8 Strategies to Stop Procrastinating

This is the first blog post I’ve written in about 2 months.  I have found hundreds of distractions and reasons to push off writing.  I think I have a headache, I need to do the laundry, I want to hike a new trail today, there’s a notification on my Facebook page, there’s a new email, I don’t know what I’m having for dinner, maybe my son is coming to visit this weekend, it looks like rain, I don’t have any ideas to write about, maybe I’ve written about everything I can write about, etc. In reality, the main reason I didn’t write is because my computer has been SSSLLLLOOOWWWWIIIINNNGGG down. I spent three weekends trying to figure out what the problem was with my desktop pc and I have finally resorted to writing on my laptop.  I’m amazed at how one hang-up like a computer can derail me for weeks.  I say to myself “Whelp, it’s taking too long; might as well go watch Netflix.” 

So how did I finally stop procrastinating and get to work?  Here are some strategies I put into place that might work for you too:

  1. Break it down into the tiniest of pieces. I mean really tiny.  Like instead of saying “I’m going to read Gone with the Wind”, say “I’m going to put the book next to my reading chair”, or “Open the book and read one chapter, or one page or one paragraph”.  This is advice from BJ Fogg and his excellent book, Tiny Habits.  The tiny habit should take less than 30 seconds to complete, according to Fogg, so that time is not a deterrent and the new habit grows naturally. So, to get started on this post, I set up the actual blank document so it was ready to go.
  1. Change your environment.  I had no idea that this was holding me back but I usually have my desktop computer and laptop on the same desk.  I kept getting sucked into the abyss of the “My desktop slowing down” and not responding to even the smallest of actions.  Pretty soon, I had my phone open and I was scrolling Facebook while “I waited” for a page to load on my computer. I had my fully functioning laptop on the same desk but I still never started to write.  I was completely hung up on using my desktop.  So, I got the bright idea to move my laptop yesterday to my “writing” chair.  And suddenly, perhaps because the laptop was in plain sight and in a different environment, I started writing. Changing my environment got me at the keyboard once again.
  1. Music.  This may not be for everyone but I play classical music when I write.  It has to be an instrumental for it to be the right vibe for me to write.  I don’t want to get caught up in the lyrics of a song.  Turning on a classical playlist sets the right tone for me to work.  It also sets the tone that I will be working and writing if there is classical music playing in the background.  I find my muse in classical music.
  1. Shut down distractions.  I take coaching calls most of the day on my laptop.  If I hear a beep or ding or a notification shows up on my screen, I will research the source of the distraction and eliminate it.  Outside of my calendar reminding me of my next appointment, I don’t want to have anything disrupting my coaching calls.  By eliminating these distractions, I am able to be fully present for my calls.  This has the added benefit of eliminating distractions when I’m writing as well.  I generally try to write on the weekends so there aren’t usually any upcoming appointments but I’m also not receiving email or social media notifications which could potentially derail me from focusing on my writing.  Shut down distractions.
  1. Serializing. This is a terrific suggestion from Oliver Burke in his book, 4000 weeks. Burke wrote, “Focus only on one big project at a time. Though it’s alluring to try to alleviate the anxiety of having too many responsibilities or ambitions by getting started on them all at once, you’ll make little progress that way. Multitasking rarely works well — and you’ll soon find that serializing helps you to complete more projects anyway, thereby helping relieve your anxiety.” So set up on your schedule that you’ll work 30 minutes each day on the Gnarly Project or the budget or the annual review process.  Once the 30 minutes is done, move on and come back to it the next day.  Serialize big projects.
  1. Eat that frog.  Mark Twain once said, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” Start your day with the worst thing you don’t want to do and then it’s clear coasting the rest of the day.  It might be that a five-mile run, cleaning out the garage, or finishing the annual review for your worst performing direct report is the best way to start your day.   Eat that frog.
  1. Choose what you do.  Change up your self-talk around that which you are procrastinating.  As written on MindTools, the phrases “need to” and “have to,” for example, imply that you have no choice in what you do. This can make you feel disempowered and might even result in self-sabotage. However, saying, “I choose to,” implies that you own a project, and can make you feel more in control of your workload. Elect to work on a blog post instead of “needing” to. 
  1. Celebrate or reward.  This made a big difference in my flossing habit in the morning. Dr. Fogg advocates either a high five or fist pump when you finish a new behavior like flossing your teeth.  It wires positivity into your brain.  You could also set up a reward when you are done like a latte from your favorite coffee shop or phoning a friend or watching an episode of your favorite show.  Wiring positivity helps set up the expectation that something good will come after eating the frog.

I used several of these tools to get back to writing again.  It feels good to get back to writing and the sense of accomplishment is a reward enough for me at this point.  What are some of your tricks to overcome procrastination? 

