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Unraveling Procrastination: The Art of Doing What You Don’t Want To Do

February 5, 2024

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Unraveling Procrastination: The Art of Doing What You Don’t Want To Do

How do I make myself do things I don’t want to do?! It’s a question I get a LOT. We all deal with procrastination – it’s a universal battle. Tune in to learn why you procrastinate, quick tips to create an environment of focus, and practical strategies to overcome procrastination (even if you struggle with discipline!).

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Today’s episode is all about addressing a question about procrastination and discipline that so many of you have asked. And that question is this:  

“How do I make myself do things I don’t want to do?” 

Let’s face it, we’ve all been there, staring down a task we just can’t seem to start. The laundry pile growing higher, that report lingering unfinished on our desk, or even just getting out of bed for an early morning workout. Procrastination doesn’t discriminate – it’s a universal struggle..

But what is procrastination, really? 

At its core, procrastination is the act of delaying or postponing tasks. It’s not just about being lazy or disorganized; it’s a complex psychological behavior that’s often a response to underlying emotions like fear, anxiety, or a deep-seated need for perfection. And let’s be honest, in a world where we’re constantly balancing work and personal life, it’s no wonder procrastination finds its way into our daily routine.

But to beat procrastination and get ourselves to do the things we don’t wanna do, we’ve got to understand why we procrastinate. 

It’s also important to distinguish between procrastination and being genuinely busy. In our fast-paced lives, it’s easy to confuse the two. Being busy means having a lot on your plate, but procrastination is when you intentionally avoid specific tasks, even when you have the time to do them.

So, how do we start changing this habit? How do we move from avoiding tasks to facing them head-on? How do we get ourselves to do the things we don’t want to do?

In today’s episode, we’re talking about

  • Why we all procrastinate and how to spot our own delay tactics
  • Quick tricks to beat procrastination and create an environment for focus
  • How to use the Five Minute Rule when you don’t feel like getting started
  • How procrastination and discipline relate
  • The big reason why you can’t rely on discipline to get things done

I think we can all agree that procrastination is just the worst. Especially when we recognize that it’s happening.  We know we need to do the thing. But we’re not doing the thing because we don’t want to do the thing. So we don’t do the thing, and feel bad about the fact that we’re not doing the thing… and then when we finally DO make ourselves do the thing, it’s usually never as bad as we thought it would be. 

But to beat procrastination we’ve got to understand it. And it turns out that procrastination is more than just delaying tasks. It’s like this psychological maze where we often find ourselves lost. For many of us, it’s not about being lazy. It’s about being stuck in a cycle of stress, avoidance, and then stress again because we avoided what we needed to do. Sound familiar?

Think about it. How many times have you had a report to finish or a presentation to prepare, but instead, you end up reorganizing your closet? Or you know you should be prepping for that important meeting, but suddenly, it feels crucial to organize your email inbox right at that moment.

Why do we do this when we know it’s not good for us?! Well, it often comes down to emotions. Yep, good old feelings getting in the way again. Procrastination is like a coping mechanism. It’s our brain’s way of saying, “Hey, this task makes me feel uncomfortable, anxious, or overwhelmed, so I’m just going to avoid it for now.” It’s a short-term fix for emotional discomfort. Your brain is trying to protect you by helping you avoid bad feelings, even though avoiding those yucky feelings now is just going to make things worse in the future. 

And then, there’s the perfectionism trap. You know, waiting for the ‘perfect’ moment to start something or wanting it to be just right. Spoiler alert: the perfect moment rarely comes, and things are seldom perfect.

It’s also crucial to differentiate between being busy and procrastinating. We’re all busy – with work, family, trying to squeeze in some me-time. And you know that I believe that Busy is not a badge of honor… but sometimes it’s a fact of life. Being busy isn’t BAD, but using busy as an excuse for bad behavior… Well, that’s definitely not okay. 

The interesting thing about procrastination is that it sneaks in when we’re avoiding specific tasks, even when we have the time for them. It’s choosing to do something else because that one task just feels too daunting or unappealing.

So, how do we climb out of the maze? 

Step 1: Awareness

Like the first step to most things… The first step here is awareness.

The first step is awareness. We need to catch ourselves in the act and understand why we’re doing it. Are we scared of failing? Are we waiting for that elusive perfect moment? Or are we just overwhelmed by the task’s magnitude? What exactly is going on here? 

Recognizing these patterns is the first step towards making a change. And don’t worry, we’re all in this together. Let’s learn to be kind to ourselves and remember, it’s okay not to have it all figured out. What matters is that we’re taking steps to understand and overcome these hurdles.

So, now that we’ve explored what procrastination is all about, let’s get into how we can identify our own procrastination patterns. It’s like becoming a detective in our own lives, and trust me, it’s quite an eye-opener.

Think about the last time you caught yourself procrastinating. What was it that you were avoiding? Was it a daunting work task, or maybe something as simple as doing the dishes? The key here is to start noticing what exactly triggers your procrastination. Is it the scale of the task, the fear of not doing it perfectly, or maybe just not feeling up for it?

