“Caroline, I’m scared of what will happen when we complete my coaching program. I know we’ve worked a lot on self-sabotage and fear, but I don’t know how I will keep myself in check after our program is over. What other checks and balances can I have in the future to prevent self-sabotage and procrastination from creeping back in?”
This was a genuine concern for my client in one of our coaching sessions. It’s easy for someone to have momentum when working with a coach, as this provides regular accountability.
During this coaching session, we came up with a process that my client could use to manage procrastination and get things done.
My client was not the only person with this challenge. About a year ago, I sent out an SMS asking my contacts for the 3 main challenges they were facing at that time. Procrastination emerged a winner across the board.
In the words of one respondent, “A big one for me is procrastination. I lay off things and can be quite inconsistent. I don’t manage to follow through on anything. This is a challenge because I need to complete tasks (in order) to see progress. Any tips on these two?”
I too have battled procrastination in my personal and professional lives. I’ve had to come up with strategies to overcome procrastination and take action, even when I don’t want to.
Today’s article continues with the series on how to reduce your chances of being overwhelmed and overworked. The first two articles in the series explored 5 reasons why you’re overwhelmed and overworked, and gave 10 ways to manage your time more effectively.
What is procrastination?
According to the Oxford Dictionary, procrastination is the action of delaying or postponing something. Simply put, procrastination is the art of putting things off until later.
However, the more you put things aside, the harder it gets for you to get back on track. Eventually, most of the work that is procrastinated on is never done, or it gets done shoddily.
Procrastination has been termed the thief of time and profit. It’s one of the main causes why people don’t achieve their most desired goals. It’s also a major cause of overwhelm, self-sabotage and failure.
All clients I’ve worked with have identified procrastination as the reason why they’re stuck on their goals. We’re all victims of procrastination at one time or another. The main challenge is finding out ways to work yourself into action.
Successful procrastinators are experts at not taking action, even when they have all the resources needed to succeed in a goal they have set for themselves. And it’s no wonder then that procrastination generally leads to self-sabotage.
Today, I’d like to share with you the process I created for my client. It’s a 3-step process you can use anytime you notice that you’re putting things off.
How to overcome procrastination and get things done
Step 1: Get Clear
Write down all the things that you’ve been procrastinating on and then rank them using the 4D criteria:
- DO: These are the things that you will do. This list is made up of things that will make the biggest positive difference in your life when you achieve them, or will have the biggest negative impact in your life if you don’t achieve them. For example, constant exercise will lead to increased energy and optimal health, while lack of exercise will have negative health implications in the future.
- DELEGATE: These are things that you can hand over to someone else or hire someone to do for you. For example, delegating housework to your househelp or hiring someone to clean your home twice a week.
- DEFER: These are things that you want to do but they are neither here nor there. They may have seemed important when you set them as goals, but you now realize that they aren’t so important. The list also includes things that you can do at a later date – you’re not procrastinating on them, but they’re not high on your priority scale.
- DUMP: Put everything else on this list. Throw away or tear up this list so that you don’t get tempted to reclaim the items. Items in this list include:
- goals that have been overtaken by time, events, or circumstances;
- things that you know will not make a difference in your life;
- and goals set for you by other people (including spouse, relatives, friends).
“Never put off till tomorrow, what you can do the day after tomorrow.” — Mark Twain
Step 2: Prioritize
Taking the things on your DO list and prioritize them in terms of importance (priority), sequence (what needs to be done first), and time (when it needs to be done).
This means that #1 in your list is the most important task that also needs to be done first and to be done now.
Take numbers 1-6 in your prioritized list and write them on a clean sheet of paper. These are the tasks you will complete before picking up new tasks or goals.
Finally, break down each of these tasks/goals into smaller, more manageable bits that you can work on each month, week, or day.
Step 3: Implement the Rule of 6
I talk about this rule a lot because it’s a very simple and easy to use strategy for taking action on a daily basis. This rule will also eliminate procrastination forever and you can also use it effectively during your yearly goal setting.
It changed my life for the better and I’ve been using it and teaching it to my clients for over 4 years now. For today, you’ll simply use it to clear your pending tasks – the ones you procrastinate on.
