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How To Stop Procrastinating In 3 Steps

The title of this post is a tad misleading because I’m not sure it’s possibly to eradicate procrastination from your life completely without the use of a time machine.

The reality is we all procrastinate from time to time it’s just how we’re wired up.

On the other hand, whereas you procrastinating on emptying the dishwasher may be a tad irritating to your partner, procrastinating on writing a sales proposal or important report may be the difference between having a job and not.

Similarly, not going to the doctors when you find a lump that shouldn’t be there can have much more serious consequences.

I’ve heard numerous incredibly sad stories of people whose procrastination in such circumstances cost them the ultimate price, their life.

If you were ever to do out for a meal with me you’d probably want to punch me when it came to choosing what to order. I am notoriously poor at making my mind up in such situations and will always order last and often under duress from my wife.

However, I seldom procrastinate when it comes to my business (in fact the opposite can be true and I’m sometimes be a bit too spontaneous), and if I find anything medically wrong with me I’m sat outside the doctors office waiting for the doors to open the following day.

You would think that most people would have a greater tendency to procrastinate on trivial unimportant things and get on with the important stuff in their life, because…er….it’s more important, but it doesn’t work like that.

I would guess that at least half of the clients I work with have moderate to severe procrastination issues and chronic procrastination is a major and often debilitating issue for millions of people.

It’s also an issue that people who don’t procrastinate fail to understand and have little sympathy with.

Advice like ‘make a to-do list starting with the biggest and most important item at the top’, ‘download an app’, or read ‘David Allen’s – Getting Things Done’ (al) is usually well meant, but seldom of much value to professional procrastinators.

And the reason it’s largely useless is because it’s not a lack of knowledge per se that causes people to procrastinate.

They often know what to do, they’re just not doing it.

So today I am going to give you what I think are the three best steps to allow you to build momentum which in turn will crush procrastination.

1. Focus On Your Core Values

I know I’m almost evangelical about this, but that’s because it’s so frickin’ important.

In fact, I don’t think  there is any one thing more important in the entire self development industry even though so many people still don’t get that.

Let’s suppose you have a number one value of ‘Family’ and as per the earlier example you find an unusual lump.

The best thing you can do at that point is to focus on that value and the fact that you want to spend as many years as possible in good health with your family.

That’s way more likely to create action than dwelling on your anti-values (things you don’t want) and fretting that you may have to go through painful treatment.

In a business setting ‘Integrity’ or ‘Leadership’ may be crucially important to you. So ask yourself when you’re putting off something important if you feel you are operating within your own value frame work.

Note: If you don’t know accurately what your core values are, then you’re in a bit of a hole with the first step.

Amazingly enough though I wrote just the book to help you ;-)

2. Label It

One of the approaches therapists have taken with people who suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) in recent years is to ask the patient to label their behavior.

By that I mean, rather than saying, “I need to wash my hand 12 times because of the risk of spreading disease” they are instructed to say, “I need to wash my hands 12 times because I have OCD

That one change alone can create a huge shift in some people because they alter their relationship with their condition.

Therefore, when you are procrastinating, tell yourself you’re procrastinating!

Most people will tell themselves they will feel more like doing whatever task it is the following day, week, month.

They won’t!

This is a very common cognitive bias. By and large as Human Beings we’re horrible at understanding how we’ll feel about doing something in the future.

Drop the “I’ll feel more like it tomorrow” mantra and adopt the “I’m procrastinating on this issue because I don’t want to do it” mantra.

The latter is way more likely to get you to act because you have removed your “get out of jail free” card of fooling yourself.

3. Anchor It

An anchor if you don’t already know, is a conditioned response. Think of Pavlov’s dog salivating at the ringing of the bell even when Pavlov had removed the meat and you get the idea.

There is an expression in neuroscience that says “Neurons that fire together, wire together

Effectively that means if you do two things together enough times or with enough intensity, just doing one of this things will automatically trigger the other.

You have dozens of anchors that have occurred naturally through your life.

Maybe a specific song evokes certain emotions each time you hear it because of either a really pleasant or really traumatic event that was happening to you at the time you first heard it.

Or maybe you feel ill at the mere smell of a certain type of alcoholic drink because you once got really hammered on it.

My wife is always up on weekdays before me and she immediately puts the coffee.

The smell of the coffee when I first notice it is now and anchor for me to get my arse out of bed and do some work!

Using this information we can create anchors to use at will. I’m not going to explain that today because you can check out this post if you want to know how.

Wouldn’t it be cool to have an anchor for motivation though, so that when you are being tempted by the procrastination demon you can fire your motivation anchor?

Well you can, so go and learn how and use it.

