Six ways to stop procrastinating and finally get things done

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There's nothing more aggravating than knowing there's something that needs to be done, to obsess about it constantly but not actually do it.

I’m guilty of this too. Personal projects are the first to bear the brunt of this. I postpone taking action by telling myself there’s more thinking to be done, the conditions aren’t ideal, I’m too tired to concentrate and so on and so forth.

Not surprisingly, my to-do list gets clogged up with overdue projects week after week and I feel worse. You'd think that I would finally get going now that the things on my list are long overdue. But no! It's back to another cycle of worry and regret.

I’ve done this dance long enough to see some patterns emerge.

Here are six techniques (3 internal devices and 3 external ones) to use when you’re procrastinating on a task for unreasonably long periods of time:

Internal devices:

  1. Look at your hands — this one’s exactly what it says on the tin. Whenever you’re stressing about not having done something but you’re sitting there not feeling quite ready to do it, look at your hands. What is the one thing you can do with your hands to start this task? Write down the steps? Make a phone call? Google something about it? Do just that with your hands. The biggest hurdle to completing something is the inertia of getting started from a state of rest. If you can start something, you’re likely to push yourself to finish it.
  2. Set up a schedule to do it / not do it — Raymond Chandler, author of, ‘The Big Sleep’ set aside 4 hours each day to write. However, this didn’t mean those 4 hours had to be spent writing. In his own words, “A professional writer doesn’t have to write in these four hours, and if he doesn’t feel like it, he shouldn’t try. He can look out the window or stand on his head or writhe on the floor, but he is not to do any other positive thing, not read, write letters, glance at magazines, or write checks.” (Emphasis mine) Setting aside time to work on whatever you’re putting off will coax you into doing it because you would realise that there’s no escaping it. Sitting still for a specific period of time will generate enough restlessness to force you to do what you’re supposed to be doing.
  3. Plan a reward — There’s some small part of us that relishes winning things, even if the rewards are something that we’ve set ourselves. There are three elements to engineering a habit that sticks : the cue, the action and the reward. For example, if I wanted to read more and I was dragging my feet about it, I’d tie the reading habit to a cue that already exists in my life, such as getting up to grab a glass of water. I would tie drinking water to a bite sized chunk of progress, such as reading one page of a book I haven’t started reading, and reward myself by drawing a star on my desk calendar for each time that I followed through with this practice. My desire to keep a streak of stars going helps me stay on track with the reading goal. It feels effortless because it’s a ridiculously small amount of effort and I am simply tying it to an existing task/habit. The beauty of this approach is that after a few days, the reward mechanism inspires you to do more and collect more rewards and eventually the task itself becomes enjoyable and you’ll end up investing more time than you planned to invest when you started this habit loop.

External devices:

  1. Recruit your friends to keep you accountable — A little intense, but try announcing your projects to friends and ask them to police you. For instance, I wanted to write more regularly, so I told my friends of my intention to do so. When I fell off the wagon, they had every right to ask me why I was slacking off. In fact, every time I texted them I was compelled to make sure that I’d done something about the goal before they asked about it. Or if you plan to wake up early every day, let your friends know the latest time before which you should fall asleep and ask them to check on you if they suspect that you’re breaking your own rules. Not only does this make for some fun conversations but you will feel like you’re being supported by people who want you to succeed.
  2. Sign up to something that forces you to do it or pay for it — There are some things I just haven’t been able to bring myself to do unless there was money at stake! Nothing makes things as real as investing cold hard cash into your projects. Procrastinating on the fitness goal? Sign up for a gym membership and go to the gym regularly to make sure you’re getting your money’s worth. Better yet, prepay the membership for a year or so to make sure you can’t cancel after a short span of time.
  3. Ask yourself, “What would my crush/kid think?” — This one’s a bit funny but it works like a charm. We’re wired to project our best selves to people we admire or care about deeply. We tell our crushes we’re unique and special, highlighting our various virtues. Even if we don’t have the nerve to talk to this person we admire, we wish that they’d see us in a positive light. It’s the same thing with children as parents are always trying to set a good example for the kids to follow. When you’re being a slob, ask yourself what would your crush think of you if they saw you at this very moment. I’ve sat immediately upright whenever I have asked myself this question. Something about it demands that I’m the best version that I can be. Most times it’s the ultimate kick in the shins that I need to get cracking on that long overdue project!

It only takes a little effort to put these techniques into practice. While these techniques might get you started on the journey to becoming more productive, you will have to find ways to keep the flames burning. To learn how to do this, click here.

Before you go, think of one project that has been on your to do list for way too long now and pick one of the techniques listed above to take the first step towards completing it.

Remember, don't have to boil the ocean, just throw the first pebble into the river before you.

Start that ripple.

Author of 'How to be a Lighthouse'. I write for those pursuing excellence and meaning.

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