Procrastination is my middle name. I’ve always done it. Sometimes in spectacular form! I’ve been honing procrastination techniques since I was a child. My own perfectionistic brand of procrastination occurs as a long stretch of deep avoidance followed by the “last-minute scramble.” This dandy duo has caused countless hours of anxiety and significantly reduced quality of life. My tendency to judge myself harshly only makes it worse and has zero impact on my productivity.
Here’s what procrastination looks like for me.
I’ve come to accept the “last-minute scramble” as an important part of my process. When an impending deadline looms, the adrenaline kicks in, spurs me into action and propels me into hyper-focus mode. It’s a “good” stress that motivates me and fuels action. Accepting this eleventh-hour approach rather than judging it tones down the struggle and has taken some of the bad stress away.
It’s the avoidance part that is the real culprit in my procrastination cycle. Prolonged avoiding of the things I need to get done triggers the agonizing “bad” stress that drains me, drags me down and makes me feel hopeless. A client of mine describes this anxious feeling as a wet and prickly blanket.
An effective way of escaping the dreaded wet and prickly blanket feeling is being in action.
But how do you jumpstart action when you are entrenched in avoidance? There is certainly no magic bullet, but there are lots of helpful strategies out there. The trick is to find ones that work for you. Here are some of my own tried-and-true measures that I use regularly to boost action. See which ones speak to your inner avoider.
This is my go-to when I want to jumpstart action. I am fortunate to have a great accountability buddy, whose schedule and level of commitment are in alignment with mine. Our accountability sessions are a series of “power hours” with the primary goal of getting stuff done in a chain of sprints. We have developed a simple process that works for us. This is how we do it:
- One of us texts the other and says, “are you down for some buddying?”
- We each share what we realistically would like to accomplish in the next hour
- We each knuckle down and do what we said we would do (mostly)
- We report back to each other after an hour and celebrate what we have accomplished (think celebratory gifs and emojis!)
- We repeat the process until one or both of us decides to stop
Weekly accountability checks don’t work for everyone because there is too much time to go astray. Consecutive, real-time power hours are very motivating, and knowing that your accountability partner has skin in the game heightens that motivation.
There is an element of fun to these buddying sessions and, in that spirit, flexibility and mutual support are key. If one of you hasn’t quite met your hourly goals, simply celebrate what you’ve managed to accomplish and offer encouragement to keep going. A lot can be accomplished in a few hours, including the creation of essential momentum that can keep you focused outside of buddying periods.
Create a Container
Containers are the unsung heroines (they are vessels after all) of efficiency. When I’ve got physical things to organize or transport, I use bins, boxes, baskets, crates and jars. When I’ve got written or digital information to manage, I use spreadsheets, tables, agendas, folders and project management tools. Even a simple list is a type of container.
I like containers for action-boosting because:
- When you have a container to put things in, you’re compelled to fill it up. Presto! Action!
- The word “container” is less intimidating than the word “system” or “process”
- Creating or obtaining a container is a step that doesn’t take as much brain power or effort, so it’s a great way to ease into action.
- The very act of choosing or creating a container is a springboard for logical thinking and honing in on what you need to get going.
- A container can be fun to obtain (a trip to IKEA!) or create (the sky’s the limit) and builds excitement around your overwhelming task.
Recently, an overwhelming research project had me paralyzed. I was avoiding it. I stumbled across a simple app called Trello that is essentially a digital bulletin board where I can organize information. I created categories and Trello became my container. As I found relevant links in my research, I dropped them into my categorized lists (and even got to colour-code them!). What had been an intimidating task, now had structure, logic and a fun factor.
Get creative with your containers! Whether you are downsizing to realize your dream of moving into a tiny home, finally writing that blog on the love life of snails, or putting together a team page at work, ask yourself, “what kind of container would be helpful in holding this task?”
I’m using the Pomodoro Technique right now! The name comes from the tomato-shaped alarm clock that the inventor of the Pomodoro Technique uses. Here’s how it works:
- Choose a task you’d like to get done – perhaps a task that you’ve been avoiding
- Set a timer for 25 minutes – the clock on your phone will do the trick
- Work on your task with no distractions until the timer rings – that means no checking your phone
- When the timer rings, put a check mark on a piece of paper – you have just completed one pomodoro!
- Take a 5-minute break – stretch, make tea, wash some dishes, hug a tree…whatever floats your boat
- Every 4 pomodoros, take a longer break of about 20-30 minutes – you deserve it!
Use this method if you don’t have an accountability partner or you want to be focused in a solitary way. You could also use this approach within your buddy system (e.g. I’d like to do 2 pomodoros of blog-writing before our next check-in).
I like this technique because the breaks are built in, it feels a bit like a game to me, and the parameters are very clear so I don’t have to think much. Thinking, “I’m going to do one pomodoro right now” is less overwhelming than, “I have this monstrous task that I have to tackle.” Taking small steps towards a goal can really jumpstart action and achieving those small steps motivates further action.
No, I don’t always use these strategies perfectly (yet stuff still gets done). Yes, I’m human and there are days when none of these techniques even work (maybe it’s the time to choose rest or play).
Despite my imperfect execution of these methods, it’s comforting and empowering to know that I have them in my repertoire. I still do my fair share of avoiding and my just-under-the-wire dash, but having these action-boosting strategies up my sleeve (and using them!) means I spend less time under the wet and prickly blanket of procrastination.
Pick a technique that beckons you to action and give it a test drive. Because the antidote to avoidance is ACTION.