How to Stop Procrastinating When Faced With a Challenge

on January 26, 2020 • Grace

Are you tired of filling your time with low-priority tasks? Are you tired of missing opportunities because you waited too long to act? Are you tired of starting things just to abandon them? 

Don’t worry, you aren’t alone. Almost all of us have dealt with the temptation to procrastinate when faced with a difficult, overwhelming or unpleasant challenge. 

However, the difference between successful people and unsuccessful people is not whether or not they have the urge to procrastinate. Instead, it is how they push past this urge and actually get stuff done. 

If you’re ready to get out there and overcome a challenge here are my tips on how to finally stop procrastinating and start achieving your goals: 

Understand Your Type of Procrastination

Before you can stop, you have to understand why you are procrastinating. There are many different reasons people procrastinate. Are you putting facing your challenge because it is:

  • Boring and unpleasant? 
  • Overwhelming?
  • Confusing, and you don’t know how to start? 
  • Difficult, and you’re afraid of failing? 

Instead of immediately punishing yourself for procrastinating, take a few minutes to reflect on the why behind your actions — or lack of actions. If it has nothing to do with the challenge, perhaps you are procrastinating because of your environment, or the time of day. 

Once you understand why you have decided to clean your entire house instead of doing the important tasks at hand, you can begin to make a game plan to stop procrastinating. 

If You Find Your Challenge Boring or Unpleasant: 

  1. Give Yourself Rewards

Sometimes the only way to get through a tough task is by having something to look forward to once it’s over. 

If the reason you are procrastinating is because your challenge is boring or unpleasant, chances are the benefits of it are too far in the long-term — or they don’t seem to make up for the cost. 

Battle this by creating short-term benefits that are worth working for. These help to improve motivation and keep you feeling sustainably refreshed as you tackle even the most mundane or unpleasant of challenges. 

One way to do this is by scheduling rewards and breaks for each milestone achieved. For example:

  • Splurging on take-away dinner instead of cooking if you conquer your challenge by the end of the day.
  • Taking a break to check Instagram or watch a YouTube video after 30 minutes of productive work. 

Another way to incorporate short-term rewards into your work routine is by multitasking — allow yourself to do something enjoyable only if you are getting work done at the same time. For example: 

  • Only watching your favorite Netflix show if you do it while exercising.
  • Only ordering your favorite expensive coffee drink if you answer important emails while sipping on it. 

  1. Start With The Hardest Task

Also known as “eating the frog,” this technique involves getting the worst task of your challenge out of the way immediately, so everything else seems easy and enjoyable in comparison. In other words (the words of writer Mark Twain, to be exact):

“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” 

Twain also elaborated on this concept with another quote: “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. If it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”

Translate this (albeit strange) advice to your individual challenge by always starting with the largest and most unpleasant task — the one you are most likely to procrastinate on. Try to do it in the morning, when your brain is most productive and you don’t have the stress of the day on your shoulders.  

Once that’s done, everything else will feel like a breeze. 

If You Find Your Challenge Overwhelming:

  1. Make To-Do Lists and Give Yourself Clear Deadlines

If your challenge feels too overwhelming to start or finish, it’s probably because of a lack of organisation on your part. When you’re faced with a jumble of tasks that need to be completed right away, it’s easy to consider your challenge impossible. 

Instead, make your challenge more manageable by: 

  • First, creating an ultimate to-do list. Putting each task down in writing helps you see it as more tangible and achievable. It also makes it harder for you to avoid it. Write down all of the tasks that need to be completed to conquer your challenge, then order them in terms of importance. 
  • Second, creating separate, smaller lists for the tasks that you need to complete each day or week. Your ultimate to-do list will feel overwhelming until you start crossing things off of it, so create daily to-do lists that include only two to five tasks. This helps you focus on only a few specific tasks at a time, rather than an overwhelming amount of things that need to get done eventually. 
  • Finally, setting clear and achievable deadlines for each item on your lists. Make sure your deadlines are concrete, while also giving yourself a realistic amount of time to get them done (with room for breaks and distractions). With your ultimate to-do list, section the tasks out for specific days or weeks. Then, on your smaller to-do lists, section the tasks out by what time of the day you need them finished by. This will keep you accountable and motivated each step of the way. 

  1. Focus on Your Long-Term Goal Rather Than Short-Term Tasks

If the number of small tasks it will take to conquer your challenge is holding you back, try focusing on the goal you are trying to achieve instead. 

  • Here’s an example: Someone is training to complete a triathlon. Every week, they have to work on their running, cycling and swimming skills, increasing the intensity and distance with each passing week. However, every week they procrastinate working on these skills. That’s because they are too focused on the overwhelming amount of training that’s in front of them. Instead, they should focus on their goal: achieving their lifelong dream of completing a triathlon, and the feeling they will get when they cross the finish line. 

