I had set aside all of today to work on a project.
So, this morning, I slept in , took my time over breakfast , lingered over a second cup of coffee , cut up a watermelon , took out the compost, cleaned the sink (Literally, I gave that sink a good scrubbing!), and then started stripping the beds to throw the sheets into the wash .
It was while I was scrubbing the sink that I realized what was happening: I was procrastinating. This was serious, olympic-level procrastination! Not that the sink didn’t need a good scrubbing but that’s not a chore for a weekday morning, in my book.
While I was stripping the beds, I got to thinking: What is up with this? What am I avoiding?
I knew the answer immediately: The marketing project that set the day aside to work on was big and intimidating. I had a whole series of emails to write and I was hoping to get them all done in one day. So naturally, I was avoiding it!
Do you do this, too? Create lots of room in your schedule to get a specific project done, but then when it comes time to do the work, you find other things to do?
Procrastination is often tied to fear or intimidation (like I think it was for me, today), but it can also come from a lack of clarity, a sense of overwhelm, or anxiety. Unfortunately, the more we procrastinate, the bigger those emotions grow.
It can help to understand why we’re procrastinating, but I’ve also found that spending time figuring out why I’m procrastinating is just one more form of procrastination.
So while I was doing laundry, I got to thinking: What was it going to take to get me started on this project? I started going through my list of procrastination-busting options.
It occurred to me that you might find this list helpful, too, so here it is:
How to Stop Procrastinating
1. Think through to the other side: How will it feel to get it done?
One of the things that drives procrastination is our vision of what we need to accomplish. All we can see is an object that’s built out of the thing we need to do. It stands before us like a wall and it can be hard to see past it. And the longer we sit there staring at it or avoiding it, the bigger it gets.
So that’s the challenge: Look past the wall.
What will it look like when you get the project finished? How will it feel? Name those emotions and focus on them. Just stop wherever you are for a moment and feel them.
Spending some time envisioning that moment and feeling those emotions can help think past the wall, which undermines its power.
2. Write out the steps.
Especially if it’s a big project, it can be helpful to see the little pieces of it. Get clear about everything that needs to happen.
Then look at the list:
- What, if anything, needs to happen first?
- What’s the easiest thing on the list that you can do?
- What will take the shortest amount of time and give you the fastest win?
Just the sense of being able to make a dent in the project can help us lean in and do more of it.
As I listed out the emails I needed to write as part of today’s project, I realized that starting from the beginning was part of the problem. I just didn’t know where to begin! But I was very clear about how it needed to end, so I decided to start there. Just realizing that felt like progress!
3. Ask: Have you ever done a similar project before?
It can be helpful to go back to previous examples for inspiration because then you aren’t starting with a blank page. (This is the #1 reason why I keep everything!)
For example, I’ve written emails in the past that were similar to what I needed to do for today’s project. So I went back and found previous versions that I could use as templates. A lot of my anxiety fell away as I saw that I had something to start with and build on.
4. Connect with a coworking group.
Especially if you work alone (as so many business owners do), work can feel very lonely and isolating. We think that no one struggles like we do… but that’s actually not true. We're just not connected to others like us so we don't see it.
If the problem is that you struggle to simply sit down at your desk and get started, having an appointment to meet with others and work at the same time can be incredibly powerful.
I have a regular coworking group that I meet with every week, and I offer coworking in my membership. These sessions create a sense of community and I always walk away with a sense of accomplishment. I know my coworking buddies do, too!
5. Do a Pomodoro session.
If a project is big and intimidating, getting started can feel like you’re about to walk into a dark cave that feels endless. This is where structure can really come in handy.
In these cases, I run “Pomodoro” sessions. I set a timer for 25 minutes and just start.
In fact, I have a Pomodoro timer running right now!
You don’t need a special clock to do this. The timer on your phone will work fine. If I’m doing a coworking session, I’ll use cuckoo.team because they offer a shareable link so everyone can view the timer.
Whenever I find myself procrastinating, I mix and match the items in this list to break through. I invite you to do the same, and see what you can do to move yourself out of procrastination and into action.
This list really made a difference for me today. Once I realized what was happening, I got focused. I ran a short pomodoro session and used that time to do #2 and #3 above… and it worked! Four hours later, those emails were done! I hope you find similar success.