A simple 5-step process for conquering procrastination

You’re not lazy. You’re not unproductive. You’re just a part-time procrastinator like all of us. You’re not shortsighted. You’re not unmotivated. Like all of us, you’re simply struggling to embrace short-term work for long-term benefits.

And therein lies the battle all of us face on the journey to becoming happier and more successful — we’re naturally inclined to put off our biggest goals, largely because it takes longer to reap their benefits.

High-achievers find a way to overcome the stumbling blocks that trip up those who are less motivated and thoughtful. Your blueprint begins first in your mind. The sooner you can subordinate your mental and emotional impulses to your goals and game plan, the quicker you’ll immerse yourself in ANY work that lies in front of you.

Here’s a great example of the importance of this: Elon Musk did not think Tesla would be a successful venture. Shocking, right? Then why in the world did he go forward with it? I leave that up to the man, himself, to explain:

“If something’s important enough you should try. Even if you think the probable outcome is failure.” — Elon Musk

We should all look to progress toward work that stirs our passion, making us feel alert and energized. So many people never realize their potential because they lack energy for what they do. As a result, their daily tasks and obligations start to become a grind. This leads to frustration, loss of hope, and the feeling that what they’re working for lacks meaning — that their dreams will never come true.

Our ability to produce — and re-produce — a winning mindset is a driver to truly living life on our terms. You’ll never live the life you dream about if you lack consistency. Consistency and drive begin with a positive attitude, a hopeful outlook, and an insatiable desire to embrace new challenges and tackle our repeatable tasks with renewed vigor.

Focusing on Short and Long-Term Success

So much of modern productivity research centers around your need to focus on the “process” and to enjoy the journey, rather than eyeing an end-goal or prize. That’s true.

But know this, my friend — you absolutely must have goals. Visualize that prize which awaits you for all your hard labor and willingness to rise to meet old and new challenges each day.

Because it’s that vision — that concept of victory — that eases your flow and progress toward approaching each step in your process with the enthusiasm and ambition that you need.

Big dreams need goals and big goals need a game plan that is seeded with emotional intelligence and long-term vision.

Caroline Webb illustrates in her piece for Harvard Business Review that it’s hard to commit to short-term work when we can’t immediately see the benefits we’ll realize down the road:

“The problem is our brains are programmed to procrastinate. In general, we all tend to struggle with tasks that promise future upside in return for efforts we take now… it’s easier for our brains to process concrete rather than abstract things, and the immediate hassle is very tangible compared with those unknowable, uncertain future benefits. So the short-term effort easily dominates the long-term upside in our minds — an example of something that behavioral scientists call present bias.”

So what do we do to confront this pernicious present bias? How do we avoid procrastination in order to become the most productive woman or man we can possibly be? I’ve developed five steps to focus on in an effort to yield higher returns of productivity:

1. Stop making excuses

This begins first with what we tell ourselves. Second, it continues with what we share, tweet, snap, or tell others. Your hard-earned cash is far better invested in a book or educational course that expands your mind, rather than that new iPhone that you don’t really need right now. The reasons of why you can’t do something are better saved — instead, tell others you can do it, then commit and figure out how.

2. Position yourself to increase the work or activities that ignite the fire inside of you while decreasing the boring things

This requires deep thought, planning, and a willingness to use your imagination. Know what you love and keep stacking more of it on your plate. That said…

3. Always have a step-by-step plan for mundane tasks

There will always be mundane tasks and urgent matters that require our attention. Break down the boring, less pleasing things into chunks of work. Find within those chunks of work the “wins” that you’ll earn. The strengths you’ll strengthen and weaknesses you’ll gradually reduce.

4. Put a carrot in front of you

Have a treat to look forward to, a light at the end of the tunnel, that inspires you to keep going. It may be a nice weekend getaway. A trip to a sporting event or a nice dinner. It could be re-investing in yourself via a personal development course or retreat. Have something — this is vitally important for fueling our day-to-day actions.

5. Extract value out of each activity by defining how what you do will align with your values, dreams and five-year plan

Tie this back to your purpose which is the fountain of motivation and truth that lives in your soul.

Negative Outcomes and Conclusions

In an article for Psychology Today, Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo enumerates the negative outcomes and factors of procrastinating.

“Procrastination can lead to increased stress, health problems, and poorer performance. Procrastinators tend to have more sleep issues and experience greater stressful regret than non-procrastinators. What’s more, procrastination can also hinder your self-esteem with t

he guilt, shame, or self-critical thoughts that can result from putting off tasks.” — Source: Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo

The words “regret” and “self-critical” stand out most to me. By putting off things that we don’t want to do, the most likely outcome is that we end up criticizing ourselves, regretting our wasted time, and at worst, we lose sleep and experience higher stress levels.

While we’re all conditioned and biased toward the here and now, a simple cost-benefit analysis tells us that putting off things that demand our attention now is not a winning proposition.

Continue forward and know that instant gratification and temporary pleasures pale in comparison to sustained happiness and long-term growth. Come back to this article when you find yourself spinning your wheels and doubting yourself. Your future self will thank you.

This article first appeared on Medium.

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