4 Tweaks to get over procrastination

Do you procrastinate? Personally I don’t like the word itself much, because to me it has a large amount of guilt attached to it. I prefer to say ‘avoiding things we find hard’. I feel recognising that we find something hard to do shows us that there’s something hidden underneath causing the avoidance. This empowers us to face the facts and have more ownership over dealing with the thing stopping us instead of just ‘getting a grip’.

Things I tend to avoid are for example: folding away the washing, clearing the sink and domestic jobs in general. Putting myself out here on the Internet especially with my face (working on that) is also hard, as well as saying no to people when they ask me to do things for them. Your list might look different and still you can use these tips and tools to get more the things you have avoided so far done.

1. Be clear on your motivation

Typically we don’t struggle in doing things that we feel are fun or very important to us. It’s when we are scared of something or find a task boring that we end up procrastinating and not do a task even if we feel that we should. After this we might feel guilty on being ‘weak’ and end up putting ourselves down. This doesn’t exactly improve our views on our own abilities nor our motivation. To cut the vicious cycle it’s better we first recognise when we end up postponing things. Instead of blaming ourselves, we can just notice that we are doing it and then try to figure out why this is.

When we think of why doing the things we are now avoiding are important, the reason should be so compelling that we want to go past the fear or suffer the momentary discomfort to get to our reward. This could be finally starting a new hobby to add interest to our life, applying for a new job to gain more job satisfaction or have a more calm and spacious morning when selecting clothes from a well-organised wardrobe.

Take note if the things you feel you should be doing and end up not to are things you feel others are telling you to do. You might want to have a look at these more carefully; are they things that you feel yourself are important or are you actually beating yourself up for nothing? Yes, general hygiene is needed and the house needs to be tidied by someone at some point. However, if you feel there are more pressing issues to handle, as long as you feel ok with the situation, try not to feel bad about not upholding someone else’s standards.

2. Work on what’s stopping you

It might not always be very clear why you face resistance over doing things. I mentioned that we need to get past whatever is stopping us, and when the motivation is great enough, we are able to get there. But it isn’t always like pushing through the fear of opening your eyes when you are on a balcony and afraid of heights. It might take a lot of work and commitment to get to that balcony in the first place.

Depending on what the issue in itself is, there can be many different things you can do about it. Could you learn more about the subject, so that you don’t feel as intimidated? Often a task might feel so massive that we don’t know where to start. Can you sit down and work out what different things that certain project consists of? After this you could build a project map and dismantle the thing to even smaller steps that are actionable and you might find ones you can do in the moment without massive effort?

For example, if you are wanting to lose weight, you might be feeling the fear of failure or find changing your diet to be too massive an undertaking. Instead of a total overhaul of your diet you might work out that you want to cut down the sugar intake and substitute the biscuits you are having with a fruit cup or halve the amount of biscuits you are eating and keep at it until you have confidence to do a next step.

Breaking down projects into action steps that are less intimidating is often helpful in overcoming procrastination and overwhelm.
Breaking projects or goals down to smaller parts and actionable steps are efficient in reducing overwhelm of large undertakings. When you have a choice of tasks you can do to get started it’s easier to take action. Usually in life you need to advance several things side by side. Be kind to yourself when plans change and you need to readjust. Keep chipping away and progress will happen over time.

Writing your thoughts in a journal might help you to recognise where the resistance is stemming from. Are you hearing the comments of a parent on you being untidy in your head each time you are looking at the clutter in your house? You might not want to do anything about it because ‘that’s who you are’ even if the clutter still does bother you.

When journaling, subliminal thoughts might pop up, which then give you a new angle to address the issue. Then “I’m so untidy” might change into “I want to build in routines to become tidier”, and you start to think more of what you could do instead of what you should do.

3. Get help

There’s many ways help might come in. If you feel you are fighting against depression or phobia that is actually consitently affecting your life and stopping you from doing things, you should mention this to your GP to see if they feel you need professional help. There’s also self-help and self-assessment tools available online. If the situation is not that serious, you might talk to a coach, an alternative practicioner or someone else whose philosophies you feel you resonate with and whose judgement you trust. Here you might want to check backgrounds and credentials and reviews on who you want to put your trust into.

NHS:s website has many valuable resources to assess if you need professional help with your mental state. You can also contact your GP directly.
When you are dealing with your own feelings, mood and mental health, it might sometimes be hard to recognise when you are taking a turn for the worse. The NHS has a lot of resources for self-assessment, self-help and self-referral. For example have a look of their resources here. You can also contact the GP directly if you are worried.

Having supportive friends or family members also help a lot. They might come along with you to an appointment or start working out with you. There are cases where you want to do something new and, even if it is a good idea, your near ones might not be the ones you find the most supportive. This might be because they are resistant to change or find that you aspiring to something else triggers feelings in them making them pull away or even wanting you to fail. In these cases, if you don’t find the support you need in your immediate circle, see if you can find it a bit further away. Online groups and meetups with people doing similar things might also get you new connections.

4. Distract yourself

If the thing you want to get done isn’t really scary, but you avoid it because you feel it’s boring or tedious or the amount of work to be done intimidates you, try distracting yourself by making the thing you need to be doing feel more pleasant. Exercising is way easier with good music and you might listen to a podcast or an audiobook when you are washing or cleaning up. I used to hate folding away the washing but started to watch my favourite shows while doing so (literally propping my phone on the dryer…) to distract me from the thing. What I have found is that I didn’t like folding the washing because it reminded me how ‘lazy’ I had been not having done it sooner. Focusing on something else has helped me get past that. I did some self-work to clear those negative thoughts and am happy to say I can fold away clothes without thinking about it much, as one probably should!

Streaming your favourite show on a portable device where you need distraction from a monotonous task might help you get the job done.
Watching your favourite show might distract from a monotonous thing you don’t like to do. Portable devices make it possible for you to use distraction more widely.

When you use distractions, be accountable on that you actually get the thing done. Distraction is used as scaffolding to help you to take the first steps towards doing a thing without hating it, but if you end up doubling the time it takes you to do the thing, it isn’t really feasible.

When you need to do something that needs your concentration, instead of distraction, create an environment that helps you to keep focused, set a time for yourself on which you want to be finished and add little things that make you feel more comfortable in the situation. When I need to do work I’m nervous about, I light up a scented candle, for the flicker of the flame and the scent helps me to calm down. You might also want to use breathing techniques, emotional freedom therapy (EFT) and other such methods to calm the stress response down and be more mindfull in the moment.

How do these ideas sit with you? Again, I have given you just a few action points, and we could dive in a lot deeper in all the four points. As before, I don’t want to swamp you with a massive list of things to look at. We have plenty of time to dig in deeper and unfolding the layers as we go along. It’s best that we start somewhere and forget about doing things perfectly.