Scott H Young

Procrastination – Start Now (Series)


Think about the last time you put something off even though you knew you should do it? If you are like most people, you probably don’t have to look very far back. Procrastination is a very common problem and it ranges from being a minor nuisance to a complete disruption of your life. This is the final part in a three part series dedicated to solving procrastination in its forms.

Procrastination – Series

Introduction (Understanding Procrastination)
Break It Down
Start Now

In the introduction I outlined how it was important to first understand where your procrastination was coming from. Once you understand what is causing your inaction, the next step is to break down your obstacles into manageable chunks. After breaking down your procrastination into manageable chunks, the next step is simple: Start!

In many cases your efforts to break down the procrastination will give you enough momentum and drive to get started. Other times you will still put off doing anything, even when the steps to start taking action are minute and actionable. When this happens, getting the right push can send you over the wall of inaction.

Before I outline steps to help give yourself more of a push to get started, you need to realize that simply breaking down your procrastination can be a motivator. By planning your action and dissolving a large task into components you usually gain a small boost of momentum. It is because of this that you should always try to start immediately after you break down the obstacle. When you set down that pencil after writing down your plan, you should act right away. If you need to resort to the additional steps posted here, do so, but don’t leave your list and go make a sandwich, watch television or take a nap.

I like to use a wall analogy to describe procrastination. This tendency towards inaction is like a large stone wall in your path. For some psychological or physiological reason you simply run into this barrier when attempting to move to action. Once you understand how the wall works, how tall it is and what properties it has (understanding procrastination), it is time to build some stairs (break it down). Unfortunately, sometimes that first stair is simply too hard to climb up on, in which case you need to get a push.

Use Rewards

The first way you can help defeat procrastination is to use rewards to overcome small steps along the way. These rewards, if they are meaningful and they don’t disrupt the flow of action can be a strong push up those stairs and eventually over the wall of inaction. Finding and using rewards can often be difficult to determine on the spot, so I have a few tips on how to create rewards as a push in the right direction.

Reward Now – All rewards must emphasize that you must take some action immediately in order to achieve them. So if your reward for starting your project is to go out to watch a movie, it must be based on starting your project within a minute or two, otherwise you will continue to procrastinate. Unless there is a sense of urgency connected with the reward it won’t work.

Avoid Interruption Rewards – Although rewards the interrupt the flow of action can sometimes work, they should be avoided. Having a reward for starting being that you can take a break in ten minutes will disrupt the flow of action. If you have built up enough momentum you may be able to put off the reward until later, but otherwise you may find yourself stalling.

Rewards Don’t Need To Be Tangible – A reward doesn’t have to be a physical object or event. Although external rewards can work well, rooting psychological rewards can help as well. It may seem silly to give yourself a pat on the back as a reward, but giving yourself a small emotional reward can be very easy and effective.

Now whenever your attempts to break down procrastination don’t seem like enough, you can use rewards to give yourself a little boost in your way over the wall of procrastination.

Use Leverage

Rewards are a good strategy, but they don’t have the power to overcome the huge obstacles in procrastination. Pain motivates us far more than reward as it is more deeply rooted in our survival. Although it is never as fun to create a punishment based reward system to spur yourself to action, in more severe cases of procrastination, getting serious leverage might be necessary. Here are some tips for using leverage as a motivator:

Don’t Rely on Willpower – If you make a promise saying that you will not get to watch your favorite television show unless you take action immediately, you have to be the one to enforce that decision. When this happens the threat may lose significance if you feel empowered to change it when you want. Self-enforced leverage can be good, but it is far from optimal.

Use People – Using other people is one of the best ways to ensure you stay congruent to your decisions. If you are procrastinating switching careers, giving a letter of resignation to a friend and telling him to promise you will mail it to your boss before a given date if you haven’t already quit will certainly give your complacency a snap.

Emotional Leverage - Although external leverage can be the easiest to maintain, emotional leverage can be effective when you need an easy push. Making yourself feel bad for not acting immediately is a common strategy and it is often the method most people use to naturally overcome procrastination.

