How to stop procrastinating and get sh#¡ done!

I have to be honest with you, it’s been a few weeks since I want to write this article but the reality is that I kept postponing it. What an irony! I am procrastinating on writing about how to stop procrastinating! Or maybe I was simply immersing myself in this problem to better understand it…

Time to stop procrastinating

When was the last time you said: “ I should…” and never did anything about it?

Was that today, yesterday, or last week?
We are all struggling from time to time with delaying, avoiding, and procrastinating on issues that matter. Some more often than others…

When I decided to become an entrepreneur, I was dreaming of having the freedom of being self-employed and doing whatever I wanted to do. But as I opened my company, I quickly realized that whatever I wanted to do was not always whatever I was supposed to be doing.

“There are good things and bad things about being self-employed. The good thing is that we have no one telling us what to do. The bad thing is that we have no one telling us what to do.”

To be honest, I underestimated my ability to postpone and avoid doing certain tasks! Damn, I am good at it! But to reach my goals, I have to stay on top of my game, be focused and disciplined, so I decided to use more often the most famous tool to stop procrastinating: “the to-do list”.

I was diligently filling up my list day after day and that helped a little. I also realized that I was often creating new “urgent and important” tasks during the day, to avoid doing what was there already. You know how we all have this skill of lying to ourselves and believing in our lies, do you?

At the end of the day, I was rewriting the tasks for the next day, and then the next, etc. It was time to do a reality check after seeing the same task for 5 consecutive days on my list. I was procrastinating in a structured manner, and I had to find another way.

Why do you procrastinate?

It’s frustrating, isn’t it? You know you should do something, but somehow you end up not doing it. It doesn’t make sense, in your mind it is clear! But the day goes by and you keep ignoring what you should do until you decide to do it tomorrow. So you give yourself a pep talk and promise that tomorrow will be different. But then, well, you know how it goes…

It is painful and uncomfortable to procrastinate. You use your mind power, and it is draining… All those moments when you are:

– Waiting for the right time

– Not taking decisions

– Starting with low priority tasks

– Doing what others ask you first

– Letting yourself get distracted

And still not doing what you should. It doesn’t feel good, it’s like letting yourself down.

Procrastination is not being lazy. When you are procrastinating, you stay active and keep working hard. You can make a 60h working week and still be a procrastination king/queen!

Laziness is doing nothing, procrastination is doing something else than what you should do.

Why do we sabotage ourselves and act against our better judgment? 

Why do we delay important activities that could move us forward? 

We simply procrastinate to avoid pain and discomfort. Your mind is doing its best to protect you from unpleasant experiences. That is the reason for your procrastination. So please send yourself some love, there is nothing wrong with you!

Now, to stop procrastinating you have to tell your mind what you really want it to do!

The costs of procrastination

I don’t have much to say that you don’t know already. Procrastinating leads to guilts, stress, unfulfillment, disappointment in yourself and others, unachieved goals, missed deadlines, failure, frustration, pain,…

It’s interesting to observe that the very behavior you put in place to avoid pain and discomfort in the immediate short term is actually creating bigger pain and discomfort in the future. Not a good deal!

So let’s make sure we don’t pay that price! Here are some key aspects that will help you stop procrastinating.

How to stop procrastinating

The long term game

 Our human brain evolved to respond to an immediate-returns environment. Where everything we did had an instant consequence. However, in a few thousand years (a blink of an eye in human history), everything changed towards a delayed-returns environment. You do something today and enjoy the benefit later. Consequently, we struggle when the gratification comes later because we value immediate rewards more than future rewards.

We set goals for our future self, but it is our present self that has to do all the work! For example:

Your future self wants to be fit and healthy, but your present self wants a donut. 

Your future self wants to be a writer, but your present self wants to watch the new episode on Netflix.

Sounds familiar?

In the fight to stop procrastinating, we need first to reconnect to our objectives. We need to get clear on WHAT we want to achieve and most importantly on WHY we want to achieve it.

The marshmallow experiment

In the late 1960s the Austrian-American psychologist Walter Mischel started researching on self-control and delayed gratification. In his study, he explored young children’s ability to delay gratification by offering them a choice between one small but immediate reward (a marshmallow), or two rewards if they waited for 20 minutes (for a 4-year-old, 20min is very long!).

