Resistance to doing the most important things comes in different forms at different times in our lives. However, we must seek ways to overcome the procrastination that prevents us from achieving our greatest potential.
Below is the list of 7 effective and simple ways to overcome procrastination, which you can apply immediately!
We’ve also made a handy list of these 7 methods into a downloadable PDF at the end of the article! Check it out!
What is procrastination?
Procrastination is “putting off intentionally and habitually” a task or a decision.
Every day, we encounter some good examples of procrastination. Even famous people face procrastination just as much as we do.
Margaret Atwood, Canadian’s prolific writer, shared her story of how she produced 14 novels and other short stories and screenplays. She described herself as a world-class procrastinator and admitted that her daily routine generally consisted of waiting around until anxiety built up until she finally wrote in the afternoon.
However, Atwood is not alone.
Herman Melville, the famous author of Moby-Dick, had to ask his wife to chain him to the desk while he was wrestling with completing his epic novel.
Tenzin Gyatso, the respected 14th Dalai Lama, recalled how he was a lazy student who would not study and work unless there was a deadline. His teaching is as insightful and resonating as his advocacy about compassion “You must not procrastinate. Rather you should make preparations so that even if you die tonight, you would have no regrets.”
Why do we procrastinate?
Resistance is among the main factors that stop us from doing what we set out to do. In other words, it makes us struggle to overcome procrastination.
Steven Pressfield, in his “The War of Art,” defined the characteristics of the resistance that leads to procrastination:
- Resistance is invisible — “Resistance cannot be seen, heard, touched, or smelled. But it can be felt. We experience it as an energy field radiating from a work-in-potential.”
- Resistance is insidious — Resistance keeps you from doing the important work.
- Resistance is impersonal.
- Resistance is infallible.
- Resistance is universal.
- Resistance never sleeps.
- Resistance plays for keeps.
Here are 7 ways to overcome procrastination
1. Know thy enemy.
Knowing that you are procrastinating is crucial. Resistance drives procrastination. We experience resistance to doing the things that will make our life better.
Steven Pressfield, in The War of Art, framed procrastination in a simple way — “We don’t tell ourselves, ‘I’m never going to write my symphony.’ Instead, we say, ‘I’m going to write my symphony; I’m just going to start tomorrow.’”
However, resistance is created by fear. But fear is good. Because when we are scared of doing something, we are more sure that we need to do it. The thing that we put off doing usually is important.
2. Become a professional.
There are differences between amateurs and professionals.
Amateurs act when they feel inspired and are driven by moods. They are not committed. They also set their goals focused on fun, money, and status.
Meanwhile, the professionals make work a priority. They are committed to success and determined to follow their inner drive. Their goals focus on passions.
The only way we can deal with resistance is to become professionals.
If you are a professional, you’ll feel proud of your work. You’ll show up daily no matter what. You’ll work through adversity and be open to criticism and improvement. A professional also understands that fear is just a part of the work. Finally, as a professional, you recognize that you’ll have to battle resistance daily.
3. Reward yourself for good behavior.
If you achieve your goal, there will be a reward.
Don’t let yourself get swept up in your new Netflix show, check your social media, or have lunch–until you finish what you have scheduled. Instead of using these tasks and distractions to avoid working, make them contingent on you actually finishing what you schedule yourself to do.
And celebrate as soon as you complete an important task! Even a small reward can be a great motivator. Maybe it’s a coffee break, a walk around the block, or even a mini-vacation. Thanking yourself for your successes will make a big difference in your life!
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4. Simplify the decision-making process.
Having to make decisions over and over again wears you out. The process is especially true if you need to spend your brainpower on smaller tasks like resisting the urge to check your email.
James Clear, in Atomic Habits, mentions how decision fatigue makes you give in to procrastination.
His point is important for us to follow and apply in overcoming procrastination: “Constraints can make it easier to stick to good habits by eliminating the number of decisions you need to make to move forward.”
In other words, you can focus on getting things done by eliminating the number of decisions you need each day.
5. Overcome the initial resistance phase.
If you can sit down and just start doing the work, you’ll get yourself through procrastination. Things will slowly start to fall into place.
After the initial resistance stage, you become more engaged in doing the work and continue without much thinking.
How do you drive focus in the present moment? One of the big ways to do it is you release dopamine. Five different flow triggers are all dopamine triggers. So risk produces dopamine…whenever we take a risk, we get dopamine. Dopamine is how the brain fires up to take that risk. Whenever we encounter novelty, we get dopamine. Complexity produces dopamine. Unpredictability produces dopamine. And so does pattern recognition, which is the linking of ideas together.Steven Kotler, a specialist in flow study, authoring “Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance.”
What matters is to start and beat the resistance.
Also, Mel Robbin points out that if you give yourself 5 seconds to get up and start working on a task before your mind convinces you to do otherwise, you already win the procrastination battle. The “5 second-rule” creates a process to combat the subconscious mind, forcing us to act on our ideas.
6. Lower your standard to avoid paralysis stemming from perfection.
“Perfection,” quoted by Ryan Holiday in his talk about “How I Beat Procrastination With Stoicism” from Winston Churchill, is “nothing but perfection, maybe spelled paralysis.”
Perfection makes us focus on getting everything right, which scares us from even getting started.
We must decrease our expectations of perfection and begin doing the work. We must remind ourselves we can always improve ourselves and our work. We need to set our actions in motion.
7. Do the little things; start small.
The famous stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius said, “You have to assemble your life yourself – action by action.”
If we can do one little thing every day, we will soon realize that the task is not so overwhelming.
We tend to resist when the tasks are important, which shows us that we are on the right path. What we need to do right now is put in the work. If we can do one thing every day, that’s what counts. In the end, everything adds up, and we can achieve our goals without much interference.
Bonus infographic: 7 Ways to Overcome Procrastination
Reference books in this article
- The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield.
- The 5 Second Rule: Transform your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage by Mel Robbin.
- Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear.
- Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance by Steven Kotler.
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