How to be an Anti-Procrastinator

Procrastination. We’ve all been there, we can’t get ourselves to write the paper, make the doctor appointment, finish the shelving in the garage, get our workout in, do the laundry or write the email until perhaps it’s absolutely last minute and the consequences are too high not to do it. I call myself an anti-procrastinator, because I have come to be the absolute opposite of a procrastinator. Not only do I get things done on time, but I get things done way before they are ever due. This is because I have learned what works for me and created a positive cycle of reward for getting these tasks done. This post will help give advice to procrastinators on how to actually get that work done you keep saying you will. This post may also help some of my anti-procrastinators stay curious about their procrastinating friends and family members.

How to Stop Procrastinating

Procrastination: to put off intentionally and habitually or to put off intentionally the doing of something that should be done (Merriam-Webster)

Step 1: Understand the underlying issue

Procrastination is a very common problem. Even I, the anti-procrastinator, still have moments of procrastination on tasks. You are not alone on your journey to discover why you procrastinate and how to get better at it. The first and most important task is to understand why you are procrastinating. The cause for putting off a task could differ for each new task, however we tend to have repeat reasons and cycles why we procrastinate. Stay open minded and curious because once we understand the why, we can work on getting this task and future tasks completed.

Think of one task you are procrastinating on. Select the answer or multiple answers that best explain why you believe you are putting off the task: 

  1. I do not have the time 
  2. It feels too big of a task, I don’t know where to start
  3. I keep forgetting about it
  4. It’s too hard or complicated, I am not qualified or able
  5. I just don’t feel like doing the task. It’s not fun or exciting
  6. This task is not worth my time
  7. I want to do the task, I just don’t do it. I don’t know why 
  8. I have an actual limitation – financial, personal, etc…

Step 2: Address the underlying issue(s)

I highly suggest reading this awesome article called Why You Procrastinate (It Has Nothing to Do with Self-Control) written in the New York Times by Charlotte Lieberman. The article states ….

“Procrastination isn’t a unique character flaw or a mysterious curse on your ability to manage time, but a way of coping with challenging emotions and negative moods induced by certain tasks — boredom, anxiety, insecurity, frustration, resentment, self-doubt and beyond.”

Charlotte Lieberman, Why You Procrastinate (It Has Nothing to Do with Self-Control), NY Times

The article highlights how procrastination is more about managing our emotions than our time. We are so worried about managing our immediate negative reactions to the task that we avoid getting the task done. This is instinctive to our primitive selves, because the current self needs have always been more important than future self needs. This avoidance gives a release of stress, which is a form of reward, then as time goes on we feel guilt about the incomplete task, which results in more procrastination to remove the negative feelings. This folks, is what we call a cycle of chronic procrastination.

So let’s go through each of the issues listed in step one and see how we can help you complete your task by removing physical and emotional barriers, developing healthy habits and building up your intrinsic motivation:

  1. I do not have the time 

    Emotional barriers: Avoidance – The busiest people I know get the most done and they are the least likely to procrastinate. Which tells me, it’s less about time as it is avoidance. Try to find out if you really do not have the time, or is it that you’re filling that time with other items in order to avoid doing it.

    Exercise: Complete a time study (don’t put this off!): Most people are actually incredibly unaware of how they spend their time, I challenge you to do a time study on yourself in order to understand if you have the time. There is no more important data than the data on how you’re living your life! So open up Excel, Word doc, a Notes app, or a journal and literally start writing out your day in 30 minute increments from the minute you wake up to the time you shut your eyes. Do this for at least one weekday and one weekend day. Things to look for: Are there areas of your day you could spend more intentionally? Did 15 or 30 minutes go by and you’re not sure exactly what you did? Were you surprised by anything? Could you replace some of your time to get the task done? Did you spend an hour watching Netflix? Could you turn that to 30 minutes?

    If you found that you really are too busy, the next question is, do you actually have to do the task, can you say no to the task or delegate the task? Before saying “yes” to a new task or assignment, always assess your current workload.

  2. It feels too big of a task, I don’t know where to start

    Emotional barriers: Anxiety – What your feeling is anxiety and that anxiety is immobilizing you. When I first trained for my marathon someone told me “you’re not running 26.2 miles, you’re running 1 mile 26.2 times”. It’s a worthwhile point of view shift. 

    Exercise: Break your task up into small chunks and have rewards for each small task completed. As an anti-procrastinator this actually helps me balance my workload, I want to complete everything the minute I get it, but then I get burned out. Instead, I make small goals each day such as “Read 2 chapters, draft the report, make a list of supplies needed for garage cleanout”. Reward yourself with things like getting your nails done, treating yourself to that European chocolate bar or buying that new cute shirt once the whole task or small pieces of the task are complete.

