Lesson 5.3 - Tips for dealing with procrastination
This is lesson 3 of module 5. Have you lost count yet? So many lessons, so much good stuff.
Anyway, in this lesson we’re going to go over tips and action steps to help you get out of procrastination station.
Start taking action
Okay, so here’s the deal.
If you’re willing to make imperfect decisions and take imperfect actions in imperfect conditions, you will conquer procrastination.
Ha, that sounds simple but we all know it isn’t easy.
But the key is to take ACTION. Do something, anything, to get yourself moving in the direction of where you want to go, even if it’s just a tiny little baby step.
Procrastination is not laziness, but fear and overwhelm and overcomplicated objectives. So, what we need to do to be able to take action is to lower the bar. Simplify. Make it easier to accomplish something or have success.
We talked about this concept earlier in module 3, where we talked about tiny wins and using the binary scale. Don’t measure the effort you need to put into a certain project on a scale of 1 to 10. That’s asking for procrastination and for perfectionism to kick in, because in that scenario only 10 is good enough.
Instead, use this binary scale: where 0 stands for not doing anything and 1 stands for doing something. In this case, 1 means success. Choosing to do something means success.
Having to go from 1 to 10 is a giant leap. It’s daunting, which leads to us putting it off. But going from 0 to 1 is a baby step. It’s totally doable.
So, in EVERY situation where you’re procrastinating (or where you feel like you really want to procrastinate), ask yourself this:
“What would it take for me to go from 0 to 1, from not doing anything to doing something?”
“What small step can I take right now?”
“What would be a tiny win right now?”
Now, grab the worksheet that accompanies this lesson, because I want you to practice this technique.
On the worksheet, write down one situation that happened this week where you were procrastinating. Think back on that situation and write out how you could have taken action. What could you have done to go from 0 to 1?
This exercise, of course, is NOT meant as a put-down or a critique. Not at all. Hindsight is 20/20, right? It’s just a way for you to get some practice in and to get you to start using this tool, this technique. The ultimate goal is that you can use this technique in the moment, when you’re procrastinating, and not just after it’s over and you’re looking back on it.
Let go of your fears
In the previous lesson we spend a lot of time taking stock of the fears that are at the root of your procrastination. I don’t need to spend much time talking about fear here, because the way out of fear is simple.
The way out of fear is through - you guessed it - taking action. When you’ll take action, you’ll see that those fears are just a lot of noise and no substance. The technique we talked about earlier will help you deal with your fears as well.
Think of these fears - the fear of the unknown, the fear of failure or success - as your mind’s natural reaction to uncertainty. Being afraid doesn’t say anything about you. Stop making perceived failings or successes mean something about you. Sometimes things don’t work out. That doesn’t mean you’re a failure.
And please, please let go of the idea of perfect. The thing to remember when dealing with procrastination is that what matters is not getting something done well but getting something done at all. You don't want it to be perfect, you want it to be finished.
Another way to reframe procrastination
It could be that you need a little more incentive to get your booty into action.
This is how procrastination works:
“I need ABC before I can start working on XYZ.”
“I need a little more time before I can start doing that thing.”
“I need to do more research before I can start working on that project.”
Procrastination has you thinking that you need something BEFORE you take action. The way out of procrastination is to reframe its message into:
“ When I do ABC I can get XYZ as a treat.”
“When I finish chapter 5 I can get a piece of chocolate as a treat.”
“When I’m done painting this room I can take a long bubble bath as a treat.”
This way you get something AFTER taking action. Whatever it takes to get over that hump.
Well… not whatever, because there’s only so much chocolate you can eat in a day, but you get what I mean. #treatyoself
I don’t recommend you using this tool every time you need to take action or in every little situation, but it’s definitely a great tool to use every in a while to get you over that hump.
Reality-check your standards and expectations
Sometimes procrastination paralysis comes from having expectations that are unrealistic and way too high.
Although having high standards is often helpful, perfectionism is about having standards that are so high that they actually interfere with your performance and with you getting things done.
