JKLTip Remove the phrase “I’ll do it next _____” from your mind. There will never be a “next ______ “ better than right now.
This is a post about stopping procrastination, getting things done and achieving your goals. A lot of people have asked me how not to procrastinate. While it’s a lifelong pursuit, this article is my effort to help a little bit. It may not be what you expect.
I’m not going to say “never give up, no pain no gain, or bleed until you achieve”. All of those things can help, especially if you want to be in the one percent of your goal, but this post is about sneaky hacks that will rid you of most procrastination.
While we build some momentum, because we are human, our stubbornly short memories take over. We can always find things to procrastinate with. There are just too many shiny objects on the side of the road for us to slow down and look at. We need to guard against this, so what are some steps we can take?
Identity and Perspective
I have seen more perspective building things in life than required to live with gratitude. I appreciate first hand how short life can be, yet it can still be tough for me to get going at times. But identity and perspective are the foundations upon which you will beat procrastination.
We often use a phrase such as “I will do it next ___blank___”. For example, I will start eating healthy next day, month, or year. I was very guilty of this. I was, at least tied for the most guilty in the world when it comes to using the phrase “I’ll do it next ___ blank ___” The blank would either be filled in with “after I eat”, “next year”, or “once I am sure it’s the best idea”. Either way the blank was filled with some sort of once I am more prepared mantra.
With perspective, we become aware that we are in no way assured a next day, month, or year. I made excuses for everything I wanted to do “someday”. When it came to writing, fitness, or video creation I always had a reason not to do it. But it was also because I hadn’t truthfully wanted my identity to become a writer, athlete, or filmmaker. Once we have perspective and decide that our identity is different the actions become easier.
I was chatting about buzz phrases with a student yesterday. We got on the topic of “yolo”. The concept of ‘YOLO’ gets fired all over culture and society. It gets printed on t-shirts, mentioned in songs, and tattooed on legs. People everywhere seem to think it’s an amazing idea to seize the day, but turn right around and sleep through their alarm instead of working on their goals. If we truly believe we only live once, procrastination is hardly a thing.
If we appreciate that life is short, it helps us achieve in two ways. One, because we don’t put so much pressure on results, as we can focus on what we love doing. And two, we can be grateful for the simple fact that we have the opportunity and capacity to chase our goals, so we shouldn’t take it for granted.
When it comes to changing our identity, let’s be honest, there shouldn’t be a lot of pressure. If you’re goal is to be more fit than Rich Froning, then cool. But even once you get there it’s not that big of a deal. Mental illness, cancer, addiction, the tough parts of life don’t discriminate. They can come for us without notice, so just be appreciative of the ability to pursue a goal, whether you make it, or not.
Vision & Streaks
Are you clear on what you really want? What are the goals that you are aiming for? There is no point in fighting an urge to work out just because you see someone else doing it on Instagram. The first step to success is doing the hard work of asking what 2-4 things do you really actually want to accomplish? You need a clear vision, a north star to point your habits to.
Start by asking, do you actually want this goal?
If the answer is yes, then right away you can remove the excuse “I don’t have time”. If you truly want it, time is a non issue. In fact, no lack of resources will get in your way if you really want it bad. For this reason, it is important to know why you want to achieve something, and make sure it is a big, important reason. If you want something bad enough, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, then it’s probably just evidence that it’s not the goal you truly want.
There is only one big finish line at the end of life. So, as long as you picked something you truly love, then it’s going to be awesome to work away at no matter what. There will be hurdles, and obstacles, but you’ll just keep playing. Progress, with consistency over time is the only approach.
It’s important to point out that while I type this I missed a workout last week, and missed my daily writing yesterday. Our streaks on the way to goals will end sometimes. Where the winners separate themselves from the others is by getting right back up and completing the next hour of work. Without feeling sorry for yourself, or mad at the world, just get going again.
A clear goal and a big why can help us grind when we are tired. They can help us stand up to people trying to steal our dreams. But they won’t create the path for getting there. Systems are the stepping stones on the way to the goal. In terms of being successful, they are more important than the goal itself. We are all changing, whether we like it or not. Systems ensure we are changing in line with the dreams we are chasing.
