How to overcome procrastination: practical tips and tricks to boost your productivity

How to overcome procrastination: practical tips and tricks to boost your productivity

(Fireup February Self Care Sundays – adapted version)

Today is all about the ‘P Word’ – all about Procrastination. 

Procrastination is not a time management issue or problem. Instead, it’s likely to be about managing negative feelings such as boredom or anxiety. But avoiding negative emotions and important tasks tends to lead to much worse outcomes in the long run, including stress and regret. 

Changing our mindset, rewarding ourselves for progress, and letting go of perfectionism help us overcome our procrastination tendencies. Of course, we’ve all put off tasks at some point in our lives, but have you ever wondered why you and many others procrastinate? Well, some people view it as laziness or slackness. However, something else is at play, so let’s explore what that is. 

As I said, we’ve all put off tasks at some point. 

The thing is that this approach can ironically cause more distress in the long run. Procrastination can lead to increased stress, increased health problems and poorer performance. Procrastinators tend to have more sleep issues and experience more significant stressful regret than non-procrastinators. What’s more, procrastination can also hinder our self-esteem with guilt and shame or even self-critical thoughts that then have a compound effect resulting in us putting tasks off even more. 

A good example would be that if you haven’t yet completed tasks, they will sit there in the back of your mind going I haven’t done that yet, which could cause stress and negative self-talk, I should have done it, I paid for the program, other people would have done it. So if you struggle with putting things off, I’ve got a few tips to help you get on track. 

TIP NUMBER ONE

My first tip is for you to get rid of making a mountain out of a molehill. Or get rid of catastrophising.

One of the biggest reasons we procrastinate is to make a bigger deal out of something more than it is. We may relate it to how tough, boring or painful it may be to complete the task, but whatever the case, the underlying theme is that in doing the job, you might consider it unbearable. But in reality, challenges, boredom and hard work do not kill us, and they do not make us sick. 

Procrastination, on the other hand, is associated with stress. And think of the stress you feel when you avoid making a phone call you know you need to make. Or listening to that webinar, you realise you need to listen to that webinar or not posting that selfie that you know you want to, but you’ve been procrastinating for fear of judgement or comparison.

So to keep things in perspective, this might not be my favourite task, but I can do it. Thus the number one tip is to stop making mountains out of molehills or catastrophising.

TIP NUMBER TWO

My number two tip is to focus on your why. We know that when we have a why it motivates us. Procrastinators tend to focus more on short-term gains to avoid the distress associated with the task as opposed to the long-term results associated with not doing it and the consequences of avoiding this task.

Instead, they try to focus on why you are doing this task. What are the benefits of completing it?

There are different levels of behaviour and the level of behaviour that feels good at the time – it’s not good for me, it’s not good for others, and it’s not suitable for the greater good. It might feel good procrastinating and doing something else  – maybe scrolling, doing your washing instead or pretending to be too busy. Still, in the long run, when you look back, it will cause you more distress in the long run from completing the task at hand.

Things like – putting off cleaning out your wardrobe. Imagine walking in when it is decluttered and how that feels. A little bit like an A.R.Ter posting photos of her garage before and after. She also posted a picture of the inside of her house and how her office was with stuff everywhere, followed by a photo showing the office and desk all clean and tidied and how good that felt for her and how proud she was. 

So when we look at these things, one of the exercises you can do is look at what it will mean for me (you) when I’ve achieved that thing that I have been procrastinating about. Let’s say it’s doing exercise. Focus on how what doing exercise will do for you –  more positive energy, a boost of your self-esteem, serve as a great role model for your children, grandchildren and your friends. Focus on the why, which is the pleasure. 

TIP NUMBER THREE

Tip number three is to get out of your calendar. Here we go, Catie banging on about time management again.

Projects that will get done when I have time, as in I’ll do it when I have time, tend never to happen.

You need to plan the dive, dive the plan, set the goals, and do the schedule. Schedule the time for some of those tasks, just as you schedule an important meeting at work. And when it’s time to do what you’re going to do, set a timer and go, ‘Well, okay, I am going to declutter my kitchen cupboards, and I’m going to do it for 45 mins. Once the 45 minutes is up, I will have a great sense of achievement, and wherever I’m at in 45 minutes, I’ll stop.’

TIP NUMBER FOUR

My fourth tip is to be realistic. Having smart, realistic goals  – so as you establish your schedule, set yourself up for success. You wouldn’t want to set yourself up for failure.

Projects often take much longer than expected, so make sure you include some extra time and look for ways to make it easier for yourself, e.g. If you’re not a morning person, don’t expect yourself to get up an hour earlier to start an exercise program that you’ve put off for months.

It’s better to be realistic and go, ‘ I’m not a morning person, but you know what, a lunch 45 min session or walk or an afternoon walk with the kids or an accountability buddy – that will help me to be more realistic.’

TIP NUMBER FIVE

Number five is to chunk it. To put things into chunks.

Sometimes we can’t see the trees for the forest. We seem to think this task is so overbearing that procrastination follows: I’ve got to finish my diploma or certificate three, and maybe you have four assignments to go. So break this down into manageable parts, e.g. by the end of the month, I will complete certificate three module two. So you set yourself bite-sized chunks, and when you put yourself bite-sized chunks, you give yourself reference points of success when you’ve done them instead of reference points of failure. 

