9 Surefire Solutions for Procrastinators - Christine Kane

Irony: As I started to write this article, I thought to myself, “Hey, I’ll just go do one Sudoku game before I write this.” I caught myself in the act, and marched my ass back here to write this post.

People who say that procrastination is about laziness are probably the same people who think that bulimia is about eating too much. Procrastination isn’t about laziness. It’s about fear. It’s about perfectionism. It’s about overwhelm. We all experience this, and there are some tricks that have helped me. Hopefully, they’ll help you too…

9 solutions to break the procrastination habit:

1 – When you get an idea, do some little thing to begin it

Did you read Stephen King’s book On Writing? Me too. And one thing I noticed about Stephen King is that when he gets an idea, he writes it. That’s it.

Most people – myself included – will get an idea, sit there, wonder if it’s a good idea, and then wonder if it’s a good idea some more.

Got an idea? Begin it. Just start. There’s nothing to lose.

2 – All hail small chunks of time!

Lots of us complain about having no time. My guess is that we all have lots of spare time. It just doesn’t happen to be all at once.

When we begin to make the most of our small chunks of time, we get better at making use of our large chunks of time.

Quit waiting for many hours and days of spare time to begin your idea, your project, your taxes. Start figuring out how to use the spare half hour that comes up in between meetings or phone calls. (I have given myself 45 minutes to write this blog just to take my own advice.)

3 – Make your new goal be this: To do it badly.

If you are a tried and true procrastinator, set a goal to do it badly. Make the goal be just to show up – and let go of doing it ALL, or doing it WELL. Some of my biggest victories have a lot more to do with getting over my perfectionism or fear, than they do about being perfect.

4 – Commit to it on paper and out loud

Write down the goal. Then call a friend and say something to this effect: “I’m going to spend the next half hour working on my Law School Essay for Harvard.” Then go do it. Call the friend after the half hour and make her congratulate you. Rinse and repeat tomorrow.

5 – Give it defined quantities

Nebulous goals make for nebulous results. “I’m gonna get my office organized” is a bit like saying, “We oughtta do something about Global Warming.”

Most procrastinators have a hard time defining quantities. We can only see that everything needs to be done now.

When are you going to do it? For how long? Which part of your office are you going to organize? Are you going to throw old files from the file cabinet into recycling? Or create new labels for the file folders?

6 – Install this System Upgrade into your mental hard drive: Less is More

Have fewer goals. Have no more than three priorities for a week. Begin the week knowing those priorities. If there are more than three major items, let everything else go but the most important ones.

Why?

Because you’re not lazy. You’re just trying to do too much.

Train yourself to grok what it feels like to accomplish one thing instead of not quite getting to everything. Once you get that, you’ll finally understand what it feels like to do something. You’ll want to make it a habit.

7 – Do it first thing

When I was struggling to finish songs, a mentor of mine made me write songs first thing in the morning. He told me to schedule the 2-hour chunk as my first activity upon waking.

Why?

“Because you’re telling the universe that this is your priority. And then the universe lines up everything to align with your priority.” Action grounds your priorities. It makes them real. It also makes your day easier because you’re not wasting your precious energy on “thinking about” this thing you’re supposed to be doing. You’ve already done it.

8 – Define times for nose-bleed activities

Email, text messages, voicemail, web stats – any activity that bleeds itself into your whole day becomes a non-activity. It turns into a nose-bleed. When you do it all the time, you never actually do it. You just let it slowly suck the very life force from you. Get out your calendar and define times you’re going to do these activities. Then, challenge yourself to turn off your email, your cell phone, your web stats, until that time comes.

9 – Don’t ask yourself how you “feel” about doing the activity.

Have you ever committed to going to the gym? And then when the alarm goes off, you lie in bed thinking, “Do I really feel like going to the gym?” [Like you even have to ask?!]

Change this pattern. Decide the night before that you’re doing it. Commit to getting up and going right to the gym, the computer, the blank canvas. Don’t sit and have coffee and sigh and think, “Man, if I wait til noon. I’ll probably feel more like it then.”

