Procrastination is the most destructive force in Nature. It may seem a bit of a stretch to call procrastination a destructive force but if we consider acts of omission as well as acts of commission, procrastination comes in right at the very top in terms of lost productivity, lost opportunities, and wasted lives. Don’t ask how I know.
Trust me, boys and girls, you are not dealing with an amateur here. I have been a world-class procrastinator for my entire life. Even now, I am writing this article in the very early hours of the morning. As I approach sunrise (and my deadline), I can name procrastination as the chief reason for my current rush and pressure. Does any of this sound familiar? Is procrastination holding you back from all the wonderful things you want to achieve, master, or experience?
Procrastination comes in many deadly varieties and some of them don’t even look like procrastination. But, let’s apply the Duck Rule. (If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and swims real good, you can call it any name you wish… but you still have a duck.) Anything that keeps you from accomplishing your work – your real work – is, in the final analysis, procrastination. Ask yourself, “What is the most valuable thing I can be doing right now?” If you haven’t been doing exactly what you just answered, congratulations, you’re procrastinating.
So, how can a person overcome procrastination? Several ideas come to mind:
1) Stop thinking so much. Thinking is wonderful stuff. Everybody should try it. It is the best thing in the world for solving problems, minimizing problems in advance by avoiding certain actions or people, finding a new way to do things, developing a more efficient way to do things, et al. But thinking is not acting; it doesn’t get things done. Too much thinking rather than acting becomes a form of procrastination.
2) Establish a morning routine. A great way to reduce thinking time is to create a routine of the first things you do in the morning. Despite rationalizations and wishful thinking and some wonderfully inventive excuses, the most productive time of your day is your first hour. (Research indicates this is true, even if you don’t want to hear it.) The early morning, before Life gets in the way with complications, delays, and household-level emergencies, is your best time for working. Don’t forget the complications and delays as the people around you use their own procrastination to slowly erode your resolve and obstruct your progress.
So, don’t waste these precious early hours by shuffling notes and preparing lists and planning your day in great detail. One of the best ways to reduce the amount of time and energy spent in getting your day started is to have a morning routine. Create a written checklist of the absolutely essential things that you need to do before you can step up to the plate and start on the most important and most valuable activities for the day. Get up, look at your list – it must be in writing, presumably in the correct order – get those few things done, then get started on the big things.
3) Ernest Hemingway famously counselled us to avoid confusing activity with motion. Motion means moving towards something; activity means staying busy… but not necessarily with things that are really helpful. Spinning in circles, i.e., procrastination, keeps you very busy but you don’t make progress toward the finish line.
4) One of the most insidious forms of procrastination is to spend lots of time in “getting organized”. You need to recognize that time spent “getting organized” is not time spent working. Yes, a plan of action is necessary, and building a house without a blueprint is almost a guarantee of disaster. But, we tend to overcomplicate things. Go for the most important things and the essential things first. Try to deal with the lesser activities later in the day or in the process – or never.
5) It is impossible to get everything done. Your Inbox will be full the day you die. It is procrastination in its most destructive form to think that you should get all the little things done before you start on the big things.
6) Imagine that you have a gold mine. Every day, you could get up and go into your gold mine to dig for gold. Likewise, in your real life, you also have certain actions that will make you rich and free to follow your passions. If you had a gold mine, would you use every possible minute to work in the gold mine? Of course! You would be eager to get to work each day, not allowing anything or anyone to delay you from finding more gold. Anything that isn’t producing gold is, by definition, procrastination. Yet, what excuses did you make today for not going into your personal gold mine? What could you produce in your personal gold mine?
7) As an alternative to the gold mine scenario: Imagine that you are stuck in a prison cell somewhere. You discover that previous prisoners had already began a secret tunnel to break out of the prison and escape to freedom. How much time each day would you spend in completing that tunnel?
What magnificent excuses have you created today for not working on the activities that will have the biggest impact on your life? What do you do to overcome procrastination? Please share your ideas in the comments section.