How can I stop procrastinating?

Penny HaslamBlog, Confidence, Make Yourself a Little Bit Famous, Penny Haslam Podcast

How can I stop procrastinating? Here are my five steps to "stop colouring in and sketch your future."

Spending time “colouring in” often shows up as something on your list of stuff to do, that isn’t getting done. This is one of the hallmarks of procrastination. You just carry it across to the next list. It gets to the point where it would be quite alarming if you actually completed it. Recognise any of these familiar procrastination culprits?

  • A website you’re building
  • Perhaps a book you’re writing
  • Maybe a report/dissertation/article/blog that needs submitting
  • Is it a conversation you want to have
  • A group you want to set up
  • That meeting that needs scheduling
  • A speech you’d like to give
  • Maybe a CV you want to upload
  • Or an organisation you’d like to join
  • An important email you need to send.

They often mean more to you than just the thing itself and potentially offer great opportunities for you in your future. Which is why they are scary, which is why we spend our time colouring in; checking every detail, making sure it’s all just right, holding back, talking about it a bit too much, before we press send!

So, faced with the question "How can I stop procrastinating?", let’s assume you want to complete the things you keep dreaming about - how might you stop colouring in and sketch your future?

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Step 1. That thing you want to stop procrastinating about. What does it mean to you, really?

What would completing the thing on your list really mean to you? What would it give you (apart from the satisfaction of crossing off a to-do list item)? To uncover this important motivator, play the ‘which means that’ game… so after each statement around your challenge, repeat ‘which means that’, and continue to get deeper on it. For example:

“I’m going to ask so-and-so/person I aspire to be like if they can spare time to tell me about their career journey. Which means that…

I’ll pick up tips for my own career and they’ll get to know I’m ambitious. Which means that…

 They may share ideas or contacts that could help me further. Which means that… 

 I can form a realistic and supported plan for my own career progression. Which means that…

 I can get a promotion. Which means that…

 I can afford to have the home I want. Which means that…”

 And so on, until you have a great big juicy list of reasons to stop colouring in!

Step 2. How to stop procrastinating, it's good to talk

Have conversations with a range of people about what you’re trying to achieve, and why. Giving ‘airtime’ to your ambitions is a good way to help you make it more real.

And when I say ‘ask a friend’, I mean one of those pals who is good at listening to you and always comes up with good ideas that would suit your situation. Perhaps they are also good at suggesting things in a way that doesn’t make you feel bad for not having thought of it before.

Do not ask the friend who will say, ‘that sounds like a stupid idea, what do you want to do that for?’ And then starts their next sentence ‘I’. You know the ones.

Step 3. Stop procrastinating by breaking it down

Any action you want to take is made up of loads of steps, or elements. You don’t just ‘climb a mountain’ do you? You plan out dozens of things before you can even begin, like what snacks to take, which walking boots are the most flattering and, I suppose, what route to take.

The more bitesize the tasks, the more likely you are to eat your way to completing your thing. So break it down into tiny morsels that any fool could complete, and then make a start on your plan.

Step 4. Get held accountable

Giving someone permission to call you out is a tough one. No one likes to be found wanting. At our worst it can make us feel defensive or that we have to come up with excuses as to why we haven’t done something.

If you’re serious about getting on with sketching your future, you might want to ask for support along the way. People pay coaches to help them do this, and my goodness, if you’re paying real money, you damn well make sure you do the work!

But enlisting the support of a friend or colleague, with the specific task of making sure you’re not dilly-dallying can be a great free option.

Step 5. Seek the deep down and dirty truth

If you’re still colouring in and perfecting the thing you know would be of great value to your future, rather than just making it good enough and getting on with your life, then you’ve reached a fork in the road. You can scrub it off your list, and please do so without judging yourself or feeling guilty.

Or you can peel back another layer of your tough old onionskin and work on the bigger issue(s) at play. Many of my protracted cases of colouring in have been because I like being Teflon-coated, watertight, rock-solid right (yes, yes, it’s an insecurity/protection thing).

Of course, when we seek exposure, show the world more of ourselves, it can feel, well, er, exposing. For me, the deep down and dirty truth suggested I could try to be more open to discussion, alternative views, and hear feedback – which I previously heard as criticism - more positively.

And this last step to stop procrastinating can take time (it took me three months to send one email people, I’m not judging anyone on this!) so be kind to yourself, but don’t let you get in the way of your future.

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