Putting the “prod” in Productivity – how to beat procrastination at its own game

by Lisa Rothstein on 11/09/2010

dd-thumb-motivationIf procrastination is a chronic issue for you (and I’m not judging; this blog post was scheduled to go up yesterday), rather than trying to beat procrastination, a smarter solution might be to learn to work with it.

Sometimes, the most effective technique is actually the least painful.  If you’re procrastinating on a step in the midst of a long term project, join the club.  DaVincis tend to get excited about things at the beginning, in the idea stage, and run out of steam during the long slog through the details and drudgery of implementation. In this case, the trick is to fall back in love with your project. Remember why you wanted to do it in the first place. What will the finished product look like? Who will benefit and how? Is applause or money or revenge on everyone in high school who never thought you’d amount to anything involved? Dust off your vision board, or if you never made one, do it now. You can even make a video at Animoto and add movement and sound to your vision. Reminding yourself of the excitement can get you to do what’s needed now with less effort than doing it because you “should”( a thought that usually sends me to the TV by way of the refrigerator or the bar).

On the other hand, some people don’t respond to pleasure but to more to pain. We’re not talking about the folks who actually enjoy pain here. We’re talking fear. What will happen if you don’t do it? What will it mean for your self esteem, the esteem of others, the state of your bank account? Who else will suffer and how?  If, as Tony Robbins says, you can “get associated” to the pain rather than numbing yourself to it or shoving it into the background like most procrastinators do, you might find you’re actually motivated. It’s definitely less fun than option one, but what matters here is what works.

The key is to know yourself and your own style. Do you respond better to the carrot or the stick?

Sometimes, you don’t even realize that you are procrastinating. You’re writing your screenplay, you go to a web page to get ideas for the name of the Russian spy in your story or to look up some forensic procedure for your cop show spec, and two hours later you’re playing video Scrabble (and kicking butt, by the way) and you have no idea how you got there. (Sort of reminds me of my social life in the 1980s.) That’s when some outside help or tool comes in handy.

Low tech: I have post-its on my wall in strategic locations with the question: “Is this the best use of my time right now?” It works…if you can unglue your eyes from the screen long enough to read the notes.

Industrial Age: The kitchen timer is a godsend. Downside: you have to plan to use it, so it’s not a great help unless you use it to time small segments of productivity, set it to limit activites like email. It’s helpless against sneak attacks.

Kick your own butt 2.0 : A while back I ran across an inventive online timer at the appropriately named WriteorDie.com. The idea is, you set it before you begin writing and tell it how long you want to be able to goof off before it reminds you to get back to work…which it does with a VERY obnoxious loud and flashing pop-up. Not pleasant, but it keeps you on task. You can also find other online timers to go off at set intervals as a reminder to focus.

Human accountability: Get an accountability buddy or, for even better results, a coach who will help you set your goals, keep them top of mind and call you on it if you slack off. Knowing that you’ll have to face that person on Wednesday at 4PM will help keep you away from the Twilight Zone marathon on Tuesday. Especially on long-term projects, a coach will help you remember the big-picture compelling vision (see option one) that originally inspired you while making sure you get around to the details.

Activity: Take about 10 minutes where you won’t be disturbed. Bring a notebook or pad.

  1. Choose one thing on which you have been procrastinating.  Now think back to the inception of the project. Imagine yourself there. Write down every good thing you can remember about starting it: the inspiration or idea that spawned it, who you talked to about it, what you expect to gain from finishing it, how you’ll feel when it’s done. Write as much as you can in as much detail as you can, using as many senses as you can. Taste the Champagne! Hear the applause! Keep this book or pad in a convenient place where you can read this entry often. Reading it before sitting down to do the work you may have been putting off or dreading will help make getting started less onerous.
  2. Are you a carrot person or a stick person? A bit of both? Be honest. Come up with a list of rewards for completing a task (carrot) and/or a penalty for not doing it. (See Pledgehammer.com , where you promise to donate to a charity you hate if you don’t do what you pledge!). If you’re more of a stick, visualize in exaggerated detail the nightmare scenario of failing to complete. Your brain will naturally gravitate toward the less painful option of just doing the darn thing.
  3. Consider hiring a coach, joining a mastermind or writers’ group or enlisting an accountability buddy, to have someone outside yourself hold your big-picture vision for you and help you stay the course. Doing it all by yourself gets you no extra points, especially if toiling away in isolation means it never gets done.

How do you get out of procrastination? Please share your tips below! If you have a blog, you’ll get a link here to your most recent post with your comment.

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Are you struggling with too many talents, skills, ideas? You may have The Da Vinci Dilemma™! Find tools, fun quizzes, coaching, inspiration and solutions for multi-talented people at http://www.davincidilemma.com/.

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