If it’s important to you, if it’s a priority, don’t waste time asking yourself how you feel about doing it or if it’s really even a good idea. The voice of the procrastinator will always find a way out of doing it. Feelings are an easy out.

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There I did it. I wrote this blog. And it only took an hour. And now, I don’t even want to play Sudoku!

30 COMMENTS ADD A COMMENT
  • David

    Hi Christine,

    Perfect timing on reading your post as I head into an ultra crazy week. Why is it that when I have weeks like this I can somehow catch myself organizing my sock drawer (which admitedly needs attention – but not now) and putting off the main task at hand.

    Thanks for some great suggestions!

  • Christine Kane

    thanks lisa!

    ron – there’s no better writer on this topic than anne lamott. i just adore her humor!

    hey mark – i don’t think i’m “dismissing” war of art – i actually read and absorbed the entire book. i’m just hesitant to recommend it to some people – because i’m trying to re-frame this idea of resistance in creativity. and even the suggestion of WAR (though i hear what you’re saying above) creates an image of stress, strain, pain and drama. it’s a huge word for me. and it IS the title of the book. yes, he’s a great writer. and I actually went out and rented baggar vance after i read the book. so, perhaps the issue comes from my own mindset these days. i’m not sure. and yes, bird by bird is one of the best books on writing! happy thanksgiving to you too!

    thanks hanna!

  • Hanna

    There are a lot of great ideas here for people like us that procrastinate, but about the first one: it’s great advice but I get all my great ideas when I want to fall asleep. Sometimes I ignore them, sometimes I turn on the light to write something down… but so wish I was this productive in the mornings! πŸ™‚

  • mark penta

    Christine & Caren…

    Egad! I roll my eyes and emit a tiny sigh of frustration! :I

    Please don’t dismiss ‘War of Art’ because of the title alone! That’s a shame. I think it’s one of the best books about the creative process out there. Just my opinion. (But not really – 106 Amazon customers give it an average 4 star rating!)

    May I defend it?

    The ‘War’ referred to is the one many people experience daily: the ‘Resistance’ which prevents us from doing our soul’s work.

    I found it validating (not tiring) to read how most artists experience Resistance. He offers loads of anecdotes and advice.

    Granted, yes, there’s a certain ‘machismo’ inherent in the title. But it illustrates his point and from a marketing perspective it’s bold.

    Pressfield also wrote ‘Legend of Baggar Vance’…He’s a sensitive guy. But there’s definitely a no BS quality to War of Art that I find awesome.

    I also recommend Annie Lamott’s “Bird by Bird: Some Thoughts on Writing and Life”.

    Thanks…and Happy Thanksgiving!

  • Ron Davison

    Thank you! I needed that about now.
    Re: #3, here’s a quote from the wonderful Anne LaMott, β€œAnd that’s a start. I used to tell my writing students to start their work anywhere they could, and then to let themselves do it poorly. This is the secret to life, and good writing.”

  • Lisa Natoli

    I am totally in love with this website and blog. It’s my favorite thing in the world! Your writing is such an inspiration. PRACTICAL!! I love the post about language, and deleting certain words out my vocabulary, changing the word “but” to “and”. That’s amazing. I never thought of that! thank you.

  • Christine Kane

    Thanks everyone for your thoughts! Caren – hmmm, that quote is a little “suffer-y” to me. I used to think that way – and believe that very idea – but now, I’m not so sure. I understand resistance, for sure. But I don’t necessarily believe that our “soul’s evolution” requires that we have to get that bent out of shape! Elaine – grok is from the novel “stranger in a strange land.” – it means to understand or to grasp or to “get.” example: “Oooooooh – I get it now!” (or, “i can grok it now.”) you can look it up on wikepedia.

  • Elaine

    Could you define Grok for someone who speaketh the Queen’s English my good lady?!! ;-)One is not sure of the translation into Dorset.

    Great post – really helpful

  • StaciSchoff

    Thanks for this great list. I was just thinking about that today — I was remembering Gail Blanke who spoke at BlogHer and she’d said to make sure if you’re committing your time to things, that they are things that are helping you accomplish your end goal. And I was thinking this morning it’s time for me to evaluate all the things I have going on and decide what I need to let go for now, as I’m feeling overwhelmed and therefore nonproductive!

