Q: I’m a dyed-in-the-wool procrastinator, and it causes me some problems. While I almost always get things done on time, I know it causes a lot of unnecessary stress. What can I do to break this habit?
A: Take small steps to get started while you seek ways to build more momentum.
The inner game
You’ll want to think this through; however, in this case, I’ll encourage you to focus on ways to move toward new actions rather than assessment of the factors that hold you back. The reason? You reinforce that which you focus on, so too much analysis of the causes might just get your feet stuck even deeper in the mud.
So, to get started on your reflection, try doing something to get energized. Take a short walk, do some stretches, or get out for some fresh air. Let your mind open to new ways of thinking and different courses of action. If you find yourself getting dragged back to old thoughts, let them go, and gently bring your focus back.
Now, select a situation when it’s been easy to take action. What has made it stand out? This will differ from person to person — for some, it may be easier to get started on something new while others get going faster with something familiar. Notice if it makes a difference if other people are involved and how your overall stress level plays into it. Make a list of success factors that help you get on track.
Let other people serve as role models. Observe others’ styles of work management and find some you’d like to emulate.
Finally, think about why you’d like to change. Make a list of specific benefits that you’d see if you can break the procrastination habit. Consider effects on your stress level, your reputation, even minor benefits such as not getting nagged to finish your expense reports. These benefits can serve as your inspiration when you’re feeling your feet drag.
The outer game
OK — start right now!
Every time you can, create the success conditions that have helped you avoid procrastination in the past. For example, if you struggle with new tasks, find a familiar aspect to help you get started.
When that doesn’t work and you find yourself stalling, try these steps:
• Look at your list of benefits. What good things will happen if you just move forward?
• Do the smallest possible thing to get the task started.
• Give yourself a reward — even a verbal “attaboy” — for taking a step in the right direction.
This may make it sound as if this’ll be an easy habit to break, but you already know that it isn’t. You’ll want to find support to help keep you on track. Approach one of your role models to be a mentor for you, or talk to your boss or another colleague about ways they can help you stay accountable.
Keep track of your successes, especially in the first weeks. It may seem like you’re not making progress, so looking back at how far you’ve come will keep you motivated.