Using rewards and leverage you can create a strong push in the right direction so you can start to overcome your procrastinating tendencies. These steps may be unnecessary for cases of minor procrastination but essential for serious ones.

Modify the Activity

Another interesting solution to give yourself a push over the barrier of procrastination is to modify the activity involved. By making the given activity itself less fearful, more exciting or less energy draining it will be easier to overcome. Not all activities can be modified in this way, but it can be an excellent technique for those that can.

A simple example of modifying the activity is to listen to music when exercising. If you’ve been putting off hitting the gym, then bringing out some fast music can often make the activity a lot more exciting and fun. By modifying one element of the activity you can completely eliminate the problem of procrastination.

Another example might be someone who is procrastinating finding a relationship. For this person, instead of going around and approaching people, they may find using an online dating service a less fearful method to meet new people and take the edge off the dating game. This solution certainly isn’t universal, but there are often lots of alternative activities for achieving the same result with less stress, fear or fatigue.

Perhaps instead of cleaning your entire house yourself you hire some people to help. Once again, creativity and critical thinking can overcome procrastination by modifying the elements of the activity that were causing you to put it off. It isn’t always possible to modify the activity, but try it wherever you can.

Procrastination Defeated

Procrastination is a widely complex problem that can be solved in many different ways and caused by many more. Despite this complexity, I have found that the simple solution of understanding, breaking down and starting is the most effective strategy. Here is a summary of that method:

  • Understand where the procrastination is coming from:
    • All procrastination is rooted in linking more pain to taking action than inaction
    • Three Major Culprits:
      • Fear
      • Stress
      • Fatigue (Lack of Energy)
  • Break down your walls and create stairs to make a large activity manageable
    • Break down by:
      • Steps in Order
      • Components
      • Progressions of Intensity
  • With the activity broken down, you might need an extra push, so:
    • Use Rewards
    • Use Leverage
    • Modify the Activity

Don’t let procrastination whittle away the time in your life. Take action right away and banish your tendency towards inaction. Remember that mustering up the focus to work through your procrastination is half the battle, once you decide to take on the steps I’ve outlined you are already halfway done.

Procrastination – Series

Introduction (Understanding Procrastination)
Break It Down
Start Now


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6 Responses to “Procrastination – Start Now (Series)”

  1. Off topic: Hi Scott,

    I finally joined Toastmasters. Did my first improv tonight. It was lots of fun and to my surprise I actually won two trophees (improv and president’s choice).

    I hope you are having fun and learning at Toastmasters’ too.

    cheers,

    Mike

  2. Scott Young says:

    Michael,

    Great to hear your success at Toastmasters. Their program has been amazing for me even in the short few months I have been attending. Just remember to keep pushing the boundaries of what you feel you can do!

  3. Harvey says:

    Thank you for another great series of articles. As you so correctly point out, procrastination is all about letting the immediate pain of performing the task outweigh the deferred pain of missing out on the benefits if it is not done. I would like to expand a bit on “Emotional Leverage” as a way to get this balance between immediate and deferred pain in perspective.

    As you pointed out in Chapter 2 of your series on Goal Setting, the Why creates the How. I find that in writing up my Why’s, it is as important to list the negative outcomes that will occur if the goal is not achieved as it is to list the benefits that will flow out of achieving the goal. This works as powerful emotional leverage on me when I see the two lists of outcomes contrasted against each other, and helps me get motivated and stop procrastinating.

  4. Yeah, that’s exactly my plan. I don’t want to just sit there and stay in my comfort zone. I’ll try to go for some real challenging stuff.

    Did you have to try more than one club before finding one you liked? Am curious about that.

  5. Scott Young says:

    Thanks for the comments Harvey and Michael,

    Harvey – That’s another great tip!

    Michael – My first club was the only one within 100 km of where I lived, so there were no other options. There are certainly differences between clubs, so I’d suggest experimenting. The club is important, but it isn’t nearly as important as you are.

  6. […] On Procrastination – Here is yet another impressive post by Scott H. Young Posted in Blinks + Friday September 29, 2006 + permalink […]

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