Here’s a strategy that I use with my 1:1 clients who are struggling with procrastination and discipline – keeping a procrastination tracker. 

It doesn’t have to be fancy, just a simple note-taking exercise. You can just open a note on your phone, or grab a little notebook you probably have sitting around in your house. 

Whenever you find yourself dodging a task, jot it down. Note the task, what you chose to do instead, how you felt, and any thoughts you had about the task. This isn’t about judging yourself – it’s about understanding your patterns.

After a week, take a look at your notes. You’ll likely start to see trends. Maybe you procrastinate more when a task requires a lot of upfront planning, or when you’re not in the right headspace for it. This is powerful because once you know your triggers, you can start to work on strategies to overcome them.

For example, if overwhelming tasks are your kryptonite, breaking them down into smaller steps can be a game-changer. It makes the task seem more manageable and less intimidating. Or, if boredom is the issue, try coupling the task with something enjoyable. Maybe it’s listening to your favorite podcast (like this one!) or the vault tracks from 1989 (Taylor’s Version). 

The aim here is to get curious about your habits. Instead of beating yourself up for procrastinating, let’s understand why it happens. This understanding is the first step in changing those habits. Remember, it’s all about taking small steps towards better managing our time and being more productive.

Strategies to Overcome Procrastination

Alright, now that we’ve got a handle on identifying our procrastination patterns, let’s move on to some practical strategies that can help us kick these habits for good. 

It’s all about turning insight into action. So, let’s dive into five practical strategies that can help us get moving and stay on track.

1. Make it smaller

Strategy number one: The magic of breaking things down. When a task feels too big or overwhelming, it’s easy to keep putting it off. The trick is to break it into smaller, more manageable pieces. Instead of thinking, “I need to complete this entire project,” focus on the first step. It could be as simple as writing an email, drafting an outline, or doing some initial research. Small steps lead to big progress.

2. Use the 5 Minute Rule 

Next up, let’s talk about the power of the “Five-Minute Rule.” This is a personal favorite of mine. When you’re really not in the mood to start something, tell yourself you’ll only do it for five minutes. That’s it. More often than not, once you’ve started, you’ll find it’s easier to keep going. It’s all about overcoming that initial resistance. And I find that the 5 minute rule can be used all over the place. You just have to pick up the house for 5 minutes, you just have to walk on the treadmill for 5 minutes, you just have to work on this presentation for five minutes. 

3. Set realistic goals 

Another key strategy is setting specific, realistic goals. Vague plans like “I’ll work on this sometime this week” are procrastination’s best friends. Instead, be specific. Decide when and where you’ll work on the task. Schedule it like you would an important meeting. This clarity reduces decision fatigue and makes it more likely that you’ll follow through. Every year I host a goal setting workshop called Ready. Set. GOALS and we definitely get specific, because that’s a key part of turning your goals into accomplishments. 

4. Build a system

Sometimes procrastination can feel easier than tackling something on our to-do list because that task feels complex or complicated. Instead of being intimidated by it, how can you create a system, a workflow or a routine to help yourself get it done. And a system doesn’t have to be anything fancy – one example is as simple as putting your running shoes and workout clothes next to your bed to make a morning workout a little easier. When you’ve got a system in place, that thing you don’t want to do might feel just a little bit easier, and you’ll be less likely to procrastinate.

5. Create a productive workspace

Now, creating a motivating environment plays a huge role too. Organize your workspace in a way that makes you feel comfortable and productive. If clutter distracts you, take a few minutes to tidy up. Light a candle, play some music or open a window for some fresh air. The right environment can significantly boost your motivation.

Although… don’t use getting organized and tidying up as an excuse to procrastinate. Set a timer, get it done, and get on with it. 

A Word about Procrastination and Discipline

Finally, let’s talk about procrastination and discipline. I’ve heard friends and clients who are overwhelmed say this so many times, “I just need more discipline. I just need more discipline about how I’m spending my time.” And I hear you. I get that.

But the thing about procrastination and discipline is that you can’t just turn discipline on and off like a switch. I mean sure, there are times that you do have to summon every ounce of energy and discipline you have to do something you must do – but discipline isn’t always just there ready for you whenever you need it. 

Instead of focusing on procrastination and discipline and then becoming frustrated when you can’t will yourself to do something, focus instead on some of the strategies I just shared with you. Create a system, use the 5 minute rule, make sure your workspace is set up for success. 

And most importantly – Remember that overcoming procrastination isn’t about being perfect; it’s about making progress. It’s about taking those small steps, one at a time, and not being too hard on yourself if you slip up. We’re all human, after all. Procrastinating doesn’t mean you’re lazy, and procrastination and discipline (or lack thereof) aren’t always directly related.

And for those moments when it all feels overwhelming, remember the power of pausing and taking a breath. Sometimes, a short break to collect your thoughts can provide the clarity and energy you need to tackle the rest of your day.

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