They followed the participants of the study for the following years and they found out that the longer the children could delay eating the marshmallow, the more successful they became in their future life.

Being able to delay gratification is a powerful skill to master. 

One of the key factors is motivation. It is essential to deeply connect to your goals to generate the necessary motivation to do something now, without receiving an immediate reward, knowing that it will lead to long-term fulfillment.

Sometimes we break down a target to reach 5 years from now into a series of sub-tasks and lose track of why we do what we do. If you want to boost your productivity and stop procrastinating you need to know WHAT you want to be productive FOR.

Note on delaying gratification

Without a doubt, the skill of delaying gratification is essential for your growth and success. But it also comes with a risk that you’ll never experience the future reward. You don’t know what tomorrow is going to be made of, so you have to find a balance between immediate rewards and future rewards.

I learned it the hard way, read more about the danger of goals settings.

The solution is to stay focused on the future reward while making sure that you enjoy every single step of the journey.

The task: motivation formula

After being clear on WHAT you want to achieve and WHY it is important for you. It’s time to optimize the way to get there. Frederike Fabritius, a German neuroscientist, explains that there are 2 major ingredients to reach peak performance: fun and fear. 

Let’s talk biochemistry (I promise I’m not going to bore the hell out of you!). Our brain releases dopamine when we experience pleasure. And it kind of feels good to feel good, right? Therefore, we will tend to do more of what feels good to experience more pleasure. The trick is to be creative and make boring tasks more fun. Gamification is a fantastic way of creating more excitement in the task you usually procrastinate on doing.

In reaction to fear, your brain releases cortisol making you feel stressed and uncomfortable. High levels of cortisol are not helping us to perform at our best but on the other side not enough fear makes things too boring and we underperform. The right amount of fear though makes your brain release noradrenaline which increases your level of vigilance, arousal, attention, motivation, learning, and memory. 

To stay focused and motivated you to have to make things fun is and keep challenging yourself without crossing the line and letting too much fear in.

Distractions

Everything and everybody around us is fighting to receive our attention. Entertainment is omnipresent in our lives, you have access to it 24/7, as close as in your pocket.

But distraction is not only about what’s happening outside but also about what’s happening inside. 

In his book, “Hooked”, the American author Nir Eyal explains that after setting a clear goal, we can categorize our actions as “traction” or “distraction”. Traction is everything pulling you toward your goals, distraction is everything pulling you away from them. 

While keeping in mind that everything we do is to move us away from discomfort and towards pleasure, he then identifies 2 types of triggers that will lead to an action: internal and external triggers.

Internal being how you feel in your body (physically and emotionally) and external being your environment.

To deal with your internal triggers, you first need to identify how you feel the moment you start procrastinating. After putting words on your emotions, you have to acknowledge them before reconnecting to your goals and adapting the task to make it more fun and challenging.

Although dealing with your internal triggers will tremendously improve your performance, you also have to make sure that your environment will set you up for success.

Let’s take an example to illustrate how your environment can screw you up.

An average day at the office…

John arrives at the office and starts by checking his work emails. His phone is vibrating and with a glance, he sees a Facebook notification. He decides to quickly have a look for 2 minutes before going through his mailbox. Fifteen minutes later he realized that now is time to focus.

He looks for the file for his project, but it is messy on his desktop so he decides to quickly clear things up. Suddenly, a colleague pops in, talking about the party of last weekend and inviting him for a drink next Tuesday. After some chatting, it’s already 10AM and it’s time for a coffee break.

John comes back, sees a work email with the mention “important”. He got to check that. He figures out that it was a link to a funny video on YouTube, but he decides to quickly check before going back to work.

A few minutes later, the boss called asking if he will meet the deadlines for the project. John hangs up feeling stressed and starts working, but then he receives a message from his wife to ask to pick up the kids earlier… And the day goes on.

man procrastinating and overwhelmed

Here is my challenge for you, identify all the external triggers that you experience in a day, at work and home, and reflect on if the trigger served you or pulled you away from your goals.

Think of electronics, physical environment, people, etc. How can you remove the triggers, or limit exposure to them?

