How to Stop Procrastinating

Hey you! Yeah, you. We see you. Here you are, reading an article about how to stop procrastinating instead of doing what you’re supposed to be doing. Ironic, right? That’s okay. We are not going to lecture you for not attacking your goalsThere’s no judgment at IWT. Asking for help is the first step to recovery, right? And, we are here to teach you how to be rich — not judge. We are going to do is show you the exact steps you can take to stop procrastinating. It’s easier than you might think. Really.

Step 1: Be Honest

How many times have you told someone you are “too busy” to do something? Example: FRIEND: Hey, do you want to go kayaking? YOU: Sorry, I’m super busy. Maybe some other time? (Then, you stay at home, binge-watching Netflix all day.) Or… FRIEND: I’m going to check out that new restaurant we’ve been hearing about. Want to join? YOU: Ugh sorry, I can’t right now. I’m swamped. Using “time” is a popular excuse because it’s so easy. Who is going to question whether you really have room in your day to go for a drink or out to dinner? No one. But, when you make this excuse, you are only cheating yourself and your friend. Instead, just be honest. Say, “Thanks for inviting me, but that’s not a priority for me right now.” It is a small change, but it opens the door towards uncovering the truth about your real priorities. Maybe you want to stay in to save money, recharge your batteries, or spend quality time with your dog – there are no wrong answers. Once you know what is not a priority in your life AND acknowledge those facts, you can start to identify what does matter. ACTION STEP: Evaluate your priorities The easiest way to identify your true priorities is an “honesty bath.” (Seriously. Try it.) Here’s how it works. Write down your goals for this calendar month or put them in a spreadsheet. Then, set a calendar alert for 30 days from now. At the end of the month, look at your goals. Pay attention to which goals you accomplished and which ones you didn’t quite reach. Next, decide whether you’re going to: delete, defer, or do DELETE: If you say that you’re going to wake up every day at 7 a.m. (but every morning hit the snooze button for at least an hour),  forget it. You are NOT going to wake up at 7 a.m. and that’s okay. Delete that one. DEFER: Let’s say you had a goal to organize your closet, but you have a huge project at work and you have been working nights and weekends to get it done. Guess what? You are NOT going to organize your closet while you have this crazy project, and that’s okay. Deferring the goal lets you keep your closet on your radar without making you feel guilty for it. DO: Ok. Now, let’s say that you set a goal to workout regularly and you have been hitting the gym three times a week. That is AWESOME. Keep it up. Real talk. Honesty baths are hard work. They take a ton of self-awareness for the exercise to be effective, but they work. The good news is that if you can take a hard look at your current habits, you can drastically change the way you live your life for the better. The best part? Honesty baths stop that low-level anxiety we all get from a having bunch of goals bounce around in our head. Once you make the decision to uncover your real priorities, you can start using your energy to commit to things you’ll actually do and…

Step 2: Stop feeling guilty

Lots of people fall victim to the paradox of guilt — and they don’t even realize it. How often have you talked to someone about saving money, changing careers, or working out and they say something like, “Yeah, I know I really should do that but…” and then they follow it up with some lame excuse? The truth is, “I know I really should be doing that” is just code for “I don’t want to do that.” It’s the same thing with credit card debt. Many people know they shouldn’t spend as much money as they do, but rather than admit to themselves that they did something wrong, they just keep buying things. Why does this happen? Guilt. It is easier to make excuses for not doing something than owning up to the fact that you are not taking the steps you need to earn the life you want. It is uncomfortable, but if you really want to stop procrastinating, and grow into a productivity machine, you have to learn how to hold yourself accountable. ACTION STEP: Understand the Issue When you start feeling guilty, don’t bury that emotion step up and address it.

Step 1. Acknowledge the guilt

If you ever feel guilty about something you’re putting off — like not hitting the gym or saving up for retirement — acknowledge that feeling. Recognize your guilt and accept it, then ask yourself why you are avoiding the issue.

Step 2: Use the “five whys” technique

The “Five Whys” is a technique invented by Japanese industrialist Sakichi Toyoda. He developed the method to uncover the root causes of recurring issues at his manufacturing plant. The idea is that if you understand WHY something happens, you can stop it – and his approach helped blow up his company into a household name. Maybe you’ve heard of it? Toyota. Toyoda found that you could uncover the root issue of most problems by asking “why?” five times – sometimes less – until you identify a counter-measure to the problem. Here’s an example. Let’s say you feel guilty because you’ve been meaning to open an investment account but haven’t. You can utilize the 5-Whys technique like this:

  • Why do I feel guilty?
    • Because I haven’t started investing like I said I would
  • Why haven’t I opened an investment account?
    • Because I don’t know where to start
  • Why is that?
    • Because I never learned about different investments
  • Why haven’t I learned?
    • Because I bought an investment book, but I never read it

See what happened? In less than five whys, we how to resolve the root issue with just one step – rea d the book.

