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Procrastination is a dirty word in many environments (work, school, home, etc.) and none of us wants to admit that we sometimes (or many times) give in to it.
Procrastination is the act of delaying or postponing something. It comes from the Latin pro (forward, forth, or in favor of) and crastinus (of tomorrow).
We all try to stop procrastinating by delegating, removing the task from the to do list, rationalizing why it is not important, or ultimately, paying the price of having to push through to make it to the deadline.
There are many reasons why we procrastinate. For example, we may think the task at hand will make us less happy. We underestimate how long the job will take. Or what we want to do does not have a clear deadline. There is an interesting article in Forbes about why we procrastinate.
This quote from Adam Grant brought me to a halt and made me realize the true reason why I procrastinate on activities that are important to me: “the task you’re putting off isn’t always the one you hate. It might be the one you fear. The one that’s worth pursuing.”
I am guilty of procrastinating on projects worth pursuing, and that at the time, were scary to me. Procrastinating is one way our mind fulfills its mission of keeping us alive and safe by not taking any risks or going out of our comfort zone. I say, not anymore! Procrastination stops here.
“Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone.” – Pablo Picasso
Here are five strategies I have used on how to overcome procrastination.
1) Identify your most productive time and tackle the demanding tasks first
In the book Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy, the author explains the concept of ‘eating the frog’ first thing. The frog being your most challenging task and the one that could have the highest positive impact on your life.
The actual time will depend on if you are a morning, late morning, or evening person. I am a morning person, so I do those tasks I know I am likely to put off, as early as I can. The objective is to break the inertia of inaction and to get into the rhythm of the activity.
“The hardest part of any important task is getting started on it in the first place. Once you actually begin work on a valuable task, you seem to be naturally motivated to continue.” – Brian Tracy
2) Acknowledge the fear
When I am on the brink of a breakthrough, I have this ‘OMG, this is real!’ moment. It scares the bejesus out of me. Many times, I have stopped my state of flow out of pure fear. This is normal.
At that moment, I take a short break, breath, and come back to my center. I then focus on the very next step: the next line to read or write, the next document to open, etc.
The more we increase our awareness, the less frequent we have to stop our flow because of fear. Consistent practice is key.
“The task you’re putting off isn’t always the one you hate. It might be the one you fear. The one that’s worth pursuing.” – Adam Grant
3) Take consistent manageable steps towards your goal
Consistent action is like compound interest: the new action builds on the prior one until at one point the exponential growth starts to appear.
My path to being promoted at work started at least five years before I actually got the promotion. I am a natural learner and achiever, so I am an avid reader, I set goals, and I am constantly looking for ways to improve. Unfortunately, I was not always intentional or strategic about my growth.
When I was selected to participate in my first leadership development program at work, I became more deliberate in my approach to self-development. Every Saturday morning, I had a meeting with myself for about one hour, where I would review my development plan, track progress, and prioritize the actions I had set for myself.
I did not see any big changes in the first few months, and I kept going. Little by little things started to shape. When someone senior to me on my team retired the following year, I was ready and took on her responsibilities. I was once more managing a team, this time of more senior people. What I had been working on every Saturday morning started to click and I saw some progress. And I did not stop. Each job I got afterwards had increased scope until I officially got the promotion to the level I had already been operating at.
“Doing just a little bit during the time we have available puts you that much further ahead than if you took no action at all.” Unknown
4) Set a deadline
When projects or goals do not have an end in sight, we tend to think there is more time to accomplish them, so we tend to put off the work entirely.
A couple of years ago, my blood test results made me realize that I needed to change my eating habits and shed off a few pounds. I gave myself a period of four months to lose the weight. That meant that I had to start on day 1 (of 120) if I wanted to meet my deadline. If I had not chosen a due date, I would not have started any immediate action as my brain would have thought ‘why rush? we have plenty of time’.
“You may delay, but time will not.” – Benjamin Franklin
5) Consider a minimum viable product
This is a very popular concept in the software development world. It means that the first iteration of a product or service may not have all the bells and whistles. It will be good enough to make it available to users who will provide feedback that, in turn, will be incorporated in the following versions.
When I started writing my weekly blog posts, they were short, simple, and with bare minimum formatting. As I became more experienced, received feedback, and learned different techniques, I kept improving the posts on content, format, flow, etc.
This approach has allowed me to learn as I go, to share relevant content, and to get a sense of purpose and accomplishment.
“The desire for perfection often leads to the awakening of the Procrasdemon. Allowing yourself to make mistakes is the single most effective way to get rid of it.” – Neeraj Agnihotri, Procrasdemon – The Artist’s Guide to Liberation From Procrastination
Let us become aware of what emotions the project or task brings to light. We may be on the brink of something amazing, a step closer to our goals. Let us overcome procrastination so we can unleash our full potential and realize our dreams for the world to see.
What project or goal is the most important to you and you are procrastinating out of fear? How do you overcome procrastination? Please, let us know in the comments. You can write in English, Spanish, Portuguese or French.
My mission is to help women transform their inner voice from critic to champion, so they can confidently realize and fulfill their potential achieving what they want most for themselves, their families, communities, organizations, and teams.