This technique works for any challenge that you are facing. Do you want to start a business but are overwhelmed by all the skills you need to obtain, the people you need to network with and the busy work that needs to be completed? You should try focusing on the long-term benefits of achieving your goal — the satisfaction of being your own boss, the flexibility that comes with running your own business and the feeling of doing work that you are passionate about. 

A bigger picture mindset will make each task feel more worthwhile and give you the motivation necessary to tackle each small step on the road to achieving your ultimate goals. 

Try writing down the goal you hope to achieve by conquering your challenge, and put it somewhere you can easily see when working on each task. Reference it whenever you are feeling overwhelmed and are tempted to start procrastinating. 

If You Find Your Challenge Confusing, and You Don’t Know Where to Start:

  1. Break Your Tasks Into Smaller Chunks

This technique is the opposite of the “eat the frog” technique. Instead of jumping in with the largest and hardest task, try starting small. 

This will be beneficial if you don’t really know where to start or how to go about conquering your challenge because it allows you to dip your toes in with something easy. From there, you can start to slowly wade in — before you know it, you’ll be all the way in! 

Here are some ways to break up your challenge and make it easier to start:

  • Set aside just 15 minutes to chip away at a task (this is shorter than some Youtube videos). Choose something that you know will help you get closer to completing your challenge, but doesn’t take too much brain power or planning. This could be doing just fifteen minutes of writing, or just fifteen minutes of weight lifting. 
  • Start at the beginning. Create a beginning, middle and end for your challenge, with the beginning only including tasks that set yourself up for the rest of your challenge. These tasks could be doing research, purchasing equipment or downloading specific softwares. Focus on completing only these easy beginning tasks, and tomorrow you’ll have no excuses stopping you from jumping in to the middle! 
  • If there is a task that you know you need to do that will only take a few minutes to complete, such as writing an email or signing up for a class, do it right away. Removing this from your list will give you a chance to focus on the more confusing aspects of your challenge. 

Each of these small achievements give you a sense of success, making it easier to tackle larger projects. 

  1. Lean on Your Peers

If you’re faced with a challenge that feels out of your realm of ability, try outsourcing! 

No matter what your challenge is, odds are that other people are going through the same thing. If it’s leaving you feeling confused and unable to start working, look to other people for advice. 

For example:

  • If you don’t know how to get into the right shape to achieve your fitness goals, schedule some meetings with a personal trainer. 
  • If you don’t understand the marketing aspect of starting your blog, sign up for a local or online course that will teach you the right skills. 
  • If you feel held back by fear, doubt or anxiety, join a support group with people who are going through the same journey.  

Not only will reaching out help you get a better idea of the steps necessary to conquer your challenge, but having people to hold you accountable for actually taking these steps can be great motivation! 

If You Find Your Challenge Difficult, and You’re Afraid of Failing:

  1. Stop Being a Perfectionist

While perfectionists tend to be great workers, they are also known for being regular procrastinators. This is because they want their work to be of the highest quality, so if they feel that they can’t achieve this, they will avoid doing a task altogether. 

If you are facing a challenge that must be conquered in order to achieve an important goal, but find yourself afraid of failing to meet the standards you’ve set for yourself, it may be time to loosen up your idea of perfection. 

In order to do this, try separating your performance from your self-worth. Instead, find your worth in your ability to try — and, if you fail, your ability to pick yourself up and try again. 

Remember: A page with a few errors is better than a blank page. Why? Because an imperfect page can be edited. In other words, if you start something with the idea that you can go back and improve on it later, you’re already one step closer to conquering your challenge than if you wait until you could do something perfectly on the first try. 

Here are more tips for conquering feelings of fear or doubt when faced with a challenge. 

If, After Trying These Techniques, You’re Still Procrastinating:

  1. Change Your Environment

Sometimes you can do everything else right, but you still find yourself avoiding the tasks at hand. When this happens, it’s probably because you’re in an environment that is leaving you unmotivated or distracted. 

It’s probably time to move to a new work location if you are trying to get work done in an environment that is:

  • Loud
  • Equipped with electronics such as a TV
  • Cluttered
  • A little too cosy (your bedroom, for example)
  • Populated with your friends

Here are some examples of locations that will help you avoid the distractions that lead to procrastination:

  • If your home is too comfortable or too noisy, try going to your local library. Bonus: Free wifi and outlets aplenty! 
  • If your work location has become a place to socialise instead of get things done (if your friends are also members at the gym near your house, for example), go somewhere in a different neighborhood. 

We often create subconscious associations with different places. Therefore, while your brain probably associates your living room with chilling out and watching TV, if you start going to a nearby coffee shop to do your work, it will start associating that environment with productivity and focus. Work mode activated! 

If you need a little extra help motivating yourself to conquer any challenge that comes your way, check out my services page

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