Writing for Ideafeed, I read a lot of articles about how to overcome procrastination. There's a new one posted at a different publication every week and most of them just echo the sentiments of the last. Who knows what we as a civilization could achieve if we weren't spending so much time talking about how we can't get anything done.
With that said, Alex McClafferty over at Forbes has written one of the better "How to Beat Procrastination" pieces I've read in a very long time. That's because McClafferty's proposed solutions aren't like the others', which tend to take the form of convoluted abstractions. Instead, he provides detailed concrete examples of the various causes of procrastination, diagnoses them as issues related to ego or fear, and offers improvement strategies based on introspection. The key takeaway is that procrastination needs to be battled on a day-to-day basis; there's no magic bullet to vanquish it all together.
The first step to beating procrastination is to diagnose your particular affliction. As McClafferty notes, the only way to achieve your lofty goals is to do the work. When fear of failure emerges, your brain attempts to divert you toward shortcuts or distractions. The keys to beating procrastination are simplifying your work strategies, training your ego to deal with failure, and learning which goals are actually worth pursuing.
Below are McClafferty's solutions, summarized. For more, I'd recommend reading his entire piece (linked again below):
1. Forgo the brain buffet: "Digesting multiple sources of information is difficult," says McClafferty. It's easy to become overwhelmed and disheartened when trying to imbibe too much info at once. Instead, take things one step at a time. Read one book. Take notes. Read the next. Take notes. Rinse. Repeat.
2. Identify your goals: McClafferty calls this "ask yourself a hard question." Basically, you want to come up with a statement to define the reasons why you're working on something. For example, his statement is "I study successful entrepreneurs so I can model their mindset, systems and behavior. I synthesize what I learn to create a body of work that will stand the test of time." When he catches himself procrastinating, he interrogates himself using the mission statement: “Why am I [reading listicles] [wasting time on Facebook] [etc] when I should be doing XYZ instead?”
3. The Accountabili-buddy: McClafferty suggests investing in the services of a "sherpa" who will serve as a partner in accountability. Regular meetings with this person will help keep both of you on task.
4. SMART goals: SMART stands for "specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and timely." These are the types of goals you should be setting for yourself. Avoid SMAT goals that will be nearly impossible to achieve, as setting such benchmarks for yourself will only ignite that fear of failure. That said, you should also be prepared to fail even if your goals are realistic. Coming to terms with the fact that you won't always win is important for an entrepreneurial ego.
5. Reward yourself: When you do overcome procrastination, treat yourself to some positive reinforcement: "When you achieve a milestone, do something that makes you feel good. Use your celebration to ponder your next target. This will help you avoid yo-yoing between goals and will also lock in your resolve for the next goal you set."
Procrastination is largely on you. You need to take the time to think why am I putting off this work, and you need to take the time to get to know yourself, and how to get it done now. There's many reasons one begins to procrastinate, and it just takes a little thought to stop.
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