Procrastination: Tricks Won’t Work – Here’s How to REALLY Kill It Dead

by Annie

in defeating procrastination

Infant Asleep in White Hammock(A particularly sick and twisted mind raised this issue so I will clarify here for all to see: NO, THE BABY IN THE PICTURE IS NOT DEAD. PROCRASTINATION IS DEAD. BABY IS SLEEPING. Sheesh.)

If there’s one topic I get emailed and tweeted about more than any other, it’s procrastination.

Makes sense, right? If we’re talking about productivity — getting more creative work actually produced — then the absence of that productivity is the state we’re all seeking to avoid like the plague.

And we call that state of productivity-less-ness — or at least one major variant of it —  procrastination.

It’s true that there are often other causes of a lack of productivity: illness, for instance, or lack of necessary materials. But in most cases, the reason we’re not producing doesn’t really have anything to do with outside forces such as viruses and germs and whatnot.

It’s because at some level we’ve chosen not to produce.

We may attach any number of worthwhile justifications to our choice. But if you really want to get back to producing your work, or your art, at some point you’ve got to own up to the simple fact that it was your choice all along.

“All well and good,” you might be thinking right now, “but actually getting past the procrastination just isn’t that simple!”

And you’d be half-right, my friend.

It is simple. But it is far from easy.

What It Doesn’t Take

The problem with most procrastination-avoidance advice that I’ve read is that it confuses the issue, and never really gets at the heart of why we procrastinate in the first place.

Here’s an example: a list from a site called “Time Management Ninja” of “21 ways to crush your procrastination.”

Well, who wouldn’t like that? Love that metaphor, too – crushing like a bug beneath the heel of your boot, maybe? Or a juicy grape, watching it go splat?

And I don’t single this piece, or this site, out in order to embarrass or criticize the blogger or anyone associated with the site, at all.

But this list is a great illustration of what’s wrong with most procrastination advice.

Take a look at it and tell me if you can figure out what’s wrong with this list. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Found it yet?

I’ll give you a clue. Two, in fact. Remember, “21 ways,” right? Lots of cool little tricks here, operating on some well-tested psychological principles behind motivation and focus.

And here are two of the last suggestions, at the very end of the list:

18.   Examine the Consequences – One way to motivate yourself is consider the negative consequences if you do not act. What will happen if you don’t get this job done?

….

21.   Get Emotional – I’m not talking about having a breakdown here. But, get passionate. Your energy levels will quickly elevate and your resolve to act will increase.

So what’s wrong with the list?

I would submit to you that these two points — 18 and 21 combined — belong outside the list entirely.

They are, in point of fact,  the only things you need to know to defeat procrastination once and for all. 

The rest of the list is just psychological tricks to get you to jump through hoops. Those are handy things to know, and they can help you consistently practice a new set of behaviors for sure.

But they’re not going to help you kill procrastination.

Why? Because inherent in each one is the fundamental error underlying most procrastination advice: “To be more productive, do your work.”

It’s a little like the old axiom about building a new business via a somewhat edited biz plan. “Step One: Name the business. Step Two: Make money.”

It doesn’t give you anything concrete to deal with the real problem underlying procrastination.

And what is that?

Simple (not easy): Your reasons-why haven’t become strong or numerous enough … yet.

What Does Work

So, now that I’ve led you all down the meandering, lovely garden path of what-doesn’t-work, allow me to state it positively:

In order to kill chronic procrastination habits,
you must first get absolute clarity on your reasons-why:
your reasons for both why you must change your approach,
and why you must not, cannot procrastinate any longer.

Those aren’t the same thing, by the way. Let me explain by way of an analogy.

If you want to lose weight, you already know how. You must change your behavior by generally eating less. You’ll have to give up the donuts and the exorbitantly-caloric coffee drinks, and you’ll have to restrict the amount you eat every day.

So, we have the old behavior — the donuts and the coffee drinks — and the new behavior — less food overall, healthier choices.

My reasons for continuing the old behavior might include:

  • they’re yummy
  • they make me feel good
  • I crave sweets

My reasons why I want to change, however, generally fall into two categories. There’s the stuff that will happen if I don’t change, and the stuff that will happen if I do. In category #1, we can put truisms such as “I’ll get obese, I’ll develop heart disease, my teeth will fall out.” Category #2, on the other hand, might consist of things like “I’ll feel better, I won’t get so sick as often as I used to, I’ll have more consistent levels of energy, etc….”

See the difference?

Unless my reasons for adopting the new set of behaviors are really strong — strong enough to overwhelm both inertia and the reasons-why I continue to eat those yummy donuts and slam back those frappucinos —  I will not succeed, and I will continue to delay the diet.

Bottom Line: Make Your List of Reasons-Why

That’s exactly what I want you to do. Set aside a few hours this week to make an actual, physical list of all of your reasons-why.

  • First, make a list of the reasons why you continue in your procrastinating ways. What pain are you avoiding? What pleasure do you get from not-doing?
  • Then, make a list of all the pain you could possibly experience if you don’t break your procrastination habit. If you need some prompting on this one, just take a look at my “Cat-5” post here, especially the section subtitled “The Price I Paid.”
  • And finally, end on an up-note: make a list of all the awesome, pleasurable results you might get when you do break that procrastination habit.

Aim for both a lot of reasons and emotionally compelling reasons. You need quantity and quality here, if you want to overwhelm your reasons-why-not.

Keep the lists somewhere prominent, where you can pull them out easily and review them. Do that daily — right before you start work. Pull them out again any time you’re tempted to procrastinate. You can also refer to that Time Management Ninja piece for some easy tips on how to maintain your momentum.

But first, you gotta start with your reasons.

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Tea Silvestre July 30, 2012 at 1:19 pm

Just…YES. Clarity is power. And (as the Heath brothers would say) resistance is usually a clarity problem.

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Annie July 30, 2012 at 2:35 pm

Well said, Tea.

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Sandi Amorim July 30, 2012 at 1:43 pm

Well said Annie! When the reasons are compelling the cost suddenly becomes greater than the payoff and that’s when change occurs!

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Annie July 30, 2012 at 2:36 pm

Exactly! It’s the calculus of change. It *always* works.

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Dan Polley July 30, 2012 at 2:57 pm

Love the tip to face procrastination head on. Inner reflection always reveals the true reasons.
Dan Polley recently posted..Is #FollowFriday Still Relevant?

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Annie July 30, 2012 at 3:04 pm

Yep – it ain’t “sexy” the way a list of 21 tips and tricks might be, but that inner reflection work (and it IS work, to be sure) is crucial in order for those tips-n-tricks to do *their* jobs effectively.

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Carol Lynn July 30, 2012 at 3:03 pm

So this is not the “tips and tricks” post that we all crave… you know, the easy 3-step plan that can be done in 45 seconds? Drat!

Of course you poured lemon juice and salt into my two most painful wounds…. putting sh** off and getting fat. And yet you’re right. That “why”, and that focus is the only thing that makes a difference. I can make a list right now! I procrastinate because then I won’t get something wrong (ie: fail) and I eat because…. well yeah, it’s yummy, duh. And it’s a bad habit that I use to avoid the hard stuff. And then I gain 20 lbs and repent.

Since I have a long-ass to-do list, including a date with the treadmill mocking me at the moment I’d better go find my why-of-the-week 😉

Seriously, super insight and totally right on.
Carol Lynn recently posted..Is Your Email Template Killing Your Email Marketing Campaign? 5 Ways To Whip It Into Shape.

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Annie July 30, 2012 at 3:06 pm

LOL, Carol Lynn – see above re: un-“sexy”! You’re so right, though – we crave tips and tricks, but the real secret is almost always to be found only after a period of uncomfortable self-examination and radical honesty! Go kick that treadmill’s ass. (Not, y’know, literally – that would most likely result in a broken toe or two.)

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Lori Cain July 30, 2012 at 3:22 pm

It is really about consequences, whether they be positive or negative. Now I’m off to write my list of benefits to quit smoking! :))
Lori Cain recently posted..Tulsa Condo for Sale – near Riverparks and Brookside!

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Annie July 30, 2012 at 4:44 pm

Preach it, sister. This is how I quit for eight years! (If I only hadn’t picked it back up when the ex moved back in for a few months…)

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Joseph Ruiz July 30, 2012 at 3:35 pm

Annie, ever read Switch by the Heath brothers? great post

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Annie July 30, 2012 at 4:43 pm

Thanks, Joseph! Yes, “Switch” is a very good read, based in large part on these same principles. I’d recommend it to anyone who’s having trouble effecting change in behaviors – their own or anyone else’s.

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Nathalie July 30, 2012 at 6:56 pm

Procrastination seems to follow everyone around! Change is hard, but it’s essential and it’s so possible! You’re so right! Great post! (And yes, that is kind of sick to think that about the baby…:'( )

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Annie July 30, 2012 at 7:11 pm

Right? I know some sick mofos, this is for sure. Thanks for the comment, Nathalie!

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Paul Woolley (@MySocialPro) July 30, 2012 at 7:41 pm

Awesome post Annie! I especially like the ” make a list of all the awesome, pleasurable results you might get when you do break that procrastination habit.” #1) Building my self worth and integrity by keeping agreements that I make with myself! I love the sound of that 🙂 Keep um coming sister!
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Annie July 31, 2012 at 11:47 am

Thanks, bro! You know, you touched on one of the principle fundamentals of productivity, in my view: the perspective that keeping your word to *yourself* is not only as or more important than keeping your word to others, but also works to strengthen your integrity muscle, making it basically a habit in and of itself. 🙂

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Jeff Belonger July 31, 2012 at 12:47 am

Annie, Sometimes easier said than done… 🙂 Example… depression or just being down for a number of reasons can get you to procrastinate. I was passionate for 20 yrs in mortgages, but it could be several things that would make me procrastinate. But as you mentioned, thinking of the consequences can certainly get many people back on track… good post..

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Annie July 31, 2012 at 12:22 pm

Hi Jeff – yes, you’re right. As I pointed out in the article, sometimes matters of health or other outside forces are at work — those need to be addressed by a medical professional, and no amount of productivity tips, tricks, or advice can fix that problem because it isn’t a productivity problem — it’s a medical one. For the majority of us, though, procrastination is a choice. 🙂

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Nicole Fende August 8, 2012 at 5:10 pm

Examine the Consequences. This one statement brings it all home to me. Ironically I often use this when my current / potential clients want to put off tackling expenses, finance and other number tasks yet I haven’t always used it for myself! Thanks for shining a light on this Tea.
Nicole Fende recently posted..Small Business, Big Mistakes, Lessons Learned

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Linda Ursin August 21, 2012 at 2:58 pm

That’s great advice Annie. I’ll definitely try it. Because of chronic pain and a few other things, I’m a master p rocrastinator 🙂
Linda Ursin recently posted..8 secrets to make a bad pain day better

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Annie August 21, 2012 at 3:31 pm

Welcome to the club, Sister Linda! I have pain issues myself – check out Trauma Dolls, my chronic pain site. I’ve had to learn how to corral my energy for optimum use out of sheer necessity.

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