  • Caren

    On the Amazon page for “The War of Art” (title puts me off, but concept intrigues me!), someone mentioned this quote:

    “Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.”

    Boy – *that’s* something to think about!

  • Andrea Hess|Empowered Soul

    Great post, Christine! I’m not much of a procrastinator, I think, but the “nose-bleed” activities part totally hit home for me. I check my email WAY too much … sometimes when I know I won’t have time to really sit down and reply to what’s in my inbox. Which means it’s just a waste of time. Thanks for giving me a nudge about creating a new habit!

    Blessings,
    Andrea

  • Bill Green

    Great insights and a great post! Thanks for all of your wisdom!

  • Sue

    Hey, another thing I have noticed is that while I am procrastinating I tend to graze on food I don’t really want, but fits into my ‘putting things off’ mode. That’s a nasty little habit for sure, one that doubles my frustration with my lack of perfection in completing the task; a cyclic habit, which in the end is emotionally and practically unproductive. This called my attention to it, thanks!

  • Sue

    I definitely need to give up reign as queen of the Land of Procrastination. I fall right into that overwhelm trap, too many things so I don’t know where to start. One thing I have also given myself permission for is knowing that there is a subset of work that I truly do best when the pressure is on. I have decided to be ok with that, and not stress that it’s not complete 3 weeks earlier. HOWEVER, that means I can’t procrastinate about other things or I can’t find my center when the pressure is on. Thanks soooo much for this! I’ve sent the link to all fellow procrastinators!

  • Lainie

    Great as always, Christine, thank you! As usual you’re linked into the zeitgeist — I also came across the wonderful procrastinator’s “Not To Do” list at 52projects.com: http://www.52projects.com/52_projects/2005/09/a_nottodo_list.html
    Have a wonderful holiday.

  • Danny

    Christine, So you aren’t in my head, but LoA certainly attracts to me what I need and desire, most often in a comical way. Life is GREAT Thanks for all that you do! πŸ™‚

  • Christine Kane

    wow – i love that quote, liz! thanks for sharing it.

  • liz williams

    A most excellent list, Christine – thanks for skipping the sudoku. Your last response to larissa reminds me of my favorite quote about discipline:

    “Discipline is remembering what you want.”

    – Steve Chandler and Steve Beckwith in “9 Lies that are Holding Back Your Business”

    So, when the alarm goes off and I’d rather stay in bed than go to the gym, I ask myself what I want more – to feel great and full of energy, or to have an aching hip and sore back? Suddenly another 40 winks doesn’t seem all that attractive.

  • Christine Kane

    danny – maybe i’m not in your head – maybe you just click where your head needs to go…? πŸ™‚

    larissa – you pointed out the biggest one for me. it’s a discipline. that’s the only way i can describe it. i have to work at not doing those activities!

    sarah – you and kathy can let go of your middle names now! they can’t help in this matter! happy thanksgiving to you too!

  • Christine Kane

    excellent marilyn! hope you got the poem finished… (i’m excellent at cranking out very bad poetry. and i like doing it too!)

    yes indeed colin!

    thanks for the book recommendation mark – i read that book years ago. i can definitely see why you like it. it has some great insights. (my only beef with it is the idea of putting art in the context of WAR. it made me sort of tired…?) congrats on getting your book done!

    thanks pam! wow – that’s quite a morning. many years ago, i removed any and all solitaire, blackjack, etc from my computer. (canfield was my favorite.) it eats away hours!

    susanne – is that the november thing where everyone writes a whole novel? my friend kathy and her husband did that. it was great! and yea, i’m with you on that weird statement about practicing. i taught myself guitar on 30 minutes a night when i got home from waitressing jobs. i’ve known people with that same mindset as your friend – and they get so uptight and intense that i can’t help but think they’d be happier if they relaxed that attitude a bit!

    thanks for the note kathy! (and you might want to let go of that manana label – it can’t do any good at this point in your life!)

  • Sarah

    Thank you, thank you! Procrastination is my middle name, so I recognize this delightful yet deadly disturbance…

    And now I have *two* books to read to help out – YAY! That’s not procrastinating, is it? πŸ˜‰ As long as I delineate the time to do it and still get to my (too many) goals…right?

    Work in progress – you help make it better because you help me believe I *can* improve and I thank you for that.

    cheers and happy thanksgiving!

    Sarah

  • Larissa

    Thanks for this inspiring post. I have to work particularly hard on the “nosebleed” stuff. I think those are the things that make time seem as if it is being sucked from my daily experience.

    Larissa

    P.S. Love your use of the word grok!

  • Danny

    Ahhhh.. why put off ’til tomorrow, what you can do next week, right? I was just having that discussion with a good friend, late last night, and we had a good laugh over it. The thing is that we were on IM and she was putting off writing a speech for a Toastmasters meeting, while I was lamenting my insomnia. The end result, though, is that I decided to sleep on it, and she got busy on her speech.

    How is it that you are in my head so much. πŸ™‚

  • Kathy

    hmmmm….could i relate? I think so! When I was young, my mother used to say that Manana was my middle name. And I’ve developed that bad habit over years and years now. But your tips are awesome and I have used most of them effectively from time to time. The first thing I have to do is realize I actually am procrastinating though….and then I can apply one of the tricks. Typically I convince myself that I’m not procrastinating and something else had the priority that moment….like sitting and contemplating. It is good that I recognize myself in your post however…I see that as a good sign!

  • Susanne

    Thank you for that post. And I really will go and write another 1000 words on my NaNoWriMo-novel, I’ll just read a few blogs first… Wait!

    In earnest, I have been using a lot of those strategies and they have made a difference. As for the #8 I can recommend going to a place without any possible distraction too. And if I hadn’t learned to use small chunks of time I’d never get anything creative done. I remember when a friend of mine said that starting to practice when you had less than two hours was a waste of time, and I thought if I had done that I wouldn’t play any instrument at all.

  • Kim

    This is another area of my life I need to work on. Thank you!

  • ChickiePam

    Wow! Great post. I stay between perfectionism and overwhelment. (I know that’s not a word) My to-do list is so long that I’ll never get to die!

    Have to admit that I read this blog after checking my email, then had a cup of coffee, played 3 games of spider solitaire and watched a ToolGirl video, took a phone call from my best friend and played 4 more games of spider solitaire while we talked. So NOW I’ll go clean the old poopy hay out of the hen house!

    Just to give myself a pat on the back, this weekend I cleaned off my porch, cleaned out my storage shed and got my sauna to work again. And this was done so that I wouldn’t have to paint my son’s bedroom, I think. So sometimes procrastination can still be productive!
    I appreciate you greatly, Christine!
    Pam

  • Mark Penta

    Great post Christine! I recently got my first picture book published after years of procrastinating. Everything you described helped me finish it.

    I also want to recommend an absolutely amazing book that kicked my butt. It’s a must for any aspiring writer. It’s called “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield. He gives procrastination a name: “Resistance”.

    Each chapter is a short paragraph that describes the insidious ways Resistance beats. Then Pressfield tells you how to beat IT. Then he spends the last third of the book describing Muses & Angels and how they guide us.

    You’ll laugh and nod your head in recognition. And it’ll scare the crap out of you enough to make you sit and work!

  • Colin

    Grok. Oh yea.

  • Marilyn

    re #4 – I just wrote a post about that yesterday. Well, actually, a post about NOT doing that (writing down goals). My procrastination is intrinsically tied into not just perfectionism (which I’ve worked hard to let go of and have made huge strides on), but also my fear of commitment…or maybe my fear of having to STAY WITH and FINISH things. πŸ™‚ But I was very proud of myself. After writing that post and realizing I hadn’t updated my goals list at 43 Things in TWO YEARS, I went to 43 Things, wiped the slate clean and started writing down some goals. And one of those goals (one I’ve had for months) is to write a poem every day (and I like to write first thing in the morning). But have I even been by my poetry blog yet today? No, because I’m too busy drinking coffee and surfing through blogs. πŸ˜‰ Thank you for the reminder in #9. I must do it FIRST THING.