You’ve probably been a procrastinator for a long time. Since you were a kid. And all this time you thought that procrastination is child-like behavior that you should’ve outgrown years ago.
And even though you know full well the cost of procrastinating — all the stress and worry, the late nights working on stuff you could’ve done earlier, the performance hit you take from lack of sleep, the quality hit you take from rushing your work last minute — you still do it.
Maybe you tell yourself a story that “you only do your best work when you’re up against a deadline” — but deep down you know that even if that’s true sometimes, any time you break a promise you made to yourself (like when you promise yourself you’re going to do something on Monday and then you don’t do it until Thursday) well there’s a problem.
If you’re like I use to be, you’re probably convinced that the reason you procrastinate is that there’s something wrong with you. That you lack enough will power to plan ahead, file your taxes on January 15th, or start with the biggest job on your plate.
This is the cause of all the confusion about procrastination.
We think it’s about WILLPOWER.
But it’s not.
What Causes Procrastination?
Procrastination happens naturally when you add the experience of “I have to” with the experience of “I don’t know where to start”.
If you want to make any fully functional adult start procrastinating, give them a task that they feel they must do but they don’t how to approach exactly. If you want to make their procrastination pattern even worse, make sure you make it something that they THNK should be able to do. (Because then you trick yourself into thinking you do know where to start — because you should know — even though you really don’t.
So if they think they should be able to do it, but they’re not exactly sure how to start, then you’re going to get procrastination.
And it has nothing to do with willpower at all.
And that’s why, try as you might, you haven’t been able to stop procrastinating, because you’ve been trying to apply willpower to a situation that is really caused by not knowing where to start.
You might be thinking, “No, Bryan, I also procrastinate on tasks where I do know where to start. Where I do know what to do. What about those?”
Well, I would encourage you to examine those tasks more closely, because it’s very likely that you have a clear idea about the outcome you want at the end, and you may know what the general approach is. But it starts to get fuzzy when you try to think of that entry point: How will you actually begin? What’s the first smallest step?
For example, if you’re procrastinating upgrading your web presence, you might think, “I know what to do. I have to sit down and re-write the home page of my website.”
But that may not be specific enough to cure procrastination.
The real first step to improve your web presence is: “Sit down, open your computer, and search Google for your own name.”
Once you are that specific about where to start, you’ll notice that you’ll get started right away.
One Step At A Time
There’s a fitness coach I love that tells their clients that they don’t have to work out. They don’t have to go to the gym. They don’t even have to put on their work out cloths. All they have to do is put on ONE of their running shoes. Just one shoe. That’s the whole commitment.
Of course, what happens is that once you put on one shoe, then out of habit you put on the other one, pretty soon you’re in your gym clothes and then you’re driving to the gym and before you know it you’re working out and being healthy and following through on your commitments.
It’s that one entry point. The ‘Where do you start?’ that makes all the difference.
So the permanent cure for procrastination starts with writing down a list of all the things that you’ve been procrastinating. All the things that you know you should be doing but you’re putting off. Write down what they are. And notice when you write them down how general they feel. How large. And how NON-SPECIFIC the words are that you naturally use to describe the tasks that you tend to put off.
Then ask yourself the question: “What’s my starting point? What’s the smallest first action that I can take in the direction of accomplishing the larger task? What’s my one “GYM SHOE” with respect to these tasks?
And then only commit to doing that FIRST STEP.
More Resources to Stop Procrastination
If you find that you’re still procrastinating that first step, then you need to break the step down into even smaller steps. Make it even more clear and specific and easy to do — so you truly understand exactly what that first tiny step is — not just as an idea or a concept, but as an action that your body knows go through the motions of completing the step.
Your mind knows. Your heart knows. And then you’ll just begin to do it.
Get more resources – including a step-by-step Cure Procrastination Worksheet, in our downloadable report on What to Fix and What to Let Go. It’s part of our free Mind Money Meaning training series. Check it out now.