The Rule of 6 means that you never work on more than 6 things at a time. When you have a lot of items to work on, you use Steps 1 and 2 above to prioritize your tasks and then apply the Rule of 6 to the prioritized list.
Here’s how it works:
- Take a 3×5 index card and write down the tasks you will do today (or tomorrow if you’re doing this exercise in the evening). These include your personal and work/business tasks. Be careful to only include things that you will do and not things that you want other people to do for you. Ensure that you include tasks from your prioritized list in Step 2 above.
- During the day, work on task #1 until you complete it. If it’s a task that requires being worked on over a period of time, break it down into smaller bits and put some effort in one bit each day. At the very least, give it a specific time limit each day (preferably first thing in the morning) so that you work on completing it progressively.
- Cross off each task as you complete it and then move on to task #2. If you’re working on your tasks with a time limit, set a clock or timer for the specified time and focus 100% of your attention on that task. Cross it from the list when you complete the allocated time.
To make the most of your time, use the Pomodoro technique to manage your time when working on tasks that require large chunks of time. This article on my blog will show you how to use the Pomodoro technique.
One of my clients, who had lost a lot of opportunities due to poor time management, had this to say about the power of the Rule of 6:
“Today, I have completely transformed, Caroline taught me the ‘Rule of 6’ which is a fantastic tool for helping me to keep time. I plan ahead, not just for a day, but for a month. In my business, we are right now in November planning for the next year.”
Edna Thiong’o, CEO Breakthrough Consulting
(Click here to read Edna’s complete testimonial)
A word of caution
Sometimes people set goals that conflict with each other or with some deeply held personal values. This can easily lead to self-sabotage on the lesser goal.
For example, say you want to get married and have set meeting the man of your dreams as a goal for this year. At the same time, you value your independence and have vowed to never allow a man to be in control of your life. You’re also a strong Christian and uphold Christian values such as the man being the head of the household.
You may not consciously realize the conflict inherent in your goals and values, but at a deeper level there is a fight going on in your mind.
As the year moves on, you may meet men who fit your ideal husband criteria, but your personal value (independence) and religious value (who is the head of the household) clash with your desire to meet and marry the man of your dreams. And so you end up dismissing potential prospects as they get ruled out by your inner conflict.
Here’s another example: Maybe you want to start a business while still employed. At the same time you value time spent with your family and want to spend all evenings and weekends with them.
Starting the business will immediately conflict with your family values and possibly take you away from your job. This clash may lead to sabotaging yourself at work, never starting the business, or starting the business and then giving up.
So as you work on prioritizing your goals and tasks, check in with yourself and identify whether there could be a clash between goals and values. When such a clash happens, your values or the goals that you’ve placed a higher emotional value on will always win.
Also note that the mind doesn’t care much about what you say you want because it works with your emotions and feelings.
This means that anytime you want something but don’t believe that you can get it, you will not get it no matter how many times you tell yourself you want it. Or if you want something but you have a stronger inner conviction that goes against your goals, you will not be able to achieve the goal you’re consciously thinking of.
When someone procrastinates, they give preference to tasks that are less urgent or do more pleasurable things before important ones. They keep putting off urgent and important tasks until a later time and end up rushing to complete them at the last minute.
Consistent use of this 3-step process will help you overcome procrastination and make progress towards your goals.
Use these 3 steps this week and get out of procrastination and into action-taking.
Recommended reading and resources
Get Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog and use it consistently. It will help you plan your work and manage your time well. And it will cure procrastination too.
You can get the book from bookstores in all major towns in Kenya or online from Amazon.com (click on the links to be redirected to the Amazon webstore).
That’s it for now. In the next article, I’ll give more strategies on how to reduce overwhelm and lighten your workload.
Over to you now…
Which of these 10 strategies appeals to you the most?
What action will you take within the next week?
Please leave a comment below and share with us.
(Image credit: jesadaphorn at Free Digital Photos)
Disclaimer: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that when you click on the links and buy from the vendor, I will receive an affiliate commission. However, I only recommend resources that I have used and that I believe will benefit you.