“The biggest lie we tell ourselves . . . is ‘I’ll do it later'”. ~ Peter McWilliams
You’ve heard me say before that Procrastination is one of my greater talents. Over the years, I’ve honed it to a fine skill. (At one time, my procrastinating was so bad that I was afraid of Saturday the 14th.) It’s the reason I think and write so much about overcoming procrastination – I need all the advice I can get.
I recently came across a technique that promises to be a great procrastination buster. Of course, there are a number of good ways to battle procrastination, and this is another good tool for those of us who find it so easy to “do it later”.
This technique is this: Stop thinking about it so much. Get it out of your conscious mind.
Don’t debate it.
Do not fall into a debate about whether you should do it now or do it later. For we procrastinators, “do it later” is almost always going to win. Don’t think about all the reasons why you can’t start now. Don’t dwell on the knowledge that you are procrastinating. As much as possible, don’t think about it at all. Make action automatic.
You know, excellent procrastinator that I am, I almost never say “I can’t go to bed tonight. I’ll do it tomorrow.” or “I can’t eat today, maybe I’ll eat later.” or “This isn’t a good time to brush my teeth. I’ll do it another time.” I’ll bet you can think of dozens of other examples — tasks or chores or activities where, in the famous words of Nike, you “just do it”.
Why is that? It’s routine. It’s automatic. It’s habit. You already know what you’ll do first, what you’ll do second, what you’ll do third, and so forth. You don’t have to think about how you’ll get started, so you don’t have to decide if you’ll do it now or later. You just start. And pretty soon, you’ve done it.
Plan to start
How about the things you procrastinate on? Chances are, you don’t really know how to start — what you’ll do first, then what you’ll do next, and next. Procrastination is, by definition, the art of not starting. Usually, once you start, you’re over the hump, past the barrier. You’re already doing it for dozens, if not hundreds, of small daily tasks now. (If you’re not, if procrastination has you completely stifled, I urge you to seek professional help.) So how do you translate that into those jobs and activities that you’re going to get to “later”?
Plan. Let’s first look at something most people don’t usually procrastinate on, for example, brushing one’s teeth. I have an evening routine: 1. Rinse. 2. Get out the dental floss. 3. Floss. 4. Rinse (again). 5. Get out the toothpaste & toothbrush. 6. Brush. 7. Rinse with mouthwash. You see, I always know what I’m going to do first, how I’m going to get started. After that, it’s simply a matter of following steps 2, 3, 4, etc. I bet you have a similar routine.
Routine takes over
How can you apply that same technique to other tasks, the ones that are all too easy to procrastinate on. Look at paying bills. How can you turn that into a routine?
First, consider using automatic drafts for as many things as possible. Anything you can automate takes procrastination out of the picture. Then, pick one or two days each month when you will pay bills — say the 15th and 30th or the 1st and 3rd Mondays. In this way, you have it scheduled in and you don’t have to think about when you’ll do it.
Next, keep all the materials and supplies you’ll need handy in one place — the bill in-box with the current bills, pen, envelopes, stamps, etc. — so you don’t have to search about for the things you need. Next, have a first step, know what you’ll do as soon as you sit down to pay bills. Maybe you’ll open all the envelopes and sort the bills by date. Maybe you pick up the first one and write the check. What ever it is, always make it the first step. As much as possible, make the activity automatic. The less you have to think about what you’ll do, the less chance you’ll procrastinate.
Or, say you want to leave work each day with a clean desk. First, decide what time you’ll need to stop work each day so that you can straighten your desk. This may depend on how untidy your desk is at the end of the day. Say you decide you’ll need 15 minutes to straighten up. If you leave work at 5:00, then you know you’ll always stop work and begin straightening up at 4:45.
Decide what will be your first step. This is the activity that let’s you “know” you’ve begun (Like rinsing your mouth, or getting out the toothpaste to brush your teeth.) It could be putting away all your files. It could be making notes for tomorrow. Whatever you choose, let it be the same 1st step every day so you don’t have to think too much about what you’ll do — you just do it.
You can beat procrastination.
Procrastination is a powerful habit in some of us. But you can beat it. Replace the habit of procrastination with the habit of getting started. Once you start, you’ve overcome much of the inertia, so find ways to make it easier to start. Take it out of your conscious mind and make starting as automatic as possible. If you always know what your 1st step will be so you don’t have to think about it, you’ll be much more likely to get started and much less likely to procrastinate. And that is Excelerating!
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Excelerated self-discipline — doing what you say you will do — is one step in creating your Excelerated life, a life of well-being, meaning, and purpose.