Building triggers into our daily routine is a good place to start. For example, have your alarm far from your bed. When it sounds, get up within 5 seconds. Do a 2 minute workout before you head to the washroom. Floss, brush your teeth and mouthwash while you roll a lacrosse ball under your feet, or listen to morning motivation, or a song that brings you joy. Before eating, or showering do minimum five minutes of meditation practice. While the rest of your day may take a different shape, make sure a morning routine includes your every day must do’s.
Time management ultimately involves being more efficient with what is most important to you. If you exercise for the sake of health and energy, then workout for a duration that accomplishes your goal and no more. During transportation, instead of background music, use it as podcast learning time, or for phone calls. Determine what the most important things to accomplish are each day, then scrap everything else, because you won’t make time for the unimportant.
Everyday life systems can slow you down leading to procrastination. It is very important to build efficiency into systems. The more you waste time on dishes, laundry, garbage, nutrition, clothing, bathing, transportation, etc… the less time you have to accomplish what matters most. While these things can’t be ignored, there are probably many ways to make them far more efficient. Minimalism for clothing, intermittent fasting, or packing all of your water bottles for the day are a few examples.
Organization skills can be another piece to the puzzle that saves a lot of time and energy. You should have the same location for everything you own and stick to it. This way things will never get lost. A simple system to organize “to do” items is valuable as well. I really like the do it now, later, or never flowchart. A monthly calendar and scheduling as much as possible is very helpful to ensure you stick to productivity for 24 hours. Finally, where do you keep your notes and organize projects? If the answer is not clear, and consistent then that is a problem.
Mentors and motivation are also very valuable support when all else fails. Whether formal consultants or people you discover on Youtube, a message from someone who gets you motivated can be helpful every now and again. Finding coaches that really build empathy for who you are and are effectively intuitive when it comes to supporting your goals can be valuable. This could be paid, or unpaid. The impact is invaluable.
Some Personal Examples
If I understood this when I was younger I am confident I would have played hockey in the NHL, or been a big Youtuber. I would have been an artist, but I didn’t know how, or what to do. The next best thing I can do is help you learn from my knowledge now.
I could give a ton of recent examples, but here are just a couple of ways I have overcome procrastination using exercise and writing.
When it came to fitness everything had to be “just right” or else procrastination takes over. Somehow I managed to get to a 315lb bench press and play university sports all the while being a perfectionist. I always had to have just the right meal beforehand, the appropriate energy levels and time for the perfect warm-up. Unless it’s a full-time job, this is not possible. At times I would go seven days without exercise because this perfect time never came.
Now, I do a five-minute workout every morning I wake up. That’s right, just five minutes of exercise. The key is to do whatever you know with 100% certainty you can complete every single day. For me, it looks like air squats, pushups, crunches, or pull-ups for 5 minutes. When it comes to the bigger workouts, every Sunday I schedule three or four workouts for the week and stick to those dates and times.
I also keep a ready gym bag in my car, instead of creating an event around having to get it together. In the past, if I was hungry on the drive to the gym, I would go to McDonald’s. If my hips were sore I would have said I’ll do it tomorrow. If I was a bit tired I’d say after a nap. But now, I turn my brain off. Now you can go do the work. Good or bad workout, it doesn’t matter. Get it in. The funny thing is the bad ones pay huge dividends because when you’re doing it you’re like “damn, next week I’m going to eat better, cause this sucks!” But, the workout gets done.
In the first four years that I had a blog, I created a total of four posts. Now that is procrastination. This is equal to one post per three hundred and sixty-five days. This is because I always tried to publish an award-winning post. Instead of focusing on the big idea, I would get slowed down by the details. It turns out none of those four posts won awards. The four posts were probably never seen by anyone.
This past year I remembered why I wanted to create a blog. My why was to bring the ideas that I have to you each weekday in case my words can help someone. My why is to leave a trail of what I think in life for my daughters to read. It is to become a practiced writer before writing my first book. The only way to accomplish this is to write, so I built a habit and systems.
I have one document in which I create the posts ahead of time. Every time I think of something, I quickly voice note it in the document so that I have many ideas well ahead of time. I probably have forty plus written already. Then every evening I sit down and write whatever comes to mind and press publish.
Since building a better system and mindset around writing, I have managed to create a total of 150 posts in the last 10 months. It certainly is not evidence of procrastination. It’s very different compared to four posts in four years. But it makes sense. Once I realized it was important enough, I started to manage my time better, took the pressure off and started publishing daily.