[Updated for 2021]
Normally, I’d start with an intro but in this case, I’ll leave Tim Urban tell you about his fight with procrastination. After all, this is my favourite TED talk; it’s not like I can start otherwise!
Procrastination is the most annoying thing I’ve had to deal with in my life. It has destroyed a lot of opportunities for me, so I had to do my research on it, right?
Before we start though, keep in mind that procrastination is something anyone can experience. You don’t have to be lazy or hate what you’re doing to feel the urge to procrastinate. For example, I was supposed to write this article two days ago. But what was I doing that day? I was watching useless YouTube videos…
Why We Procrastinate
Let’s start with why. Why do we procrastinate?
What I didn’t understand at first is that not everyone does it for the same reasons. And not every time you procrastinate, you do it for the same reason. But the most common reasons for procrastinating are:
- Fear of failure
- Bad planning
- Lack of motivation
How To Fight Procrastination
Each reason needs a different approach, and believe me, at least one of them will make you say: “Yep, that’s me!”.
Cause #1: Fear of Failure
Failing is always a little intimidating. But:
Everything is a matter of perspective.
So let’s look at this from a different angle.
Failing is an incredible opportunity for improvement.
And yes, it took me years to accept that. But the truth is you can learn more by failing than you can learn by succeeding.
Success leaves you where you were before; failure can get you further.
But let’s say you don’t get anything useful from failing, all right? If you don’t try, you’ve already failed. How does this help you?
Not trying means you’ve already failed anyway!
Obviously, we don’t fear failure per se. Otherwise, we’d try our best not to fail. We fear that we’ll get rejected. That someone else will judge our work – or even us – and find us lacking.
And now’s the time for the million-dollar question:
Whom do you try for? Them or you?
How To Fight It
Change your mindset!
Yes, it doesn’t sound very easy, but this is the way to go. You have to change the way you think of the next project, the next challenge.
It’s all up to you!
Stop thinking of the excuses you’ve used so far because you’ve been afraid of what the result may be.
Learn to fail.
I know it’s a terrifying concept if you haven’t failed big in your life yet, but no matter what, you’ll fail eventually at something. The best you can do about it is stand up and get stronger.
Learn from your failures and move on!
Cause #2: Perfectionism
A lot of people don’t realise this, but if you’re a perfectionist, you’ll get it. It’s difficult to start something when you’re trying for perfect.
- How can you do something perfect?
- Where do you start from?
- When can you stop trying to improve it?
Perfection can be very intimidating. And when we’re talking about creative projects, there’s always room for improvement.
Let’s say you want to write your next article. You write it, you edit it and you believe it’s ready. If you give it to a thousand people, you’ll get 1000 different opinions about it. Some good, some bad. But all of them different.
What you have to realise is: There is no such thing as perfection. You can always improve something. Make it a little bit better.
So, aim for something great, but learn to accept something that is good enough to meet your standards and/or the standards of your client/boss – if you work for someone else.
Because when trying to be perfect obstructs you from completing or even starting your current project, then something’s very wrong.
Never forget that done is better than perfect!
How To Fight It
I don’t think I’m a perfectionist, but I do tend to expect from myself more than I should.
So how do I deal with this?
I’m saying to myself:
This is not the final version. You’ll change it later.
Even though, I know that I won’t – for a while, at least – it does work. At least, it works enough for me to start the task.
After starting, things seem easier. The task is ALWAYS easier than I thought and the work is more fun. But it looks like the more I wait, the project looksmore difficult. However, after I start, everything seems easier.
Cause #3: Bad Planning
Or no planning, at all. I’m not even sure which one is worse.
Let’s say you have something to do – a project of some sorts. It’s a lot of work and you don’t know where to start. So… what do you do?
You sit watching TV or… doing housework or… deleting spam emails or… anything else so that you won’t have to start the project. Usually, it’s the second for me. My house has never been cleaner than when I have to start a new project!
But, there are two things wrong with this way of thinking and acting. First, you’ll have to do the project, eventually. And when you start, you’ll have less time until the deadline, so you’ll do a sloppy job – or at least not as good as you could have done.
Second, all the time you spend procrastinating, you’ll be playing in the “dark playground”. (Reference from the TED talk above.)
