Being busy is most often used as a guise for avoiding the few critically important but uncomfortable actions. ~ Tim Ferriss
I avoid first drafts like the plague.
The other morning, instead of writing this article, I chose to vacuum the house, complete some client work, do some reading, scroll on social media, answer my emails, fix something on my website, and wash clothes.
I had unconsciously filled my morning with menial work, getting busy just by being busy. And when lunchtime rolled around, rather than feeling accomplished — I felt guilty.
I hadn’t done the one thing I intended to do.
Classic procrastination is perpetually putting off what we know we should be doing. It’s constantly delaying the hard stuff and defaulting to activities that require less mental energy and are ultimately less productive.
When we procrastinate, we fail to get the results we really want. So why do we do it?
Why is it so hard to do the tasks we know we should be doing? Why do we continually put off the important stuff? Why is it so hard to take action outside of our comfort zone?
3 Causes of Procrastination and How to Treat Them
There are risks and costs to uncomfortable action. But they are far less than the long range risks of comfortable inaction. ~ John F. Kennedy
If you’ve ever been to the doctor then you know your visit always starts with questions.
They ask you about your diet, your lifestyle, your medications and of course, the details of your particular problem. Your doctor gathers as much information as possible so they can identify the cause of your discomfort and as a result, be better equipped to treat it.
Procrastination is a treatable problem. And when you can identify what causes it, you’ll have a remarkably better chance of curing it.
Lucky for you, while there are many symptoms of procrastination, there are arguably only three leading causes, which are:
1. Entitlement – We think we shouldn’t have to do it
- Are you constantly looking for an easy way, a quick fix or a shortcut?
- Do you wish someone else would do the hard work?
- Are you unwilling to make sacrifices for what you want?
2. Fear – We’re scared to do it
- Do you worry about not having the time to do it?
- Do you get scared that you won’t be able to handle whatever it is you need to do?
- Do you worry about what your family, friends or colleagues will think?
- Are you scared to fail?
3. Perfectionism – We don’t think we’ll do it right, so we don’t try at all
- Do you convince yourself you can’t do something even before trying?
- Do you consistently underestimate your abilities?
- Do you desperately not want to make a mistake? Or the wrong decision?
- Do you think whatever you do won’t be good enough?
Think about something you’ve been avoiding lately — does your reason for putting it off fit into one of the above categories? Fear of the unknown and the uncertainty that comes with new challenges can be paralysing.
If you couple that fear with a tendency towards self-criticism and a feeling of not being ‘good enough’ then it’s no wonder we procrastinate on the things that truly test us. It doesn’t matter if it’s a new business venture, a new workout routine or a new diet, it always feels safer not to begin because at least then we know we won’t fail.
We tell ourselves we’ll just wait for the “perfect time”, the “perfect resource” or the “perfect plan” and as a result, we make zero progress towards our goals.
So how can we let go of perfect? How can we push past the fear? How do we train ourselves to choose the “hard right” over the “easy wrong”?
The answer is surprisingly simple — we focus on taking consistent action.
How to Cultivate the Habit of Action
Turning pro is a mindset. If we are struggling with fear, self-sabotage, procrastination, self-doubt, etc., the problem is, we’re thinking like amateurs. Amateurs don’t show up. Amateurs crap out. Amateurs let adversity defeat them. The pro thinks differently. He shows up, he does his work, he keeps on truckin’, no matter what. ~ Steven Pressfield
In April 2016 I decided I wanted to start guest blogging.
I bought an online course that I knew would be awesome, smashed through the first few theory and research modules and it was all going great until it came to pitching my ideas. At which point I became paralysed with fear and let my self-doubt cripple my confidence and convince myself I couldn’t do it.
I procrastinated finishing that course for nine … whole … months.
It took me until January 2017 to try again. But this time I’m happy to say I didn’t give up. And in February I pitched my first successful idea to Brian, here at Further.
So what was different this time around? What had changed? Where had all the uncertainty from the year before gone?
To shed some light, here is what I did between September 2016 and January 2017:
- I started journaling in the morning every day – just random thoughts and morning pages to get the ball rolling and the reduce the discomfort of writing later;
- I started writing 300 words every weekday – in the morning, before starting any other work and about whatever topic that was interesting me at the time;
- I started writing ten ideas down every day – whether they were good or bad, I would record them all; and
- I wrote to my email list every week – to get comfortable with sharing my work with other people and develop my writing voice.
All that practice meant that the next time I had to pitch an article, I believed I could deliver.
I had studied my niche and practised my craft until I felt comfortable and confident with what I would be able to produce.
Not only did the discipline of consistent practice help me become a better writer but it changed my mindset around all of my creative work and I no longer felt the pressure of perfectionism as deeply as I did before.
You overcome perfectionism by insisting not on stellar results, but on stellar effort. ~ Rory Vaden
Mastering self-discipline is the fastest way to beating procrastination. It creates the ability for you to take action regardless of your emotional, financial or physical state and it completely wipes out excuses like perfectionism, distraction and ignorance.