Most people have strong opinions about how they should perform and how things should be done. There’s nothing wrong with that. However, if you’re anything like me you aren’t very good at assessing the accuracy of your own beliefs about your standards of performance, because you assume that your beliefs are correct.
A little while ago, I was interviewed for a podcast. I was very nervous beforehand, feeling like I had to share everything I know about perfectionism in a way that was inspiring and … well… perfect. Oh, the irony!
Now I realize I held myself to an impossible standard. My beliefs about what would be inspiring to fellow perfectionist was incorrect. All I had to do was share my story, which would have been inspiration enough.
I’m not going to tell you to lower your expectations, because that’s not always realistic. But what you can do is question and reality-check your beliefs and standards about how things should be done and how WELL they should be done.
These 4 questions will help you get a more realistic view of the situation and, as a result, it’ll help you keep your procrastination and perfectionism in check.
Reality-check 1: Excessiveness
The first step is to question the excessiveness of the standard you’re imposing on yourself or onto others. Ask yourself whether this expectation you’re having can be met. Can this goal realistically be achieved?
Reality-check 2: Accuracy
Next, question the accuracy of your belief. Is it true that this standard must be met? In my podcast interview example, the standard I held myself to was not accurate.
Reality-check 3: Helpfulness
Also, think about the costs and benefits of imposing the standard. Does it help you to have this belief or standard? In my case, the expectations I had before the podcast interview only made me more nervous.
Reality-check 4: Flexibility
And finally, question the flexibility of your belief or standard. Are you able to adjust your standards and change your beliefs when necessary?
So, next time you find yourself procrastinating because the thought of doing something is just TOO MUCH and it all seems IMPOSSIBLE, remind yourself that you’re likely suffering from Unrealistic Standard Syndrome.
In that moment, question the excessiveness, accuracy, helpfulness, and flexibility of that standard. You’ll likely find that the standard in question (or your belief or expectation about that standard) can be pared waaaayyy down.
It’s worksheet time again, because I want you to practice, practice, practice.
Use the same procrastination situation from the previous exercise and reflect on if there were any unrealistic expectations or high standards involved. If so, write them down.
Then, question it. Is this standard excessive, accurate, helpful, and/or flexible? Or not? What’s another way to look at that situation?
Remind yourself that most of your beliefs and expectations and standards are arbitrary and subjective, even though you probably feel like they’re true and based on facts.
More procrastination-busting tips
Here are some more tips to help you move from procrastination to action.
Don’t go at it alone
A great tip that will help you beat procrastination is to reach out and find community. It’s very easy to go into hiding when the procrastination bug strikes, because you feel like you should do more and work harder. One day of missed work can feel like the end of the world.
Instead, reach out to a friend or post in a Facebook community where you feel supported. Getting perspective can help everything feel a whole lot more manageable.
Announce you’re working on a special project on Instagram. Share your goals on Twitter. This is a great way of getting a bit of public accountability. Most times no-one would actually call you out on it, but you would know if you let yourself, and everyone you shared it with, down.
If sharing your intentions with hundreds of people is a bit too intimidating, at the very least share it with a friend. Just as long as you feel accountable to someone.
Stop thinking about how you feel
This is a tough one, especially for us creative types. We depend heavily on being in the right frame of mind when it comes to tasks that require that tingling of inspiration, and we know we need to allow for space and time for a new ideas to form.
But it’s too easy to take this same thinking into tasks that simply need executing. You know, the stuff I call ‘grunt work’.
If we’re completely honest, most things we want to get done, don’t get done because we decide we don’t ‘feel’ like doing them. This is why schedules and routines are so important. Set your schedule the day before to make it harder to trick yourself into not ‘feeling’ like it when it comes to tasks that need to get done in order for things to move forward.
Do the icky thing first
Make the icky things you resist and you want to procrastinate on but really need to get done, like sorting your tax return, a priority. Do it first. Schedule some time for it first thing in the morning and don’t let it eat at your mental capacity for the rest of the day.
Okay, that’s it for module 5. We’re done talking procrastination. I truly hope these tips and techniques were helpful for you.
Now, get yourself all caught up with the exercises on the worksheet and then I’ll see you over in the next module!