Beating Procrastination

personal values

It's fine to delay the one or two things that you are dreading to tackle, but when one reaches the infinite loop of procrastination, you need to know you are spiralling out of control.

I'm neither overly bad or incredibly good with procrastination.

For me, it's like hitting the road for a run only to realize you have cramps. The option at that point being turning around to head home or keep on going.

What's generally worse though is the fear or perception about those cramps. Are they gonna be painful? Will I have fun on my run? Will I be able to complete the run?

Luckily - as I said - all of these bullshit thoughts mostly doesn't prevent me from actually doing things.

But every now and again, I find myself in an infinite loop of procrastination, where I don't execute on anything. I mean, it's fine to delay the one or two things that you are dreading to tackle, but when one reaches the infinite loop of procrastination, you need to know you are spiralling out of control.

I had such an experience. Until yesterday anyway.

I had been procrastinating on a couple of related tasks that I had set myself. Ask me why I procrastinated and I'd probably say "for no real reason", but that notion is now a case of hindsight being an exact science (considering the tasks have been completed).

The infinite loop that I had got caught in was due to the tasks being inter-related and that I basically had to complete most of that at about the same time and some consecutively.

Here's what I needed to two:

  • I've been working on a campaign to re-connect my Twitter followers and convert them to subscribers of my newsletter. This is something I've been doing since November and have run a few iterations targeting small cohorts. (This is working really well btw. More on this in the coming weeks.)
  • The next step involved designing a dedicated landing page (like so) where I could send my Twitter followers.
  • But to get that page designed, I first needed to get a cut-out of that image of me. Which in turn meant finding someone to help me with that, because whilst I'm good at catching balls, my hand-eye-Photoshop coordination isn't that perfect.
  • On top of that, I need to make a decision about what needs to go onto that landing page and who I'm gonna ask to design it. Or am I just gonna design it myself? (I eventually went with the latter if you were wondering.)
  • Oh - and if I'm gonna ask someone else to design it for me, I might as just well ask them to design a landing page for the free e-book (The Rollercoaster Life) that Chloe & I completed last year (as a PublicBeta project). It's efficiency.

So looking at that, you can see one, convoluted mess of inter-related. Looking at that in the way you are doing now is the sole reason that I had been procrastinating for weeks.

I completed all of that yesterday though. And within 2.5 hours at that. Here's how I did it...

I don't have a blueprint that becomes that one silver bullet to stop procrastination and get shit done. It's partly down to JFDI'ing, but beyond that here's a couple of considerations that helps me:

  1. Be ignorant of size, because it doesn't matter. Change your mindset to stop thinking about the size of the task at hand and just focus on starting it. At the start, it's not about finishing the task (that's more of a determination or endurance thing anyway), but purely about getting started. Remember, you are only trying to beat procrastination here; not become a marathon athlete.
  2. DIY or Outsource? Make the decision quick, early and well before you ever reach the infinite loop of fuckups, erm procrastination. Ask yourself: "Can you do the job yourself? Is it most efficient for you to spend your time doing it? Are you more likely to procrastinate on this type of task?" Once you know the answers to these questions, make the decision about whether you'll do it yourself or find some help.
  3. Find Momentum. By now, you are either doing this yourself or you are outsourcing the work. Both of these choices requires some work and the trick now is to find momentum (and enough of it to drive you to completion). Start with the small and / or easy stuff first. If there's any low-hanging fruit with big rewards, they're no-brainers to start off with. Tick those off your list first and then move onto the next. You want to build momentum so that the big nasty to do's are much easier when you get there. Momentum lets you steamroll those bad boys.
  4. To e-mail or not to e-mail? This is gonna sound weird to you, but every single time I've managed to get into the zone and crush to do's (on which I had been procrastinating), I started off answering a whole bunch of e-mail. Yes, I'm slightly obsessive about a clean e-mail inbox along with my decision never to ignore anyone. But when I talk about momentum, I can usually find this after bashing out a couple of e-mails. That's my small victories or low-hanging fruit. (Disclaimer: Unfortunately e-mail has the tendency to de-rail all post-emailing efforts. Sometimes.)
  5. Stay in the zone for as long as possible. You've done the hard part by now, which was tricking your mind to actually get started. By now, you should have some nice momentum building and the key to a successful completion is now to stay in this (focus or productivity) zone for long as possible, as that'll drive you towards the goal posts. Don't allow yourself to be distracted and don't take your eyes off of that goal posts. Damn, they're pretty.

Try it. ;)