Many mornings I wake up struggling. The different obligations in my life weigh on me and create anxiety, and I muddle around until I start doing something.
The moment I take action, my anxiety lessens. I feel empowered and start to regain a sense of control.
The instant we act is the start of the process that alters our outcomes for the better. So, if I know that action eliminates doubt, reduces anxiety and improves my results in life, why do I get bogged down? Why do I procrastinate when the path to relief is both obvious and within my power?
Disengagement is one of the biggest epidemics of our day. Students are disengaged at school, colleagues are disengaged at work and many of us are disengaged at home.
We’re numbing the reality around us, and shrinking into the comfort of TV, social media, eating, alcohol and a myriad of other secure and non-threatening retreats.
This means that we aren’t having the difficult but critical conversations we should be having, we’re not writing that book we always wanted to write, and we aren’t telling our loved ones how much we truly care before it’s too late. Most of us are missing out on life’s truly great opportunities.
The biggest gap in life isn’t the difference between what we know and what we don’t know, it’s between what we know and what we do. So, how do we bridge this great chasm in our lives?
Here are five ways to stop procrastinating that will get you leaning into your life:
1) Do the Dirty Work Every Day
My most practical strategy came from something I learned many years ago in a workshop. At that time, it was very easy for me to gravitate towards the creative and engaging tasks of my day. I’d get so dialed in, the day was over before I knew it, leaving the critical yet uncomfortable tasks still screaming at me from my to-do list.
The strategy I learned and have successfully used since is to identify the top 5 tasks I need to complete tomorrow. So, for example, the five tasks I identified for today involved having a difficult conversation, resolving a health care claim, attempt to get a $65 charge dropped from my credit card bill, and updating some financial projections.
These are all things I can’t stand doing; however, if I don’t, they’ll pile up and create even more anxiety in my life. Try developing the willpower and discipline to make sure you do 5 ugly tasks a day, and you may find it helps you as much as it has me.
2) Try the Buddy System
A recent study showed that exercising regularly with a partner makes you 6 to 7 times less likely to drop out of your exercise program. Another study showed that people working out together hold their plank positions twice as long as those working out alone.
I don’t know about you, but I find that a great way to make myself more accountable is by partnering with someone or making promises or commitments to others. Another great strategy for getting things done in life is delegating to others who may be better or more willing to complete a certain task.
The lesson here is to involve others in the activities of your life. Become more transparent with what you’re doing and find ways to work with, for and through others to get more things accomplished.
3) Be More Present
The opposite of and antidote to disengagement in life is presence. When we are in the moment, our senses are heightened and purposeful action flows from us naturally. The problem is, we numb ourselves and find comfort in unproductive or even destructive places.
The only power any of us have and ever will have is the capacity to do something in this moment. When we are present, we are powerful. We lose our presence when we disengage, when we feel fear or when we think about being somewhere else.
The best technique I know for moving into the present moment is simply to pay attention to your breathing. Slow down, close your eyes and focus on your breath for 10 cycles. There is something powerful about directing our attention to our breathing; it makes us more conscious and reduces frustration and anxiety.
4) Manage Your Doubts
Shakespeare once said, “Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.”
We often get hung up in skepticism. One of the key attributes I have seen in successful people is the ability to be comfortable with ambiguity and act in the face of uncertainty.
Here is a technique I know many of them use. They say to themselves, “If I knew I was going to be successful, what would I do next?” And then they go and do that. Failure only happens when we stop trying, and success is inevitable if we continue to execute creatively.
5) Remember: You Matter!
I am sure many of you have heard of The Butterfly Effect, which states that small actions can have huge implications. The Butterfly Effect was named for the premise that a butterfly flapping its wings could influence a hurricane on the other side of the world weeks later.
There is a concept I learned called self-forgetting. It isn’t that we literally forget ourselves, but rather that we can end up discounting ourselves, losing our assertiveness, and truly giving away our power.
We need to understand that each of us is critical to the people in our lives and the world around us. The things we do or don’t do matter to everyone forever, just like the butterfly flapping its wings. Let me say that again: what we do with our time matters forever. Recognize that your actions are of profound importance, and you will be more likely to take them.
William Shakespeare had an enormous vocabulary. It is said that he used over 30,000 words in his writings, and he is given credit for inventing over 2000 words and phrases we use today, including “dead as a doornail,” “all that glitters is gold,” and “a foregone conclusion.”
But perhaps Shakespeare said it best when he wrote that, “things won are done, joy’s soul lies in the doing.” Action is our intentions in motion. Our actions can and should be the gradual manifestation of our goals and dreams in life.
The antithesis of procrastination is deciding what needs to be done and doing it, and then adjusting as necessary along the way. There is no truer recipe for success – never has been and never will be!