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A Practical Guide to Overcoming Procrastination

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I know, I know; it's a boring title… not creative, not amusing, not clever. But for many of us, it's a very relevant subject.

Every now and then I take off my silly, creative, fun hat and put on my ‘let's address this problem in a practical way’ hat. Today is such a day. Mr. Serious Personal Development Dude. Almost.

There are two types of waiters:

1) those who serve people food and drinks and

2) those who wait, literally.

I don't eat out a lot, so I don't have much to do with the first type of waiter. But I do deal with waiter number two on a daily basis; people who always seem to be waiting. Waiting for all the planets to align before they will take action. Waiting for an easier way to produce the same outcome.

They have a history of not doing stuff. Not making decisions. Not dealing with issues.
Not having necessary conversations. Not addressing problems. Not being honest with themselves or others.

They are always waiting for the 'right time' to do things. Unfortunately for them (and the rest of us), the right time never seems to come.

They are highly skilled at putting stuff (a scientific term encompassing a multitude of situations, issues and problems) off. They can rationalise, justify, and explain pretty much anything.

Often they are very effective at managing particular areas of their lives (they may even be high achievers), while simultaneously putting their head in the sand about other significant, life-affecting issues — for example; the fat, unhealthy (rich, stupid) business man who ignores his health until he has his first heart attack. He's been talking about getting in shape since the eighties.

We all know people (sometimes we are those people) who spend much of their lives waiting to address things which probably should have been attended to long ago. So, how can we get them (okay, us) from almost doing – thinking, planning, talking — to actually doing (creating different results)?

If you've been 'about' to change your life (or part of it) for years, here are some practical tips for getting the job done:

1. Get yourself an accountability partner/coach. Someone to kick your ass and keep you honest. Doesn't matter if your coach is someone who is doing you a favour (friend, relative) or a professional with whom you have regular appointments, but be completely serious about the process. Share you dreams, plans and goals with your coach, create a realistic action plan and then get busy. By the way, don't work with someone who's gonna tell you what you want to hear (like your sloppy, emotional best friend); work with someone who will tell you what you need to hear.

2. Create some non-negotiable rules for yourself.
These are absolutes. "Every day I will jog for thirty minutes no matter what." "I will not drink alcohol for the next eight weeks." "I will never talk that way to that person again." Share these commitments with your coach and select others. Remember, if nothing changes (attitudes, decisions, behaviours), nothing changes (reality). So commit to real change with some 'you' rules.

3. Consider what it means to not take action.
Visualise your life (health, work, relationships, emotional state, finances) five years from now if you keep procrastinating. Consider the likely consequences of staying on your current path. Like what you see? Me either. By the way, you'll wake up in a minute… and those five years will be gone. So stop waiting for next week, month, year. Decade!

4. Get stuff done early in the day.
It's not rocket science, but this proven principle works. Still, many of us don't do it… despite it's simplicity and effectiveness. It gets our head where it needs to be and typically sets us up for a (more) productive day.

5. Create a to-do list and do the stuff you've been avoiding, first.
It's tough but it's liberating, and you'll feel grouse (Australian for great). I spoke to a woman this week who actually did this (after much prompting from me) and she told me that a massive emotional weight had lifted from her shoulders. She also said she regretted wasting so much time not dealing with things.

6. Consciously avoid making excuses.
When you feel an excuse climbing up onto your tongue, give yourself an uppercut. And if you feel the urge again, then maybe a little left hook. Find reasons to do stuff, not constant justifications for your inactivity.

7. Swallow your pride and be prepared to make mistakes and to look silly now and then.
I look silly regularly, but then again, maybe that's just my nose. Failure (making mistakes, falling over, producing undesirable results) is normal and part of the learning, growing, adapting, developing process. If you want to create amazing then get over your ego and pride and be prepared to learn a few tough life-lessons along the way. We're all flawed and if we're not making mistakes and getting uncomfortable regularly, then we're probably not doing anything! Take an emotional risk. Get vulnerable. You'll survive.

8. Give up TV for 28 days (or more).
Again, another really practical tip for people who are (allegedly) time-poor. The number one excuse we make for not getting 'stuff' done is our lack of time, so let's create some more. Considering the fact that the average Westerner watches somewhere around twenty hours of TV per week, the eradication of those Desperate Housewives from our lives can only spell an increase in productivity. Imagine what we'd get done with an extra eighty-plus hours per month if we actually took that TV time and did something constructive with it!

9. Make a public commitment.
You don't need to take out a full-page newspaper advertisement or anything but for some people (I'm one) a public commitment (to friends, family, colleagues perhaps) to do certain things and/or change certain behaviours or habits is a great way to create and maintain momentum. (You'll get an opportunity to do this in a moment).

10. Make a financial commitment. Not for everyone this strategy but for some, it works well. Many people sign up with my trainers and pay thousands of dollars in advance because they know that commitment will (hopefully) keep them doing what they need to do. People always say to me, "if I pay for it up front, I'll do it." Committing our hard-earned is often a great way to keep ourselves focused.

11. Stop looking for easy and start doing effective. Without doubt, we are the quick-fix generation. We don't like hard work. We like quick, easy, convenient and painless. Some of us never start because we're lazy and have an aversion to anything that looks like hard work.

12. Think less, do more.
Sometimes we think ourselves in to analysis paralysis; we think about things so much that we actually do nothing. Thinking and planning is great but not when it's all we do. This is not to suggest that we should act without thinking but rather, not to over-think. Sometimes we know what we need to do and no matter how many times we analyse and re-analyse the situation, we come up with the same answer. Take the step, dude.

Well, there you have it; twelve suggestions to help you move from procrastination to productivity.

So, if you've been a career procrastinator, why don't you make a commitment to address that issue/situation right now? Why don't you share with me (and maybe a few thousand others) what you are going to change in your life and I'll encourage you and kick you in the butt. You can be as specific or as general as you like.

We'll all keep you honest and you can check in periodically and provide us with a progress report. Welcome to 'group'.

Imagine having thousands of accountability partners! What more could you want?

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About Craig Harper

  • JC Mosquito

    I saw a T-shirt the other day that read:



  • duane

    This list does not help me. My situation is

  • STM

    Well, I meant to comment earlier, but just didn’t get around to it. Now that I have, I just can’t think of anything to say.

    I’ll probably come back later …

  • Dr Dreadful

    Predictably, a spate of procrastination jokes to open the thread.

    Craig singles out TV as the thief of time. But how about (ironically) commenting on Blogcritics…?

  • STM

    Got it.

    I think.

    I don’t see how watching TV constitutes a theft of time, especially if it involves sport, and especially if it involves Australian sport.

    Work can wait, the Wallabies/cricket/League/Super14/AFL can’t. TVs don’t record, unless you pay Foxtel an astronomic fee. Come on Craig, get fair dinkum. There’s procrastination, and then there’s other stuff that’s equally important, like chillin’ out in front of the idiot box watching people throw and boot a bag of wind up the field whilst bumping into each other with considerable force.

    One is only time poor if one considers the things one does in the usual course of a day to be not that important. And I say too, why put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after.

  • slug

    Great article! Thank you

  • Sonny D

    This is a true story. I bought a book from a book club on how to stop procrastinating. Then I started getting notices that I hadn’t paid for the book yet. If they were going to sell that book, what did they expect?