Success, however you define it, is achievable if you collect the right field-tested beliefs and habits. ~ Tim Ferriss
To cultivate more self-discipline (and ultimately beat procrastination) you need to build new habits and behaviours that make it easier to work outside your comfort zone. And retraining yourself in that way is made remarkably easier by using smart personal systems.
7 Simple Systems to Help You Conquer Your Procrastination
The absence of structure breeds breakdown. ~ Michael Gerber
Smart personal systems empower you to take more action. It’s that simple.
Whether they help you conserve energy, save time or complete a specific task they work in your favor to simplify and add structure to your daily life.
With the hope that they can be as useful for you as they have been for me, here are seven personal systems you can use to help you build better habits, increase your levels of action and conquer your procrastination once and for all.
1. Morning Routine
Do you wish you could wake up earlier? Do you feel rushed getting ready? Do you let other people’s priorities sneak their way in?
A killer morning routine will wake you up with purpose and excitement. It’s designed to make you feel accomplished before your day even begins and instantly adds structure, self-care, and surprising focus to your morning. It’s a simple set of actions that make you feel focused and ready to start your day.
2. Wind Down Routine
Do you find it hard to stop working?
Knowing when to shut off at night is essential for a happier home life, better sleep and higher-energy levels. It also allows your mind to recharge and reboot so that new ideas can come to life, plus the energy to act on them. Knowing when to stop work can be just as useful as knowing when to start.
Try incorporating a wind down routine at the end of your work day. It’s a simple set of steps to tell your brain it’s time to switch off from problem-solving mode and reconnect with your present moment.
3. Idea Management
Do you struggle with too many ideas? Or perhaps you never have any? At least not any that feel good enough to pursue?
When you capture new ideas every day it becomes a comfortable style of brainstorming (with no strings attached). It doesn’t matter if your ideas are awesome or terrible, you can just relax into the exercise and let your creative thoughts flow. No pressure.
To create your system simply set a consistent time every morning to record your ten ideas. It’s important that you record them all in one place, so pick a tool that works for you and use it exclusively. I use a digital notebook in Evernote so I can access it anywhere.
4. Creating Content
Do you ever get stuck writing a first draft? Maybe you struggle to create more than you consume?
A virtual mentor of mine introduced me to a simple system that breaks down the content creation process (and makes it feel completely doable). As soon as I remembered her method the other day, I was able to stop procrastinating with my article and get on with it.
You can check out this podcast to have her walk you through the process, step-by-step.
5. Task (and Life) Management
Do you get overwhelmed by everything there is to do and struggle to find the time to get it all done?
Keeping track of your to-do list can be chaotic. But a smart task management system can be the key to staying organized and remaining action oriented.
I use two different systems to keep me on target with my responsibilities and business projects.
First, I recommend scheduling everything that is important. And making sure to optimize that schedule so that your creative work comes first (or whatever your frog is).
The other system I recommend is Personal Kanban. It’s a visual project management system that keeps your important tasks at the top of your mind while at the same time reminding you of your progress. Personal Kanban has the power to change your life (and is worthy of it’s own post), so for now, you can read the book or watch this video series to find out more.
6. Green Smoothie Prep
Green smoothies can help boost your energy, incorporate healthier foods in your life and avoid unnecessary decision fatigue. I started having them about six months ago. And while they do help with all of those things, I don’t always want to make them, which is where a system comes in handy.
If you do all the measurement and prep work for your smoothies on grocery day and then freeze all the ingredients, you can just throw them in the blender for breakfast. It’s a super simple system that will save you time AND make you feel better about yourself.
For the last eight years of my life (barring holidays and occasional family celebrations) my husband and I have taken one day off a week together. We binge watch TV, we cook and eat copious amounts of food and generally just enjoy each others company.
Sundays are our system for self-care.
Allowing a day for rest, recuperation, and relaxation does wonders for boosting your mental, physical, and emotional energy and recharges you for your week ahead. I strongly suggest you find one day a week where you schedule in some guilt-free (and completely selfish) time-off.
How to Create Your System for Success
Smart personal systems empower you to achieve the results you want.
They make it easier to stick to your plan and provide the framework for prioritizing the important things. They help you cultivate a habit of action in your life so that you can stop procrastinating and start making visible progress towards your goals.
If you’re sick of wasting your time with excuses and ready to quit procrastinating for good, then ask yourself the following four questions.
- What is something you have been putting off lately?
- Why do you think you are avoiding it?
- What habit can you develop to overcome your obstacle?
- What system can you put in place to stick to it?
Your systems will keep you disciplined and as my favorite Navy Seal would say …
Discipline equals freedom. ~ Jocko Willink
If you can think of an action-oriented system you want to adopt this week then share it with me over on Twitter — I’d love to hear it!
Also published on Medium.