How many times have you said “Someday I will do it?, only to realize that someday never came
What I have come to realize is that one of the reasons I put off, postponed, and procrastinated is simply because I was not prepared. Quite often, that is what it comes down to. And while the stereotypical advice, “Stop procrastinating!” certainly has merit and may be offered and with the best of intentions, the solution is may seem absent.
Procrastination, the habit of putting tasks off to the last possible minute, can be a major problem in both your career and your personal life. Missed opportunities, frenzied work hours, stress, overwhelm, resentment, and guilt are just some of the symptoms.
First, thinking that you absolutely have to do something is a major reason for procrastination. When you tell yourself that you have to do something, you're implying that you're being forced to do it, so you'll automatically feel a sense of resentment and rebellion. Procrastination kicks in as a defense mechanism to keep you away from this pain. If the task you are putting off has a real deadline, then when the deadline gets very close, the sense of pain associated with the task becomes overridden by the much greater sense of pain if you don't get started immediately.
The solution to this first mental block is to realize and accept that you don't have to do anything you don't want to do. Even though there may be serious consequences, you are always free to choose. No one is forcing you to do anything you are doing. All the decisions you've made along the way have brought you to where you are today. If you don't like where you've ended up, you're free to start making different decisions, and new results will follow. In each situation the freedom of choice is yours. So if you're putting off starting that new project you feel you "have to" do this year, realize that you're choosing to do it of your own free will. Procrastination becomes less likely on tasks that you openly and freely choose to undertake.
Replace "Finish It" With "Begin It"
Secondly, thinking of a task as one big whole that you have to complete will virtually ensure that you put it off. When you focus on the idea of finishing a task where you can't even clearly envision all the steps that will lead to completion, you create a feeling of overwhelm. You then associate this painful feeling to the task and delay as long as possible. If you say to yourself, "I've got to do my taxes today," or "I must complete this report," you're very likely to feel overwhelmed and put the task off.
The solution is to think of starting one small piece of the task instead of mentally feeling that you must finish the whole thing. Replace, "How am I going to finish this?" with "What small step can I start on right now?" If you simply start a task enough times, you will eventually finish it. If one of the projects you want to complete is to write a book, thinking that you have to finish this big project in one fell swoop can make you feel overwhelmed, and you'll put it off. Ask yourself how you can get started on just one small part of the project. For example, start by writing a small outline of the introduction. Next, write a paragraph based on the outline. Don't worry about finishing anything significant. Just focus on what you can do right now. If you do this enough times, you'll eventually be starting on the final piece of the task, and that will lead to finishing. Reward yourself with significant praise for completing small task. Instead of focusing on what you haven’t done praise yourself for what you have done.
Replace Perfectionism With Permission To Be Human
A third type of erroneous thinking that leads to procrastination is perfectionism. Thinking that you must do the job perfectly the first try will likely prevent you from ever getting started. Believing that you must do something perfectly is a recipe for stress, and you'll associate that stress with the task and thus condition yourself to avoid it. You then end up putting the task off to the last possible minute, so that you finally have a way out of this trap. Now there isn't enough time to do the job perfectly, so you're off the hook because you can tell yourself that you could have been perfect if you only had more time. But if you have no specific deadline for a task, perfectionism can cause you to delay indefinitely. If you've never even started that project you always wanted to do really well, could perfectionism be holding you back?
The solution to perfectionism is to give yourself permission to be human. Realize that an imperfect job completed today is always superior to the perfect job delayed indefinitely. Perfectionism is also closely connected to thinking of the task as one big whole. Replace that one big perfectly completed task in your mind with one small imperfect first step. Your first draft can be very, very rough. You are always free to revise it again and again.