How to Stop Procrastinating

“When you have to make a choice and don’t make it, that in itself is a choice.” – William James

How to Stop Procrastinating

By Andrea Novakowski

Whether you’re 28 or 68, a business owner or a CEO, it’s a good bet you sometimes find yourself putting off an important job, task, or project.

There’s good news and bad news about procrastination. The good news is that there are strategies to overcome it. The bad news is that it will keep on showing up, no matter what your age or your occupation. You need to have a plan for what to do when it appears — because it will.

Why Do You Procrastinate?

There isn’t just one reason, but several, that cause you not to start (or not to finish) something. The cause varies for each person and situation. Below are the top five reasons for procrastinating that I’ve encountered in my clients, along with solutions that they’ve used to successfully move forward.

5 Reasons We Procrastinate & What to Do About It

Putting other people’s priorities ahead of yours. You care about not letting others down and showing them you’re competent. You want to be seen as thoughtful, responsible, and agreeable. And of course, you want to keep your job. As a result, work that’s important to you may take a back seat to your obligations to other people.

Action: Identify your top priorities. Each week, build in space on your calendar to advance those projects that are near and dear to you.

Fear of failure (or success). Are you afraid of what might happen if you don’t excel at a project you’re working on? Or what if you do? This type of procrastination is actually a fear of the unknown. We’re not sure what the outcome of our efforts will be, and that uncertainty can be paralyzing.

Action: Spend some time envisioning what will be possible after you complete this project. If you don’t finish the project, maybe you can keep dreaming and not step into real action. Or perhaps this is the last step before a promotion or an award. What will that mean for you and your family?

No accountability. When you work on a project for a client or customer, someone is overseeing your progress. There are built-in due dates. When it comes to your own projects, the due dates only matter to you.

Action: Find an accountability buddy, someone who will hold your feet to the fire while you do the same for them. Set up weekly check-ins to share what you’ve accomplished, what you haven’t finished, and what you’re committing to for the upcoming week. Make sure you are specific about tasks and deadlines, which can help with goal-setting and promote a sense of accomplishment.

Discouraging self-talk. What are you telling yourself about what you’re working on? Do those statements energize you, or do they drain you? We all have an internal voice that comments on our actions all day long. It’s easy to get distracted by its chatter, especially if it’s negative.

Action: Imagine someone other than you was doing the work. What would you say to them to encourage them to succeed? Is that the same thing you are saying are to yourself? How can you change your internal dialog so that it supports and encourages you and doesn’t drag you down?

Burnout. Our brains can stay focused for only so long. Studies show that overwork alters the neural circuits in the brain, making you more susceptible to negative emotions like anxiety and depression. In other words, when you do any activity for an extended period of time — whether it’s creative thinking, analysis, or decision making — your brain gets tired and doesn’t function well.

Action: Give yourself a break. Here are some ways to re-energize those neural circuits: daydream to generate ideas, breathe deeply, take a walk, get a cup of coffee or a glass of water. Allow your mind to wander. Look out the window. Clean your whiteboard. Listen to music. Work out. Then come back and refocus.

Bonus idea: When all else fails, set your timer for five minutes and just start. You may be surprised at what you can accomplish in five minutes, and that 5 minutes may stretch to 15 or more.

YOUR CALL TO ACTION

The next time you find yourself stalling or avoiding the task at hand, take a moment to become aware of what you’re doing (or not doing) or saying (either aloud or to yourself). Identify the obstacle that’s showing up for you, review the list above, and determine what action will get you moving.