How to Beat Procrastination

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It was 4 a.m. Time to get up, pet the dog, clear the cobwebs from my mind, and sit down to write. That’s my Magic Time and I must not waste a minute of it.

But one morning last month I struggled to get started. So I emptied the garbage. Took out the recycling. Packed my toiletries for my weekend travel. Arranged the books on my desk to sit at perfect 90-degree angles. I even shaved. And on a day when I would be working from home!

Finally, I decided to man-up and sit down. I glued myself to my chair (figuratively, of course), and forced myself to write. The first few minutes were difficult, almost excruciating. But then the mental spigots opened and the words flowed, and the Zen-like feeling I get from my morning writing spread through me.

This is how you stop procrastinating.

By doing.

Do or do not do. There is no try, young Skywalker. Start now.

I write because that is what I was born to do. I can’t stop writing. But I’ll admit, sometimes it’s awful tough to get started. Some days I need a little extra push to get going. We all do. But once you get that ball of momentum rolling down the hill, it’s tough to stop.

Even the most hard-core marathon runner often struggles with the first few steps on a cold November morning. However, the same runner knows full well the Boston Marathon is only a few short months away and so they stop trying and simply do.

All of the inertia disappears once you start.

To start is to win.

To start is magical.

To start is spiritual.

To start is to say, “This is it, world. This is what I’ve come to do and you’re not going to stop me, with your siren songs of petty distractions like social media or reality television.”

To start is to almost finish.

But why is it so hard to start doing and stop procrastinating?

Are You Missing Out on Life Because of This Inner Demon?

Just think of all the amazing accomplishments you could achieve if you could just beat the procrastination monster.

According to an article from Scientific American, almost 20% of the population chronically procrastinates, routinely putting off tasks to tomorrow that could be done today.

Frankly, that number seems awfully low. Our tendency to procrastinate, first developed in college pulling all-nighters to cram for exams or finish off a term paper, is easily strengthened in today’s world of constant social media updates, email addiction, multitasking, and 24-hour news channels..

But for every minute you spend procrastinating, you miss out on a minute of effective study, a minute of making an impact, a minute of moving towards your full potential.

If procrastination is an issue for you, then let’s change that starting right now. Don’t wait a minute longer in learning how to tame the beast.

My Simple One Second Secret to Stop Procrastination Every Time

Marketing guru Eben Pagan warns us about getting sucked into obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) loops. An OCD loop might involve checking your email, visiting news websites, checking your website or sales statistics, reading your text messages, and then returning to your inbox to start the loop all over again. That’s how so many of us procrastinate the day away.

But it doesn’t have to be like that.

When I was younger and the novelty of seeing a new sale notification hitting my inbox had not yet worn off, I was guilty of giving in to a powerful OCD loop like the one described above. Fortunately I recognized the problem and over time developed a simple, quick and easy solution to snap out of it and get back to work.

I developed a trigger.

A trigger is exactly that. It’s an action item that triggers you to get back to work.

It doesn’t need to be anything fancy. It doesn’t need to cost money or require another person to help you. It just needs to be an easy, yet effective reminder that triggers you to get back to the task at hand.

For me, it was simply having the smallest amount of discipline to open up the Microsoft Word program on my computer.

That was the trigger that snapped me out of my procrastination.

As soon as I realized I was entering an OCD loop, I fought the urge to continue and opened up the word document. It triggered a break in my bad habit and a return to the right actions.

I still use this trick today.

On that morning when I struggled to sit down and write, it would have been easy to continue finding household chores to occupy my time. But that would have put me far off track of my daily goals.

The only thing that saved me was my trigger. When I conjured up just the smallest modicum of discipline to sit down in front of my computer and open up the word document, everything changed.

It was the trigger I needed to return to my writing. From there, each word typed was a victory. Each sentence a battle won. Each paragraph was a huge step in conquering the procrastination demon. Each victory made it easier to achieve the next. I was on a roll.

That’s the big lesson. Action begets action. And it all starts with a simple trigger.

How to Pull the Trigger on the Tasks You’re Avoiding

In their book, Switch, authors Chip and Dan Heath explore the science of building habits. What they found was in order to make something a habit, we simply need to make it easy – and rewarding – for us to take the action.

Having a trigger reminds you to get back on track. Triggers, like brushing your teeth, can you get you back on track and stop mindless eating at night. Turning on loud, energetic music can be the trigger you need to finally start the exercise session you’ve been delaying all morning. Pulling out your checkbook and putting on a collared-shirt could be the trigger you need to finally sit down and deal with your monthly bills.

These little triggers can go a long way.

It’s what you’ll find with all activities that you are procrastinating on. Scientific research supports it. The only thing that helps you overcome procrastination is to actually do the thing you are procrastinating about. That’s it. You must take action.

And it can all be made easier with a trigger. Pull that trigger and you’ll slip back into your right habits with less willpower required.

So how do you stop procrastination? Just start.

Identify a trigger to get you into action mode. And once you’ve started, don’t stop until you’re done. Keep on pushing, start your day with one positive success step. Don’t do anything else until you make progress on something that is important to you!

What are you procrastinating on? What important task do you keep putting off? And what trigger can you use to get back on track?

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  • Ray

    Dear Craig,

    Another terrific article by you, regarding procrastination. You “triggered” the following thoughts:

    Let me suggest a way to use one bad habit to overcome all of your other bad habits.

    If you’re like me, you procrastinate. You put off doing something that is useful, to do something that is not useful.

    My suggestion is to use procrastination to your benefit. Whenever you decide to put off doing something that is useful to you and decide to do something that is not useful to you……..procrastinate.

    Say to yourself, “I will do the thing that is not useful…….tomorrow.”

    Then, in response to the useful thing, say, “Do it now.”

    Just start it. Don’t spend a lot of time thinking, or planning. Just dive in and start doing something to accomplish the useful thing. What’s the saying?……..
    “Well started is half done.”

    I read your article and then wrote this instead of turning on the TV.

    It was useful to me and I hope to you.

    Sometimes, bad habits can be useful.

    • Wonderful, thank you!

  • Excellent article, Craig. I can so relate to the thousands of minutiae that can capture our attention and delay us from getting down to business, so to speak.

    I learned some new ideas from you today – procrastination be gone!

    • Craig Ballantyne

      Great Lisa!

  • Thomas

    Thanks for the trigger idea and that bit about getting started on one thing that’s important to me and not doing anything else until I’ve made progress…I’ll give them both a try.

    I procrastinate by spending my time contemplating all the things I need to do…to be more precise, I panic about the number of things I have to do, want to do, don’t know how to do and (get this) the many things I putting off doing.

    Think, ponder, plan, write, contemplate, check that email, watch that tv, etc, etc then its back to thinking, pondering etc….When I do actually get started I often have a great session but fail to get back to the task at hand the next day or whenever I’m supposed to continue, so I never completely finish anything.

    I guess I need to prioritise, choose one thing to focus on, pull that trigger and get going. Sounds easy but choosing that one thing is proving to be difficult.

    Hmmm, I guess choosing anything at all is better than doing zip right!

    • ttcert

      Well said!