Everyone procrastinates. We usually do it to avoid a task that's unpleasant or daunting. But when procrastinating starts to cause us to feel worried, fearful, and stressed-out, then it's time to stop putting the task aside and get on with it.
Here is a failsafe way to get out of the quicksand of procrastination and reap numerous benefits, which include improved mood, less stress, a sense of accomplishment and self-confidence.
1. Identify the situation.
First, write down the specific task you've been putting off. For example, "I have a report due next week." Writing down the task helps you dial in the job at hand.
2. Pinpoint your emotions.
What's preventing you from diving in to this task? It's one or more of three emotions. Perhaps, to use the above example, you're intimidated by the topic (fear). Or you're resentful about having to do this when you'd rather be doing something else (anger). Or you're bummed that writing isn't your thing (sadness). This step helps you see that procrastination is just an emotional reaction.
3. Deal with those emotions.
It's helpful to know that emotions are just pure energy in your body. Look at the word "emotion." It's energy in motion. Take some time in private to express your emotions physically and constructively. By crying to express sadness, punching or yelling into a pillow or stomping around to release the anger, or doing exaggerated shivering for the fear, you'll move the emotion. The energy dissipates and you won't feel stuck. It's like letting steam out of a pressure cooker.
4. Do some planning.
Good planning is the foundation of success for most any project. Start by getting clear on your goal. It's helpful to write it down so you have it for ready reference. Your goal is your beacon to keep you on track in treacherous waters. For example, "I want this off my desk." Your goal will keep you oriented and stay motivated.
5. Find some helpful "truths."
Identify sabotaging thoughts that are hanging in the wings, ready to pounce in a weak moment, then come up with a couple of truths to contradict them. For example if you continually tell yourself "I'll never be able to get this done," you might say to yourself, "I can do this" or "If other people can do this, so can I." To neutralize your frustration, you might say, "I'm doing this for me."
6. Break your goal into a series of small, doable steps.
Completing the task requires figuring out a doable step-by-step game plan and deciding when you'll get started. Write it down, schedule it, and commit to it. Plot out the elements that comprise each separate part of the task, including details such as what research you need to do, when you'll make an outline, and where and when you'll work on the project, and how long you expect each step to take.
7. Anticipate roadblocks.
Once you've created a game plan, step back and imagine challenges and obstacles that are likely to pop up along the way. For example, friends might text to invite you to a party during one of your designated work blocks. How will you keep on track? For every possible scenario, have a tactic ready for sticking to your plan. You may also want to find someone to support your efforts and with whom you can check in on a regular basis.
8. Take the leap.
Before you tackle the first little doable task, acknowledge your emotions--whether it's anger, fear, or sadness. Take just a minute or two and release the pent-up emotion in a physical and constructive way. Without the emotional energy dragging you down, you'll be amazed how easy it is as you just focus on one little, doable step at a time.
9. Battle resistance.
As you move through the task, you're likely to meet with resistance in the form of excuses, bad moods, and discouragement. Meet resistance with tenacity and continue to deal with any emotions that surface. Any time you feel tempted to bail, shiver for just a minute, then remember your goal. Say to yourself, "I can do this. One thing at a time." Say it over and over until you really remember. Then attend to the next little step.
10. Praise your little victories.
Getting through a daunting task is incredibly satisfying. Praise each step along the way. Remind yourself often that you'll feel incredibly virtuous when you get the task off your plate once and for all.
Accomplishing what you're avoiding will simplify your life. You'll feel more energetic. You'll sleep better at night.