  3. I keep forgetting about it

    Emotional barriers: Worth – Forgetting about a task can indicate its worth to you. If your boss asks you to complete a report and your co-worker asks you to forward that email, you probably wrote down the task from your boss but maybe not the other one. The result of not doing the task from your boss is perceived to be more consequential, however, by not forwarding the email, you just told that co-worker how little importance they were to you, potentially damaging a trusting relationship. Burning bridges is never advised for long term career growth or relationship development. Stay curious about why you keep forgetting to do the task.

    Exercise: Find what works for you and develop a system for creating checklists and reminders. I personally love to use my calendar app and have it remind me to do the task. Sometimes I don’t have time to even think about when I can get the task done, so I set a reminder to think about the task say in two days on my phone. I have created a habit to check my calendar daily and look for these items. I also love writing things down on sticky notes, something about writing it down helps enforce it in my brain, however some people love using their iPad for that. The most important thing is creating a habit around checking for your reminders and to-do lists, if you have a white board or a notes app that you already look at regularly then use that.

    Remove distractions: Forgetting about a task could also be a result of a  distraction issue. Did your friend ask you to stop at Target on your way to their party, but were multitasking as you said “uh-huh”? Remove your distractions when agreeing to any tasks and make sure you have the capacity to take it on. Were you about to get a quote on that fence but then saw your Candy Crush app sitting there? Remove apps and distractions until you complete the task.

  4. It’s too hard or complicated, I am not qualified or able

    Emotional barriers: Insecurities – This one is likely a result of a fear of failure or other insecurities from your past chasing you around.

    Exercise: Journal out your fears around the task, are you truly not qualified or are you afraid something wrong could happen, you could disappoint someone, or fear that you won’t finish it. Did someone at a young age tell you you were a bad writer, so you keep pushing off writing that book? Stay curious and dig into where those fears and insecurities are coming from. Practice compassion and give yourself some grace.

  5. I just don’t feel like doing the task. It’s not fun or exciting

    Emotional barriers: Intrinsic motivation and fighting boredom.

    Exercise: In the New York Times article mentioned above, they suggest determining your next action. “‘What’s the next action I’d take on this if I were going to do it, even though I’m not?’ Maybe you would open your email. Or perhaps you would put the date at the top of your document. Don’t wait to be in the mood to do a certain task. “Motivation follows action. Get started, and you’ll find your motivation follows,” Dr. Pychyl said.”

  6. This task is not worth my time 

    Emotional barriers: Value trade off – the value of completing the task is not equivalent to the reward for completing the task.

    Exercise: Try an exercise we use in sales – what would your life be without doing the task (feel the pain), and what could your life look like if you complete the task (create vivid imagery of happier days). Consider first what would/will happen if you do not finish the task. Will it hurt or inconvenience others, if so, will it damage the relationship? How do you see the conversation going with others who are expecting you to complete the task? Will your spouse be up in arms about not mowing the lawn? Will the task have consequences if not done? Create a very detailed imagery of what could happen if the task is not completed. NOW think about what will happen once you do complete the task. What benefits are there? Will you feel relieved, happier? Create vivid imagery of how you will feel, conversations that will be had and items achieved. Perhaps there is some value in completing the task after all?

  7. I want to do the task, I just don’t do it. I don’t know why 

    Emotional barriers: Self Deprecation – you’re likely self deprecating, criticizing yourself for your inability to get the task done and maybe calling yourself lazy or stubborn.

    Exercise: According to an article by Business Insider, The 4 main types of procrastinators, you are too hard on yourself and you need to practice forgiveness and self compassion. They suggest taking a break, going for a walk or whatever you need to recharge before heading into the task.

  8. I have an actual limitation – financial, personal, etc…

    Stuff happens and sometimes we have to be okay with putting off a task, even if we don’t want to. Forgive yourself for the incomplete task, be understanding of your situation and give your self some grace. Set a reminder in a couple of months from now and see if you can get back to the task.

Step 3: Get the task done

Breaking a cycle of procrastination is not going to be easy, but it will be rewarding. Once you conquer your primitive instincts to push off items, you will be more at peace, able to rebuild relationships and achieve some of your lifelong goals and dreams. A life of an anti-procrastinator is one full of potential and freedom. So stay curious, forgiving and kind to yourself as you head into your new anti-procrastinator identity and enjoy the journey ahead.

One thought on “How to be an Anti-Procrastinator

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: