It must be nice to get up and grind each morning like ex-Navy SEAL and all-around badass David Goggins. Such people are apparently able to squeeze every ounce of productivity out of the day and never let up. But for the rest of us, it can sometimes be difficult to get started and keep moving, particularly when we've got umpteen tasks competing for attention. So let's look at some tried and true methods for overcoming procrastination.
- Take Advantage of Flow
In recent years, it has become popular for high performers in every field to develop lengthy morning routines – we’ve even shared a lot of these here on this blog. But the trouble is that with all the journaling, sauna and ice bath sessions, and early workouts, it could take you a heck of a long time to get any actual work done. Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal from the Flow Genome Project have found that brain waves first thing when you wake up are actually very similar to those found in flow states – those peak experiences when you’re rolling physically or mentally and on top of your game. This is why in courses like Zero to Dangerous they recommend jettisoning the fancy, long morning routine in favor of rolling out of bed and going straight into 90 minutes plus of focus on highest-priority tasks at the top of your to-do list.
- Make Morning Pages a Thing
One of the biggest causes of writer’s block is that creatives come up with an idea, only to second-guess it to death. Or they write a couple of sentences, obsess about their structure, and delete them again. