Can you recall a time when you wanted to do something important, yet you’ve managed to make enough excuses to leave it for a later date? Putting something off once makes it easier to put it off again, and before you know it, several weeks have past and you still haven’t done it?
I just cleaned my entire apartment and it’s almost time for bed, again. Another day has gone by, and I still haven’t written a blog post for this week. Two thoughts conflictingly popped up in my head:
- Yes! I’ve successfully put it off for another day.
- Crap! I feel guilty for putting it off yet another day. I really should get that done soon.
I’ve got a lot going on in my life. But, it’s just became clear to me that I have spent the past five days unconsciously avoiding writing, while spending mental energy coming up with excuses. Each time when I’m about to start writing, I would magically feel hungry, tired, sleepy, thirsty, grumpy, dehydrated, or needing to go ‘potty’. Or I would suddenly have the desire to read, watch TV, browse the Internet, finish random low-priority tasks, clear out my email inbox, go jogging, sleep early and clean the house. As you can see, my box of excuses is infinite.
When I recognized this, I sat down and started writing the article you’re reading now.
A Few Observations
- The more we make excuses, the more we buy into them, the easier it is to make additional excuses to support our mind-created beliefs. These beliefs become our story, and our excuses become our reality.
- Delaying is addictive. Even if your intention is to put it off “just this one time”. The act of putting it off sets a chain of reactions that will make it easier to delay this task again. In fact, it becomes more likely that the task will be postponed again.
- What we repeat in our mind actually exaggerates the scale of the task involved. It snowballs larger and larger, until the task becomes so big that you will never get it done.
- Constantly thinking about doing something but avoiding the actual act of doing it takes energy. You end up spending more energy pondering about it and making excuses for it than just getting it done. You’ll actually save time and attention energy by just doing it.
- We can only move on with our lives when we can get past our internal conflict between our story of procrastination and our desire to get it done. You really start to be productive when you can change your attitude.
- When you break the cycle and start, you’ll be surprised at how quick and easy the task actually takes. You’ll be wondering why you didn’t just get it done in the first place.
Stop thinking. Just do it.
The System: Cure Expanded
- Manage It - List out all the things you are putting off. Or rather, make a habit to write down all the tasks you want to complete. Write down how long you think each task will take. Now, double that time by two, that’s how much time you should budget for the task. The act of writing things down instead of holding it in your memory, frees up mental energy. Make sure, every task is small and achievable within a few hours. If not, break it down into several smaller tasks. Take small steps before running down the finish line.
- Prioritize It - Give a number beside each item, starting with 1 being the highest priority, the most important.
- Plan It - Schedule it. Make an appointment with yourself to complete the top 3 items on your list. Don’t schedule more than 3 in a day, it’ll distract you. Schedule other appointments with yourself only when the top 3 have been completed. This idea of focusing on just the most important items first before doing any other tasks help to improve your personal efficiency, while reducing feelings of guilt from non-productive times.
- Do It - Stick to your plan, get it done. Before an appointment with yourself, make sure to be well fed, take plenty of fluids, go to the bathroom, close your email windows and other distractions. Prepare to be focused.
- Dig Deep In It - If you find that you are skipping appointments with yourself. Ask yourself why are you deliberately putting this off? What are you avoiding? What are you afraid of? There’s always a reason. If you come up blank, dig deeper within yourself. Be honest. Actively ask yourself this question until you have the answer. Perhaps there’s pain associated with the doing. Perhaps, this isn’t want you really want to do. Perhaps, you are afraid of failure. Whatever the reason is, dig deep within yourself to discover the why. Once you find the reason, what can you do about it?
More Tips to Beat Putting-Things-Off
- Language - Watch your language when you speak or think about the task. Our language can have a powerful influence in the way we view our surrounding situations. “I should get that done” implies that it’s not something I really want to do but am obligated to do. As a result, our subconscious mind is telling our conscious mind that we shouldn’t be spending time on this task, it’s not what we want. Is that really how you feel about the task? If not, see how you can rephrase the sentence to better reflect what the task means to you. A more positive wording could perhaps be “This is important to me, because it contributes towards the wellbeing of others. I would love to get it done and I have scheduled times with myself to get it completed next week.”
- Commit - Make a decision to commit to getting it done. A true commitment to doing something will bring with it the energy required to getting it done. Nothing is as impossible or difficult is it seems. Once we’ve committed ourselves to some result and it is a result that we truly want, we’ll feel the desire and push towards action arising intrinsically out of us, naturally.
- Understand the Why - We often get so caught up in our routine of being busy, running from one task to the next that we forget to ask ourselves why we are really doing something. Ask yourself why this is important to you? Understanding the true importance of something and why it matters to you will give perspective to the matter and bring you the encouragement you need to follow through.
- Pain vs. Pleasure - It is well known that we will go to further extent to avoid pain than we will at gaining pleasure. Understanding the pains and pleasures from doing or not doing something can act as an effective motivator. What will you lose if you don’t complete it? What will you gain if you do complete it? Sometimes, the act of visualizing the pain from not doing something can act as a motivator to help you get it done.
- Instant Gratification vs. Long Term Gain - Thanks to modern conveniences and media, we as a society, especially in the western world, have become accustomed to instant gratification. With a flick of a remote, we can browse through hundreds of TV channels. With a phone call, we can have world cuisines delivered to our doors. With a few clicks of a mouse, the books we wanted will show up at our doorsteps. Microwave pizzas, bottled egg whites, and pre-packaged anything can be easily accessible with a quick trip to the local store. These serve as short-term distracters away from what we can gain in the long term. Spend some time to focus on your long term goal that this task contributes towards. Is the short-term gratification worth it in risking your long-term gain? Is it worth compromising for your potential?
- Visual Reminders - I’ve found it helpful to have visual reminders to do something that’s important to me. One way to do this is writing on a piece of paper what you need to do, and in smaller text why you want to do it. Tape this paper somewhere you will see it: bathroom mirror, in front of your bed, on your keyboard. This doesn’t work if you have many reminders for different tasks, but for a couple of tasks, it can work magically.
Life is as hard or as easy as we make it. The more we think about something (anything, not just tasks), the more amplified it becomes from our perception, because we have given it energy by focusing on it. Let’s not torture ourselves by adding more stress in our already hectic lives. It’s okay to be busy and not have time to finish things. Schedule it, forget about it and stick to the schedule. Treat it like an appointment with yourself. We respect others enough to show up at appointments punctually. Why don’t we do the same with ourselves?