How To Fight It
The problem here is that the project seems enormous.
But what if it wasn’t?
Grab a notepad and break into simple steps the task you have to work on.
For example, let’s say you have to write your next post. In this case, I’ll break it into 4 steps:
- After Writing
- After Publishing
Then split each step into smaller ones.
- Find the topic.
- Make a first plan of what you want to write.
- Outline the post.
- Create a first draft of the post.
- Write the post.
- Edit the post.
- Check for spelling or grammatical errors.
- Add images.
- Create a Featured Image for the post.
- Add a video if you find – or create – something useful.
- Find the title.
- Add any relevant links.
- Share it on social media.
- Put it on the menu – optional.
- Submit it to Google and/or Bing – so that it gets indexed faster.
Yes, now it may seem more work (from one task, now I have 15), but most of the steps are easy to do.
And when you make your plan, you can use it every time. You don’t have to redo the process for repetitive tasks.
Also, this is a checklist, so you can put a check next to each item when you’re done with it so that you can see your progress while working through your project.
Talk about motivation!
And you don’t have to limit yourself to these two phases. Split your steps as many times as you want. Try to keep each step small enough to be completed in 10-15 minutes.
By the way, this is not my full checklist. Just a small example to show you how I do it. If you’d like to, check out the full checklist.
Cause #4: Laziness
In my opinion, this is the worst kind of procrastination to defeat. When you have something specific to fight, it’s easier to do it. But what can you do when you just don’t feel like doing anything?
First, you have to make sure it’s laziness. Not tiredness, not sleepiness and definitely not a breakdown. If you have worked like crazy for the last months with 4-hour-per-day sleep breaks, then suddenly not wanting to do anything could be your body telling you to stop.
However, if you’re sure it’s laziness – you can be sure it’s laziness when you start watching random Youtube videos you’d never watch if you were to go on vacation tomorrow – there’s one thing you can do to overcome this.
You need to strengthen your self-discipline.
Easy-peasy, right? 🙄
How To Fight It
It’s not easy to master self-discipline but it’s definitely worth the time to do it. What’s cool with self-discipline is that it’s like a muscle. The most you exercise it, the stronger it becomes.
And you can start from little things. Don’t start with huge tasks. For example:
- Refuse a dessert next time someone suggests it.
- Get up the moment the alarm clock goes off.
- Start exercising.
- Start a hobby you’ve wanted to start for a while and stick to it.
Here’s something that may help you!
Now, why is self-discipline important?
Because you won’t always feel motivated. You’ll have to learn to be disciplined.
A small exercise that helped me WAY MORE than I thought it would – when someone first suggested it to me – is getting a plant. A plant you’ll have to water every day.
I could tell you the benefits but I guarantee you won’t believe me. Just get one, make sure to water it every day, and see what changes in a year!
Cause #5: Lack of Motivation
Sometimes, we don’t want to start something because we don’t feel it’s worth the effort. The satisfaction of doing it is… Just. Not. Enough.
You won’t be rewarded if you clean your house so why do it? In any case, it’ll be dirty after a couple of days, right? What does it matter?
This usually applies to these little tasks we keep putting off. Cleaning the house, throwing away old clothes, chasing a dream…
Yes, even pursuing a dream offers little reward when you don’t have a plan to make it true. But that’s a topic for another day…
How To Fight It
Create a reward for the task you want to do. For example, if you clean your house today, you’ll have the rest of the day off. Or you’ll treat yourself to something. Maybe, you’ll buy something you’ve wanted for a while.
It doesn’t have to be something huge; just something to make you get up and do what you have to do.
Do this for each little – or big – goal you want to accomplish and you don’t feel like starting it. It’ll create extra motivation for you to do it.
Procrastination can be the source of a lot of stress and misery in your life. That’s why finding a way to get rid of it is essential.
This doesn’t mean it’s easy or that you’ll find a way to do it fast. But little by little, you’ll get better and even if you don’t overcome it completely, you’ll find ways to work around it.
So… what do you think about procrastination? Have you found a way to beat it?
If you have any questions, I’d be happy to answer! Any suggestions are always welcome, so tell me about topics you’d like me to write.
And if you liked this, check out how to get rid of stress. Procrastination can cause a lot of it, right?
See you next time!