Procrastination:  Does Getting Started Stop You?

Are you one of the millions of people who struggle with procrastination, a condition that often robs us of peace of mind and progress towards our goals.  It’s time to let go of the guilt as your brain is wired for procrastination.  You might also have ADHD or other focus issues.  You aren’t lazy or weak.

Being a person who has struggled with this issue personally I understand what you’re going through.  You are not alone.  Procrastination is “normal” for our type of brain.  It’s time to stop resisting.  And it’s time we celebrate our condition, make light of it, and have fun with it.  Yes, I said to have FUN with it.

David Neeleman, founder of JetBlue Airways, said “It’s hard for me to do the mundane things in life.  I have an easier time planning a 20-aircraft fleet than I do paying the light bill.”

 If you totally understand David’s comments, this blog post is designed to share actionable insights and ideas to help you make progress in your life … one small action at a time.

Background insights:

 Procrastination is a psychological condition.  There’s nothing structurally in your world that is making you procrastinate.  Instead, the neurological wiring in your subconscious brain is sending signals that make it psychologically difficult – if not paralyzing – for you to take action. That’s good news because we can consciously create new ways of thinking that support taking action.

The key psychological problem caused by procrastination is getting started.  We often associate the feeling of procrastination to the particular task at hand, but that’s not what’s happening.  The problem is the mental resistance to getting started doing almost anything. This is important.  If we erroneously ascribe the procrastination to the particular task at hand we will be tempted to abandon the activity and search for something we think will be easier to do.  This rarely works.  The key is breaking through the resistance to getting started on our important work, not finding an activity that’s easier to start.

Actionable ideas:

Plan your start time and the specific action you will take in advance.  The subconscious brain greatly dislikes uncertainty and ambiguity.  If you don’t plan the specifics in advance your brain will have a dramatically harder time getting started.  I know that planning in advance will be a challenge too, but make it part of your disciplined strategy.  Don’t skip this vital step.  And, before you finish your first task, plan the next task before you take a break.

Schedule your week in advance in blocks of time.  I know this will also be a challenge, but again, you must make this part of your disciplined structure.  Focus on your priorities and most important tasks, and do them first in the day as often as possible.

Make it a small action.  The smaller the action, the easier it will be to get started.  The bigger the action, the more the subconscious brain will resist.  Once you get started you will have momentum to keep going, so make getting started as psychologically easy as possible.  Break your large tasks down into manageable pieces.

You won’t feel like taking action, so make a decision to start despite the resistance.  You must act your way into a new way of feeling.  I promise you that once you push past the initial resistance it gets easier to keep moving.   This is the Law of Momentum.

Accept an MVP – Minimum Viable ProductPerfectionism can send us into a never ending cycle of over-thinking and over-working in an attempt to perfect things.  Simply put, this leads to failure!  Instead, allow yourself to work through the task as fast as you can.  Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook hung a sign on the wall in the early start-up days that read, Done is better than perfect.”  Shoot for 80%.  You can always go back and make things a bit better, but you will be surprised how good a product you create with this method.

Make a 100% commitment.  There’s a phrase, “99% is a bitch, but 100% is a breeze.”  At the planned time, simply take the planned action.  Don’t think about it!  If you leave the door open even 1% you are far more likely to give in to the procrastination impulse.

Identify your most vulnerable pain points and make a psychological plan.  For me, my pain points are getting out of bed, getting started working, getting started after lunch, getting started after dinner, and getting to bed on time. The same is true for getting started on the weekends.  What are yours?  Identify them, write them down, plan your specific time and action, and have a psychological strategy in place so you don’t fall into procrastination at each pain point.

Identify your “not to do” list.  We procrastinators have subtle coping actions we take instead of getting started working.  What’s yours?  Is it spending a few minutes checking social media (a few minutes … yeah right!), browsing the internet, clearing your email in box from last year, wasting time on something truly unimportant…?  Knowing these “not to do” actions will help you notice and then resist the impulse to veer off course.

Work with a support partner.  Find someone that understands you and will support you throughout the day when you are most vulnerable. Consider a 5 minute phone call at your wake-up time, or emails to each other during the day.  Ask for help in completing your plan.  Find what works best for you.  Celebrate the victories with each other.

End each day with a review.  Spend a few minutes each night evaluating your success during the day.  What did you learn that could help you tomorrow?

Find the gift.  Rather than resent your procrastination challenges, look for the gift it also brings. Are you creative, highly intelligent, great with relationships, a visionary?  Pushing through the feeling of procrastination will unlock your potential and release your gift to the world.

Celebrate your victories, and keep score.  Make this fun, make it a game, decide on your rewards, and celebrate the victories.

Accept yourself fully and live with gratitude.  You are not flawed.   Live in gratitude for who you are, just as you are.  Procrastination is not a flaw, it’s just a tendency and you can push through to personal victory.  Don’t let other people define your identity, or worse, don’t define yourself as someone with a “problem.”

Try these ideas for 30 days.  You can force yourself to do almost anything for 30 days.  You will already be well on the way to developing new mental thought patterns and disciplined habits.  Get started and keep going.  With each day of success you build momentum and confidence, and it’s easier to have success the next time. You can do this.  I know you can.  I believe in you.  Your freedom is close at hand.

And now … let’s get back to working on that most important task.   Please let me know if there’s any way I can support you!