Step 3: Put it all together

Now, look at what you did in steps one and two — your guilt, your five why’s (or less), and the solutions you uncovered. This will give you a good place to start solving the problem.

Step 4: Take action (later)

That’s right — this is IWT-approved procrastination. Once you write everything down, you need to step back and give it some space. Make an appointment with yourself to go over your notes tomorrow or the next day. Just doing the five whys takes a lot of energy. You might have to admit to some uncomfortable feelings. That’s okay. Own your truth, but explore those feelings later when you are mentally fresh and ready to take action.

Step 3: Reframe your reality

Have you ever heard of a self-fulfilling prophecy? Basically, this is the idea that what you tell yourself becomes your reality and it is a big problem. If you aren’t careful, you could be setting yourself up for failure before you ever get started. Here’s an example: If you tell yourself that you are a “lone wolf,” don’t be surprised if you have a hard time making friends. When you tell yourself that you are a loner, you are reinforcing the idea that you are quiet or that you can’t get along with other people. You may even self-sabotage yourself by doing things like not joining in a conversation or not making eye contact when you meet someone. Obviously, big mistake. But you CAN reframe your reality. ACTION STEP: Change the way you talk (and change the way you think) Quit hiding behind descriptions of yourself and start to focus on your actions.

  • Change “I’m a loner” into “I haven’t put myself out there.”
  • Move from “I’m just quiet” to “I can be shy until I get to know someone.”
  • Go from “I’m big-boned,” to “I’m going to start eating a little less and moving more.”

Step 4: Build systems to accomplish your goals

At IWT, we often get questions along the lines of “How do I find motivation?” The thing is, you don’t. Motivation isn’t a matter of timing. Your muse is not waiting in the wings for the planets to align. If you keep waiting for everything to be perfect, you’ll never get anything done. Instead, focus on building systems that help move you closer to your goals. Start by asking yourself, “What does it take to accomplish my goal?”

ACTION STEP: Baby steps

Create a manageable goal and break it down into steps. Let’s look at a “good goal” and a “bad goal” to see how it works. BAD GOAL: “I want to get in shape.” This goal is TERRIBLE. It’s vague. What does “in shape” even mean? How would you know if you were in shape? There’s not even a way to know when you’ve accomplished the goal. GOOD GOAL: “I want to run three times a week for 20 minutes.” LOVE IT. Notice how it focuses on the process instead of the goal? You are committing to action instead of an idea. It is measurable – you either ran 20 minutes or you didn’t – and it supports your ultimate aim – to become more fit. Over time, you can build on the habits you form by running longer or more often. Eventually, you will see results. Now, take this approach and do it with your own goals.

  • Do you want a new job? Apply for two jobs a week.
  • Do you want to save money? Put aside $50 every paycheck.

Small steps can lead to big results OVER TIME.

Step 5: Reward yourself when you succeed

Did you know that eating more chocolate can actually help you exercise more? Seriously. According to habit expert Charles Duhigg, rewarding yourself after a job well done can help create powerful shifts in your mindset. And, he would know. Duhigg literally wrote the book on the subject with The Power of Habit (one of our favorite books on behavior). Something like eating chocolate at the end of a workout is a simple way to ignite the reward centers in your brain. This helps cement the good feelings that are required for a habit to take root.

ACTION STEP: Celebrate your success

Ask yourself, “What habit do I want to start?” and “What will I do to reward myself for taking action?” Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

  • Every 25 minutes of deep work you do, give yourself a five-minute break to do whatever you want (aka the Pomodoro Technique).
  • After you hit a savings goal for the month, buy yourself something you want like a pair of shoes or a video game.
  • After you cook a healthy meal, take in a few episodes of that Netflix show you’ve been meaning to check out.

The reward can be anything you want — as long as you genuinely enjoy it.

How to overcome procrastination

At this point, you’ve read the steps for how to not procrastinate, but if you really want to get moving, it all comes down to understanding the two truths of productivity:

  • Truth #1: We all have the same amount of time in the day — so STOP BLAMING TIME (or your lack thereof). It doesn’t matter if you’re Bill Gates, an overworked parent, or a busy student. You just need to learn how to manage your time better (more on that later).
  • Truth #2: You don’t have to be an emotionless robot in order to stop procrastinating. Focus and time management are about mindsets and simple — yet powerful — shifts in how you approach your to-dos.

By adopting the right mindsets, you can create habits that stick instead of struggling to get the simplest of tasks done. If you’re ready to stop making excuses, break out of that rut, and make a major change in your life, this free guide is for you. In this free download, we put together the very best IWT material on setting goals, creating habits that stick, and riding motivational waves as well as getting back on track if you ever fall off.

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