have set a deadline. I could also have gotten permission to come back to them in a week’s time to ask how things were going. I could have gotten permission to chase them and that way, it wouldn't have felt weird at all.
Instead, I was so delighted that they said they would do it, that I said “Great!”, hung up the phone and forgot to establish any mechanisms for holding them accountable or following up.
My Challenge to You
I hope these concepts help you, and that you have the chance to both prevent your procrastination and also turn your procrastinations into productivity.
Here's my challenge to you:
Choose one thing that you've been procrastinating on, harness it and turn it into a positive. Then prioritize it on your “to do” list for tomorrow by going through the steps that we've just talked about. Then come back and leave me a comment telling me what you did, and how you feel about it.