If you said, okay, I want to clean out the whole house, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Do it room by room, even cupboard by cupboard, so you set the goal to clean out the kitchen drawers, clean the kitchen drawers, and get a dopamine hit. You have that sense of achievement.

Chunking down like this helps you to feel less overwhelmed and more empowered—a little bit like if you want to paint the house. Well, instead of going, oh help, I want to paint the house, instead go, I want to paint the lounge room. And focus on painting the loungeroom, for starters. Chunk it down.

TIP NUMBER SIX

My sixth tip for you – excuses be gone.

Do any of these sound familiar: I’ll wait ‘til I’m in the mood, wait ‘til I have time, oh I work better under pressure – call me lastminute.com, I need xy and z to happen before I can start.

I’m just going to say when you’re above the line, you say to yourself, stop it. Be honest with yourself. They are simply excuses. Sure, it might be nice to ‘be in the mood’ to clean out the kitchen cupboards, but waiting to be in the mood for that to happen might mean that you might never clean out the kitchen cupboards or clean out your wardrobe.

Because I don’t know how many people are in the mood to clean their wardrobes. Just saying…

TIP NUMBER SEVEN

My seventh tip is to get an accountability person.

Establish specific deadlines for completing tasks and find someone to help you be accountable. It could be to a Facebook group, a  promise to a friend, a commitment to a colleague, or a promise to a coach. It’s simply about having an accountability person because we are far better at keeping promises to other people than we are keeping promises to ourselves.

We know that when we articulate a goal or a commitment to somebody, we are far more likely to follow it through. A Harvard study found that. And not only when we articulate it to somebody else but when we write it down. 

Who is going to keep you accountable?

TIP NUMBER EIGHT

My tip number eight is to optimise your environment.

Habits that hinder and habits that help. And the environment is one of the biggest influences. Your environment can help or hinder your productivity. Be aware, especially of technology such as your email or messenger that keeps pinging to let you know somebody has reached out. I’ve gone on and on about social media, scrolling, being a scroll hole and internet research – the right or wrong way to clean out a cupboard that leads to taking you off track.

We also know that phone calls can lead to procrastination, and sometimes we make those phone calls ourselves as an elegant adult avoidance strategy. So – just as you do when at work, block some time out at home and say to yourself, I’m going to put my phone in the cupboard, and I’m not going to look at my computer whilst for the next 45 minutes I clean out the drawers in my bedroom. Or clean out the shelves in my bedroom – just the shelves so that after that, when you go and check your phone or Facebook or whatever it is, it becomes more like a reward than a procrastination strategy. So really make use of that time.

TIP NUMBER NINE

Now my tip number nine is to reward resourceful behaviour.

Establish a reward when you have done these things. Make it so that now I can get on social media for half an hour; yes, I can shower or take the dog for a walk. Or yes, I can allocate half an hour to ringing up a really good friend. Doing that after you achieve something you have been procrastinating about feels excellent.

TIP NUMBER TEN

My tip number ten is to forgive yourself.

Stop beating yourself up about the bloody past. I bang on about that all the time. Thoughts such as I should have done this earlier, I always procrastinate, I’m such a loser – only makes matters worse. We know that forgiving ourselves and treating ourselves with kindness and compassion helps to stop putting things off as we’re moving forward.

You can use past procrastination to your advantage if you have mindfulness about what caused you to be in avoidance. Was it the fear of the opinions of others? Was it stress? Having a not good understanding? Having a lack of accountability. Was it just using elegant adult excuses? Was it fear of judgement? Then choose to address those obstacles because so many are to do with our thinking. 

Our thinking creates our reality, and our thinking makes a whole lot of shit up. So consider what steps you can take to feel more empowered and less fearful the next time. This may mean some coaching, and this may mean reaching out to a friend. This may mean going for a walk beforehand; this may mean playing some music.

TIP NUMBER ELEVEN

My last tip for you is for you to drop perfectionism.

Many of you know I have this saying that says a perfectionist has no standards because nothing is ever good enough.

Perfectionism is a bit of an all-or-nothing mentality – something’s either perfect or a failure. And people with perfectionist tendencies tend to wait until things are perfect to proceed. So if it’s not perfect, you cannot be finished. So this whole being a perfectionist has no standard is that whole thing – that nothing is ever good enough, or maybe there’s never the perfect time that you believe you can start something. 

This all-or-nothing mindset can hold you back from starting and completing tasks. Instead, choose a mindset that says something is better than perfect because what is perfect anyway. This still means to strive for excellence, whatever that means for you—or setting yourself up with great conditions. But at the same time, focusing on getting the job done and getting the job done is, in its way, perfect. 

LASTLY

My last little tip would be to make someday today. Follow these steps that I’ve shared with you and get started – on a project, get started on one of those frogs that maybe you’ve been procrastinating, or create a new list of frogs and post that in your ever-present accountable Facebook group, or for those of you not on Facebook tell a good friend to give you accountability. 

Lots of love, Catie