The reason people have difficulty overcoming procrastination – and the biggest problem in trying to do so – is that in order to overcome procrastination, you need to strengthen the will. And though there are several ways to do this, all of them are hard by definition – strengthening the will takes will power – the very thing you are lacking when you procrastinate.
There are many books, videos etc. which will inspire you and tell you how to get organised, manage your time, get over the first hurdle etc… The problem with these, is that they do not teach you how to build will power, merely the techniques which people who do not procrastinate use.
These books are effectively saying that to learn to swim, the best method is to get into the water. It is true that one cannot really learn to swim without ever getting into the water, but there is a difference between actually finding yourself in water, learning to swim and reading about your need to get into water in order to be able to swim. If I have been scared of water for years, reading that I need to just get into the water will not be enough. I will avoid water by all means and will therefore very rarely “find myself in water” with the need to be able to swim. Similarly, if I have procrastinated for years, reading about my need to just swallow that big frog will not help me to actually do it.
If you do not have a tutor (who will force you to do something you do not want to do), you have to tutor yourself.
As with anything, the first step is wanting it – wanting to overcome procrastination.
The next step is managing to do things you do not want to do.
To help you get over the barrier of not doing the things you want to do, try the following easy exercise:
Take tasks around the house or at work which are quick to do and which you have to do on a regular basis, but you do not really enjoy. Examples in the home include doing the dishes, taking a shower (if you do not enjoy it), feeding the pets, emptying the rubbish, cooking dinner… Examples at work may include the report to the boss, sending a letter to the database of clients, answering the long email – things which are not too difficult to do, which you do already (just without enjoying it) and will have to be done at some stage with fairly drastic results kicking in quickly if they are not done. For the sake of this exercise, do not choose things which don’t necessarily have to be done. Don’t use washing the windows, which, if need be, can wait another week. Also keep away from: things you enjoy doing (such as the dance class, reading a good book, watching a film, etc…), things which take a long time (such as writing a book, redesigning the company website, renovating the West wing of the house etc…), as well as from things which are linked with fear and you therefore put off as long as possible (such as firing someone, learning the lines for that theatre role, asking for a promotion etc…)
Once you have chosen one thing (at first – you can add more as you progress) which you feel is right – enough dislike to put you off doing it, but enough pressure to make sure you will anyway – each time you are about to do it, think to yourself, “I appreciate that I really do not want to do this. I know that it is because I am afraid of … happening, or because I really do not like/enjoy/want to do it, however I will do it anyway.” Then do it. That is all at first. Just appreciate, observe your dislike of the action, then do it anyway. If you need an extra incentive, add a reward for when you have done it. Examples include going for a smoke/walk/coffee or having a break/chocolate/chat. Make sure you only enjoy the reward when you have successfully completed your chosen action.
When you feel that you have mastered this step, try doing it slightly earlier in the day. Instead of starting at 4.59pm, just before you leave work, try moving it forward to 4.00pm. Then 3.00pm. Then 12.30pm. Then 11am. Then 9am, just as you walk in the door. Keep observing your dislike of the action, keep doing it anyway, but do it earlier.
As This becomes easier, try tackling things which you do not need to do as often, dislike more, or tend to put off. Make it an exercise to do it, or give yourself the challenge of seeing whether you can do it, thinking about how you do not like it or want to do it, but doing it anyway.
You can use this exercise for a long time, with many different things you need to do which still fall into the categories described above. Each time you challenge yourself to do something you do not like and actually do it, you are simultaneously increasing your will power and re-wiring your brain to reduce fear – to know that nothing bad happens if you do it anyway and that in fact, good things happen (if you added a reward).
To help you on your path towards increasing will power, a powerful crutch is the rewards system. You will feel better about strengthening your will if you reward yourself. HOWEVER: firstly, ONLY reward yourself once you have finished the task and secondly, keep the rewards in proportion to the task. If the task is something not too hard, give yourself a not too big reward. If the task was very difficult, give yourself a big reward. The reward should be chosen before and you should look forward to it during the task.
For example: if you have decided to lose weight, don’t promise yourself a chocolate bar for going to the gym. Doing one hour of exercise might be worth watching one hour of TV. 7 days of regular 1 hour exercise blocks may be worth a chocolate bar (but only if you did not eat any during the week).
When you notice that you can choose when you will do something, have seen the benefits of doing it quickly rather than putting it off (these include things like having a clear conscience the rest of the day, being able to reward yourself with something for having done it, etc…), you can apply these same principles to things which are difficult (for you), take longer and/or are linked with fear. THEN you can use the exercises described in the various books to become organised and efficient, knowing that you now have the capacity to actually do things, even if you don’t like doing them.