I think I’ll just write this article tomorrow morning.
One second, you’re chipping away at the first few steps of your latest project. Then you get sucked into the internet wormhole, ending your journey on a web page detailing the history of cereal marshmallows.
I compare procrastination to a powerful supervillain. It can somehow convince us that watching funny cat videos (and allowing YouTube to autoplay) is just as important as getting hard work done.
And that’s precisely what we want to avoid: hard work.
But hard work isn’t just a grueling undertaking that saps us of our energy — it comes in many disguises.
It can be the project that we don’t know much about; it’ll take research before we even start.
It can be the tedious project: entering numbers or working with spreadsheets and databases.
Or it can just be a project that requires extra creativity and hours of blank-screen staring contests.
Procrastination is your endorphin-loving brain’s greatest weapon in the war against success. Anything that makes it feel good immediately will usually beat out a future reward (that is, until the pressure is on).
It’s not easy to stop procrastinating. But it is easy to start building little habits that can help you fight against the lure of “You Laugh You Lose” videos and Facebook politics. Here are five of the tricks I use daily to stay on track.
1. Be clear on your goal:
When you have clarity, you have a target.
Imagine a massive dart board. Someone tells you to get the highest score in ten shots. The dart board is covered in illegible numbers and different colors that makes it impossible to pick the best route to the high score.
When you line yourself up with vaguaries like “write a book,” you’re setting yourself up to get off track. Get granular with your goal-setting.
2. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time:
Like I said: get granular.
Big goals are great, especially if they’re specific. But ambition and procrastination don’t get along too well. You can see the progress you’re making as you work toward your big goal, but how do you know you’re doing enough?
Make sure your big plan includes smaller, specific goals that are easier to achieve. Remember the importance of specificity? Because these goals are milestones, you can get more specific with them.
Set deadlines. Set tasks with checklists. Set numbers for wordcounts, production counts, phone calls, etc.
If we think a task is too big to handle, most of us will get discouraged along the way when we haven’t achieved that ultimate goal. Small goals help your brain feel satisfied with your progress.
3. Learn to Embrace the Discomfort:
You pave the road to procrastination with bricks of hesitation.
Learn to embrace the discomfort of menial tasks. There’s no need to change your perspective here — these tasks are annoying. I’m talking about the phone calls, the checklists, building contacts, and the thousand other small steps.
But when you put those off until tomorrow, they start to build up. Eventually, they’re more of a hassle than the goal itself. Don’t let them get to that point and just enjoy them as much as you can.
4. Accountability is a beautiful, looming ball of guilt:
Make yourself publicly accountable. You want to see yourself work? Set up your goals on Facebook or with a friend (a pain in the ass friend would be a good fit).
Give them deadlines. Tell them what’s going to be done by when. Show them proof of your work via email. Set up weekly calls so that they can badger you about where you’re at.
When you start to slip up, you’ll feel the pressure. When your friend emails you or your Facebook wall floods, you’ll start getting things done.
Accountability is a powerful tool — it’s one of the reasons I run a mastermind group. It keeps you in line by giving you someone that relies on your success. Accountability is best used for personal projects that aren’t tied to your career. Your boss is holding you accountable enough as it is.
5. Reward Yourself:
I’m not going to lie: this one’s hard. This one requires you to have the strength to keep yourself away from things until you complete a task. It takes patience and willpower, but the effect is powerful and life-changing.
Rewarding yourself is a kind of relational method to give you a dopamine kick whenever you complete a difficult task.
If you love dessert, keep yourself away from it. Finish a tough item on your checklist and then you can have that dessert. Same thing for YouTube, Facebook, and whatever else you enjoy.
And when you link that dopamine-boosting behaviour with a reward, you make the effect more powerful. This is, in effect, self-gamification. You’re turning tasks into a reward system that helps you stay on track and motivates you to do it more often.
Try it next time you’re setting up your smaller goals. When you make a checklist, give the more difficult tasks rewards alongside them that you can activate when you complete them.