Many years ago, I started the process of eliminating procrastination. It wasn’t easy, and it took me longer to beat than I imagined it would. Over time, the practices I put in place became habits, displacing the resistance I felt towards some tasks and projects. What follows will help you stop procrastinating on the work necessary to reach your goals.
Worst Things First: First of all, not very many things are as bad as you make them out to be in your mind. You can get yourself all wound up and talk yourself into resisting work you need to do. I started to do the very worst thing I need to do first each day, believing that my psychic energy was better in the morning. If I had a tough call to make, I would make it before doing anything else. If I had some client work I wasn’t thrilled to have to do, I did it first—and without hesitation. The early win propelled me into my day, and everything I did after that was increasingly easier. Much of the work I resisted took me less than 45 minutes once I buckled down.
Scheduling Work: If you haven’t ever lived on your calendar, scheduling your work in 90-minute blocks (or something like that), you have no idea how much work you can do in a day. You know that project you don’t want to start on, but you know putting it off isn’t going to make it go away? Schedule an appointment with yourself and put it on your calendar. No matter what happens, when it’s time to begin, get started. For some reason, this provides freedom from worrying about the project or task until it’s time to start.
These first two disciplines are game-changers for all who employ them. But there are more.
Ruthless Prioritization: We get productivity backward. We think of it as tasks instead of outcomes, and we keep to-do lists that are entirely transactional and lacking any emotion, utterly devoid of purpose and meaning. To beat back your desire to procrastinate, you have to start with purpose and meaning. When you look at the work you have to do, framing it in terms of the contribution it makes to the bigger vision you have for yourself, something beyond even goals, you can find your motivation (something Sinek would describe as your “why?” and what I would call your “identity.”).
Order of Importance: This is a derivation on priorities. Two things might be equally important, both in line with your purpose and meaning. In cases where priorities are competing for your time, you have to find another way to measure what gets done and in what order. Some outcomes are more valuable than others, which means you should default to doing whatever is going to make the more significant contribution. What is going to have the greatest impact over the more extended time? Answering this question can move you from being a firefighter to a place where you are exercising personal leadership, building a better future.
Give Yourself Over to the Work: Some work may feel resistible. However, no project can create resistance if you decide to make the project something incredible. One of the most important decisions you make is to choose to give yourself over to your work, investing your emotional energy. So, it’s a report. How do you make the report something people will talk about for weeks and months after you deliver it? You have to have a difficult conversation with a client. How can you help them more than anyone else, and more than they would have ever expected? If every project is a reflection of you, what do you want that reflection to be?
How you do one thing is how you do everything.
All of these strategies are habits you can build. You can will yourself to do the nastiest, foulest thing first, until you no longer even think about it. You can make and keep commitments to yourself, scheduling work on your calendar and treating it like you would anyone else who occupied that same space. If you haven’t every ruthlessly prioritized your work, there will be dozens of things that you will prune from your task list, freeing up bandwidth for what’s important. You know your best work always requires you to engage with it passionately.
If you try these approaches, you will find that your resistance gives way as soon as you start to do whatever it is you were avoiding. Once you are in motion, you have shifted your focus, and procrastination dissolves.