I know, everybody wants better results, but nobody is really excited to change. Sorry to be harsh, that’s the only way.

“If you keep doing what you have always had, you will have the results you had always had.”

4 steps to stop procrastinating

Let me illustrate the following steps with two different examples.

  1. You want to be fit but you procrastinate to workout.
  2. You have an important call to make but somehow you keep postponing it.

Step 1: Recognise that you are procrastinating and find out WHY

Time to stop lying to yourself about it. What do you need to stop procrastinating on?

Make a list. Might help to look at your “to-do list” and see what is on there for a while.

How do you feel when you think about that task? Name the discomfort or the fear behind it.

  1. Reality check: you look at your calendar and see that you worked out only once last month. You feel tired, and don’t have time. Just thinking about working out is exhausting.
  2. Reality check: calling John is on my to-do list for the past 5 days. I assume it’s gonna be a difficult conversation and it will make us both uncomfortable.

Step 2: The bigger picture

Why do you have that task on your list in the first place?

Zoom out to see the bigger picture, and reconnect to your goal. Get clear and WHY it is important to you to get there and understand that this specific task is just a necessary step. Remember what you want to be productive for and tell your mind what you really want it to do. 

A. I want to improve my health, feel and look better. Plus I could really use sport to release stress. If I don’t do that, I’ll feel miserable.

B. Jon has a key role in my company and right now the productivity of his department is going down, and it is threatening the whole organization.

Step 3: Make it fun, challenging and limit distraction

Time to be creative! Set milestones, rewards, make a game out of it, find a buddy,…

Make sure your environment is set up for success and that you are not triggered to do anything else but the task at hand.

  1. Let’s find a workout body, register on an App that tracks your progress, and book a photoshoot in a few months. Set the time in your calendar for working out and prepare your bag the day before.
  2. Start the day by making the call. Promise yourself to not even open your computer before the phone call is made.

Step 4: Secret strategy to stop procrastinating

Close your eyes and see which path you are taking if you don’t stop procrastinating. Take a little mental trip into the future and bring back the consequences to the present. If you don’t do anything it will become your reality sooner or later.

Take your calendar and schedule your task, tag it as important and non-negotiable. Choose a day and a time and when it comes, remember those poetic words:

“Just fu#*g do it!”

  1. Go to the gym and work out!
  2. Just take the phone and call right now!

If it doesn’t work

Ok, so you’ve done all the steps described above, and still, you couldn’t stop procrastinating?

Don’t worry I’ve got an idea worth exploring. In this article, I am talking about all the stuff that you SHOULD be doing and that you and only you have to do (eating healthy, working out, communicating, etc.). 

But what about the other things? Do you really have to do it all by yourself? 

I noticed with my clients (and myself!) that we tend to procrastinate on doing things that are not in our zone of genius. When we operate in our zone of genius, everything comes effortlessly. We usually don’t need lots of motivation to get things done because we enjoy doing them. 

Let’s do an energy audit to gain more clarity. Take a piece of paper and draw 2 columns. On one side you write down everything that is energizing you and on the other side everything that is draining you.

 What do you notice? Are the things you are procrastinating on in the “draining” column?

What can you delegate? How would it feel if you never had to complete those tasks again?

If you are smiling and feel your shoulders relaxing, well, you know what to do!

From procrastination to productivity

The moment you start doing it, the discomfort disappears and the burden of the task vanishes. It even feels good! Then you realize that it was never really about doing it but about starting it. 

Want the best tips for success? 

Do what you don’t like and do it first (except the stuff you can delegate of course!). Why would you let yourself suffer by postponing it instead of doing it immediately and feeling relieved?

Do the most important thing first, when you start your day. Develop the habit of doing it every day and I guarantee that your life will change. You’ve read this whole article, you could at least try for a week! Or are you gonna wait for later?

Let me know how it went!

Now or later

2 thoughts on “How to stop procrastinating and get sh#¡ done!

  1. Rianna Hijlkema Reply

    Great article! Especially the examples are really helpful! Thank you for these new insights!

  2. Ali Gordon Reply

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I am currently procrastinating writing a chapter of my book… 4,500 words! My deadline is tomorrow!

    I am now going to put social media down and get this sh#¡t done!!!

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