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20 comments to How To Stop Procrastinating In 3 Steps

  • Mary-Ann Hill

    Hi Tim, another great read, I always end up chuckling at one part or another, so gives me a lift as well. A question for you on the Anchoring – apart from say touching your earlobe or wrist, do some people use a part of their clothing? In thinking about your suggestion we should watch some good/well known public presenters and pick up what their anchoring trigger may be, I recalled the number of times I’ve seen say male politicians, chairmen of the board, other corporate types, wearing the standard “uniform” of fancy suit and smart shirts adjusting their lower shirt sleeves every now and then before and during an important speech. And another question, what about inducing that state in another person by placing your hand on their shoulder while you are talking to them (inducing them) into a positive state (saw that recently and thought aha! That’s a premeditated move, repeated as the person was “talked” into a positive/confident state). And I’ve got a nick name for my significant other who drives me a little crazy with the procrastination habit, so much so that I call him “Later Later Procrastinator” because that is exactly what he says when he doesn’t want to do something, it’s always Later Later… Thanks Again, information delivered with the usual dash of humour and challenge. Mary-Ann

    • Yes the arranging of clothing etc definitely could be an anchor.

      With regard to the touching of the shoulder, I’d say no, that’s more likely to be suggestion techniques. NLP trainers and stage hypnotists use that a lot, but it’s not real anchoring as in there’s not been a change in the wiring of the brain.

      Make sense?

  • Powerful post, Tim!
    Now you got me thinking about how much i procrastinate with certain tasks and look what I found, a couple of anchors for said behavior. Sometimes anchors don’t work as we want them to work. :)
    Time to do some rewiring, thanks for the reminder my dear friend!

    • Correct!

      Ask anybody who is trying to quit smoking but has built up anchors such as the end of a meal means lighting up. It makes a hard task even harder.

  • thanks
    time management is a very important ethic
    not only does it make you faster and reliable
    you save money and display initiative
    good qualities to have!

    thank you

  • Great suggestions, Tim. Now that I work from home and wear many hats I do find that procrastination has come home to roost, in spite of the fact that I never used to do it. I believe that the previous structure in the day made me aware that I had to do certain things at certain times – and now those times just don’t exist anymore!

    • Yeh I agree it’s much easier to procrastinate when you work alone with nobody to kick your ass!

      You need another hat, an ass kicking hat ;-)

  • Tim,

    Fantastic post! Procrastination has definitely been one of my biggest hurdles, and you’re absolutely right that it doesn’t matter if the task is big or small, important or trivial.

    I used think procrastination and laziness were synonymous, but they’re not, and making that connection just made me feel worse about myself without adding to my motivation.

    Without realizing it (until I read your advice), I think I’ve learned to deal with this issue by labeling it.

    “I procrastinate because I’m a perfectionist.” I procrastinate because I raise my expectations, and what I perceive as others’ expectations, to a near-impossible level, and no effort I make is good enough.

    What’s helped me in that regard is to give myself permission to suck at something. When I force myself to just create SOMETHING without judgment or self-editing, most of the time, what I produce isn’t ideal but it’s enough to get the momentum going. From there, it’s a lot less daunting to just fine-tune until I’m satisfied with the finished product.

    I think anchoring is going to be my next step. Thanks for the suggestion!

    • (I just caught a typo in my comment. The sky is falling!)

    • And that is a mistake many people make Brad, they just think they’re lazy when that can be a long way from the truth.

      I have known people paint an entire house just to avoid finishing a report!

      Let me know how you get on with the anchoring!

  • Fantastic post, Tim, and one I can’t agree with more!

    Between about mid December and late March, I found myself in my comfort zone and lazing away in Procrastination Station. During this time, I knew I needed to be doing more. I wasn’t doing it because I didn’t “feel” like doing it. I even recognized I was procrastinating… I just procrastinated on doing something about it :D

    I finally reached a point where I realized that the goals I wanted to achieve were more important to me than just laying around. I discovered that I just had to start taking action on those things that I knew I needed to do. It didn’t have to be a large thing.

    I think one reason people procrastinate is because they feel overwhelmed with the magnitude of some project they need to achieve. When this happens, we need to break it down into small tasks that are easy to do. Then simply take action to get it done. As we get more of these small tasks done, we get closer to our goals.

    Focusing on our core values and what we truly want in life go a long way to helping us get over the “feeling” of not wanting to do something. When it becomes more important to get the task done than to leave it to another day, we will break that procrastination cycle.

    Thanks for sharing, Tim!

    • Yeh overwhelm can definitely be a huge factor for many people Grady, and that’s why sub-goals can work so well for people with hug goals.

  • Lefteris Kokkinhs

    Wow,I have missed some great stuff around here :D So,I can be sure that I do not want to do something if I postpone it for tomorrow?That is interesting,it reminds me of the proverb(not sure if it is greek):do not postpone for tomorrow anything that you can do today!

    Have a great day Tim :D

  • This is an excellent post – certainly something everyone can relate to. I definitely agree that it’s important to label it for what it is. It’s so easy to make up excuses, but to admit to yourself that you’re merely procrastinating can help you re-prioritize. If we do things the way we’ve always done them, the results aren’t likely to change. However, if we step back and start making changes (i.e. actively solving the problem at hand) then everything starts to fall into place.

  • Mike Robinson

    Very useful and interesting post !
    I think the time management is the key factor that controls your goals. Thanks for these great steps and more success !

  • I like your post as it is so informative. Procrastination for me is a problem and your first point has given me great insight. With core values, one will always have the urge to work hard and clear everything that’s on the table.