5 Tips on Learning to Coast

I recently read Oliver Burkeman’s “4000 Weeks”. It’s a humbling book.  Perhaps a hamster wheel stopper. The title derives itself from the number of weeks the average person has in their life (if you live to 76).  Gulp. At sixty years old, I’ve got less than 1000 weeks left. It’s made me take stock.  It shines a light on all the striving I’ve done in my life, the next raise, project, bonus check, prom, graduation, wedding, house, promotion, boyfriend, training, client.  It’s an endless path full of hurdles that I keep trying to get past; and the more “efficient” I get at it, the more projects, tasks and duties seem to come down the pike. I so rarely, if ever, just coast.

I remember biking the Virginia Creeper Trail a few years ago.  Most of the riding of the seventeen plus mile trail, is just coasting.  It’s wonderful gliding through the autumnal trees with a meandering river below or beside. It’s mostly effortless and I was able to get back into the moment of the sheer joy of gliding through the air.  That’s the feeling I want for my last 1000 weeks.  Coasting.

Here are some tips on learning to coast:

  1. Find the awe. I try and snapshot moments in my life. Singing hallelujah at the vespers concert in Duke Chapel, a single dancer pantomiming a scream and some 30 dancers falling down like dominos in unison at a Spring Dance recital at the School of the Arts. Or the sweet smell of honeysuckle on a sunrise walk with my dog, the mainsail filling and the sailboat starting to heel on Jordan Lake with a bluebird sky, 83 year old Lena Mae Perry’s electrifying voice singing, “Oh Lord, come by me” at a mesmerizing Stay Prayed Up performance, and the grimace, shiver and might of my son lifting a personal best 176 kg over his head at the Queen City Classic. As Burkeman wrote, “The world is bursting with wonder, and yet it’s the rare productivity guru who seems to have considered the possibility that the ultimate point of all our frenetic doing might be to experience more of that wonder.” I’m trying to pay attention to the awe and wonder.
  2. Be curious. Curiosity is the antidote to fear. Being curious and fearful turn on the same reactions in the body, it’s just that reframing it as curiosity helps your mind repackage it.  So instead of your prefrontal cortex shutting down to run for it, it opens your mind to take in the experience.  It’s like reading a signal from your body in a different manner, a different language. As Burkeman espoused, “choosing curiosity (wondering what might happen next) over worry (hoping that a certain specific thing will happen next, and fearing it might not) whenever you can.” I’m trying to stay curious.
  3. Let time use you. This is complete blasphemy to my uber scheduled life of routines, appointments and structure. On the surface, it feels like letting go of the wheel while driving down interstate 40 at 70 miles per hour. As written by Burkeman, “There is an alternative: the unfashionable but powerful notion of letting time use you, approaching life not as an opportunity to implement your predetermined plans for success but as a matter of responding to the needs of your place and your moment in history.” It’s a matter of response and flexibility.  Let things unfold and find the gift in the unfolding. The traffic jam, being put on hold, the long line at check-out, here is an opportunity to let time use you.
  4. Find what counts. “Follow your gift, not your passion” wrote Steve Harvey. This reframe has been very beneficial to me.  I spent a lot of time trying to find “my passion”.  Knowing my gifts is so much more obvious.  I write well, I’m a phenomenal coach, I’m a good mom and I’m a great cook.  There.  Now all I have to do is use my gifts.  There lies my passion. As Burkeman wrote, “Once you no longer need to convince yourself that the world isn’t filled with uncertainty and tragedy, you’re free to focus on doing what you can to help. And once you no longer need to convince yourself that you’ll do everything that needs doing, you’re free to focus on doing a few things that count.” I need to use my gifts to do what counts.
  5. Do less. I coach so many women who work more and more and more hours each week. Some work until midnight, eat lunch at their desk, or work all Sunday evening to “get ahead”. Only to be rewarded with more to do because, well, they are good at doing so much. As Burkeman posits, “Limit your work in progress. Perhaps the most appealing way to resist the truth about your finite time is to initiate a large number of projects at once; that way, you get to feel as though you’re keeping plenty of irons in the fire and making progress on all fronts. Instead, what usually ends up happening is that you make progress on no fronts—because each time a project starts to feel difficult, or frightening, or boring, you can bounce off to a different one instead. You get to preserve your sense of being in control of things, but at the cost of never finishing anything important.” Perhaps this is the most difficult thing to tackle. To limit what you are working on so that you actually accomplish something. The curse of multitasking is that you really are just task switching and losing ground each time you switch tasks. Embrace doing less.

I’m a recovering efficiency-aholic. I walk into a grocery store and I’ve already mentally mapped which aisles I’m going down and in what order to maximize my time. The concepts in this book are sobering yet in a sense, it’s all about just being in the moment.  As much as possible to be here right now, balance yourself on your bike, lift your feet up and coast.