Combating Procrastination – A Beginning

Cloud QuoteIn my earlier post, I have proclaimed shamelessly, that I am guilty as charged where procrastination is concerned, and at this point, I would consider this as my number 1 stumbling block to my success in switching from having a regular day job to a completely opposite way of life where my time is completely flexible and controlled by me. Sounds like a dream come true right? Only I haven’t quite grasped how to go about enjoying this  -.-“

Don’t get me wrong, I have not at all regretted my decision to give this new way of life my best shot, and I am still highly motivated to make it work. But looking back at what I have done or what I should/could have done, it is apparent that I haven’t done my best yet. I’ve been procrastinating on a lot of things and I worry about what to do next, regret what I didn’t do when I realized I spent my day achieving next to nothing – a vicious cycle that I know I have to do something to get out of.

I picked up several books first on time management then self-discipline and willpower. Of which, I found the book Getting Things Done by David Allen particularly useful. The tips and tools he introduced were practical, and made me feel empowered about controlling my days. After going through my mental clutter and set up my own GTD system, I was very confident my days were going to change and I will become productive now that I have my system in place.  It went well for Day 1, then Day 2, but by Day 3, the oh-so-familiar i-don’t-know-where-to-start-and-what-to-do-next feeling came creeping up to me again. I was swept again by a sense of overwhelm, with the many things that I needed to tackle on my Next Actions Task List. Just which one should I start first? If I start on A, will I have enough time for B? or maybe I should just leave it for now and think carefully… so ok, I’ll have my coffee first and think about it.

And that, is my procrastination problem at work.

With all due respect, The GTD system is really great and I do encourage anyone who needs a little help in organizing their work to implement a system for themselves. I will continue using my system too but first I know I have a bigger bug to kill.

I then looked for online resources and books for help in overcoming procrastination. They all made a lot of sense but deep down I know, the only person and resource who can help kill this annoying bug buzzing, is ME. So now it’s Me against Me!

At this point, I would like to share with you some of the great things I learn about myself and some “ammunition” for my war, from the book “The Now Habit” by Neil Fiore. This book is easy to read, and it doesn’t go on and on about research findings nor claims of extensive studies behind the theories. The concept is simple – that procrastination is not a character flaw, but “a mechanism for coping with the anxiety associated with starting or completing any task or decision.”. Procrastination becomes a bahaviour we learned to adopt when we face fears and when we want to protect ourselves from certain anxieties and loss of pleasure. It becomes a bad habit that every time a familiar unpleasant situation arises, we hide behind the curtains of procrastination. The fact that procrastination often brings immediate gratification and pleasure, we develop a dependence on it and it becomes ingrained in us.

But with all habits good and bad, they can be changed. Of the various tips on overcoming the blocks to actions as introduced by Neil Fiore in his book, I find the following most appealing and relevant to me:

It is very important that you master the self-talk, because it determines the whole context or your life and your attitude to everything. It determines how you feel and how you act.

1) New Words in our Self-Talk

When we say to ourselves we “have to” or we “should”, we are actually introducing to ourselves a negative mindset. Instead, we should replace negative messages by giving ourselves the power of choice. When we do something because we choose to, the commitment level is heightened. I have to eat healthy vs I choose to eat healthy, for example, becomes positive and empowering, and naturally the chances of us eating healthy will increase! Here are the ways we can replace our negative messages:

Replace ”I have to” with ”I choose to”.
Replace ”I must finish” with ”When can I start?” (and where?).
Replace ”This is so big” with ”I can take one small step”.
Replace ”I must be perfect” with ”I can be human”.
Replace ”I don’t have time to play” with ”I must take time to play”.

The statement of a producer with a powerful focus is:
I choose to start on one small imperfect step knowing I have plenty of time for play.

2) The Unschedule and Reverse Psychology

A lot of us procrastinate because we feel that we are spending precious time on dreaded tasks, that life seems miserable this way and so we need to find ourselves a way out of this misery, by procrastinating (we delay starting, we indulge in distractions, we creatively find other “better” things to do to avoid the dreadful work) So instead of asking us to practice effective scheduling of time for various types of work, the Unschedule works the other way round. It tells us to schedule first, the time for leisure and play. The concept is such that when we know for sure we have set aside time for guilt-free play, we are free from the laments of not being able to do things we enjoy when we are working on mundane or dreaded tasks. This reverse psychology is supposed to give us the comforting feeling that no matter how dreaded the task on hand is, there is guilt-free play we can look forward to after that! The Unschedule and Guilt-free-play system also says that
  • Do not work for more than 20 hours a week on this project
  • Do not work for more than 5 hours a day on this project
  • You must exercise, play, or dance at least 1 hour a day
  • You must take at least 1 day a week off from any work
  • Aim for starting on 30 minutes of quality work.

Essentially, we will be feeling that because of the already committed time for non-work activities, we are left with limited time for work and this will induce more work done in the end! Certainly going to try this one out 🙂

3) The Work of Worrying
We often procrastinate because we feel uncertain and unsafe about what we are about to face. Sometimes a task is really not that dreadful or difficult, and the consequences of failing to do it perfectly isn’t dire. The work of worrying is about creating safety nets for ourselves. When we start to worry, we take that chance to plan out how to cope with the potential danger and move on with it after eliminating or decreasing the danger. I am also mindful that I have the tendency to over-imagine the extent of “danger” each work brings, so this one would be important for me to practice

4) Persistent Starting
In essence, just “Keep on starting.” Do not think about finishing, just think about starting. Once we start on something, the finishing will happen and take care of it itself. It doesn’t matter how big a step we take, but as long as there is a first step, and keep starting on the next, and the next, the destination is bound to reach our feet by that one next step eventually. In response to this tip, I plan on having a new mantra – to start something every day. I used to always wait for a perfect date (usually the 1st of a month or a Monday) to start a new project, start on a new book, start recording and build new habits, then when something unexpected happens, my plans will be shelved and often just sits there forgotten. I’m hopeful that this new thinking will keep me on track in building the Now Habit!

(I came across a concise summary for this book!
Oops that was quite a long sharing, so thanks for reading through up to this point! I certainly hope I have the resilience and tenacity to follow through and kick the old habit of procrastination! Some people say that only certain people can become successful being a self-employed, and truth be told I do have a lot of characteristics of those whom these people classify as those who aren’t gonna make it! However, I am going to combat that. Since my life story has developed to this point and already placed me in this situation, I am choosing to make it work and make things happen. Might as well do that, right? 😉
Best of luck to me and others combating procrastination. It’s just a bad habit, so we can surely kick it!


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