Finding Antidotes to Procrastination
Lately, I’ve been procrastinating more often, and it doesn’t feel good.
There are a number of good reasons for it:
- I’ve had some serious jet lag and sleep issues, which means my mind is tired and just needs some rest. So I am trying to be patient and take care of myself.
- I’ve had a lot on my plate, and it’s been overwhelming. Not just work stuff, though there’s lots of that, but family stuff, too. So instead of holding myself to impossible standards, I have to be compassionate and allow myself to create some space, to simplify, to find a path that works for me.
- I’m pushing myself into lots of uncertain territory this year. That brings up fears. I’ve been running from those fears at times, through procrastination. This is natural, and I shouldn’t beat myself up for it. Instead, I can be compassionate and mindful, and find a path forward.
So if it’s not such a bad thing, my procrastination, and I shouldn’t beat myself up about it, is there a problem at all?
Well, in this case, no. This isn’t anything to feel bad about. However, I do believe that we should find an antidote (or two) to our procrastination, because it usually means we’re not doing the meaningful work we want to do.
I want to offer a few antidotes to procrastination, so we can all do the meaningful work we want to do and offer our gifts fully to the world.
Antidote No. 1: Self-Care
If you’re procrastinating, first ask yourself, “Am I tired? Do I need to take care of myself?”
Often, I procrastinate because I haven’t been resting well, or have been doing too much. Maybe I went for a hard run in the morning and I’m not feeling energetic in the evening. Maybe I’ve been working hard on a project for a week without a mental break.
When this is the case, the answer is to get some rest. Take a nap. Sleep in. Disconnect, and read a paper book. Go for a slow walk—not for exercise, but to get a mental breather. Meditate. Do some yoga.
The main ideas are to sleep, disconnect, get away from everything, and perhaps meditate—reflecting, contemplating, and finding stillness and quietude.
Once you’re refreshed (and it might just take a 20-minute nap and a short meditation), you can find mindful focus again.
Antidote No. 2: Make a (Small) Commitment
What helped me during one point of my procrastination was to make a commitment to a friend that I would do a bunch of work at a specific time. And if I didn’t do that work, I would have to suffer a consequence that we both agreed to. I got the work done, no matter what it took.
Another time, I made a commitment to my wife to record a series of videos over two days. If I didn’t do it, no coffee for a week!
When you make a commitment to someone you respect, you’ll elevate the act from something you want to shrink from, to a vow you want to uphold. Then doing the work will be something you want to do!
Pro Tip: Make the action you’re committing to fairly small. That will make it easier to get started, and you’ll be able to launch into your commitment without too much trouble.
Antidote No. 3: Create the Space
One source of procrastination is the endless distraction of checking messages, answering emails, seeing how many likes you got on Facebook, etc.
You set yourself to the task, but then decide to check one thing quickly. And that leads to checking another. Before you know it, the day is gone. It’s hard to focus in an environment like this.
So, the smallest first step is to create mental space. Turn off WiFi, set up an internet blocker, unplug your router, or go somewhere without internet. You will be able to focus much better.
This is why I often write best on planes or trains, or when I use a distraction-free writing tool or internet blocker. There isn’t anything to do except the work I’ve committed to doing.
For other people, that might mean finding a space where you’ll do nothing but the work you’re going to do—a practice space for martial arts or music, for example, or a reading space with no electronic devices.
Create the space, clear everything away, then get to it.
Antidote No. 4: Find the Joy in It
When we think of the work as something huge and difficult, stressful and overwhelming, or full of fear, it’s hard not to procrastinate.
So a switch in mindset is needed. If you love doing it, you won’t procrastinate!
The trick is to find the joy in the activity. See it as a treasured activity that you get to do, a privilege not everyone has.
What an amazing thing it is to be alive, doing this activity right now, in the miracle of existence and in this moment! What a breathtaking thing, if only we don’t take it for granted and fully appreciate the fleeting, joyful beauty of this moment.
So in each moment, appreciate the profound power of what you’re doing. Be fully immersed in it and fully mindful of the experience. See if there isn’t joy to be found in it.
Your brain will start to program itself to dive into this joyful activity, and you will be awake to the world.
Leo Babauta is the author of six books, the writer of Zen Habits, a blog with more than 2 million subscribers, and the creator of several online programs to help you master your habits. Visit ZenHabits.net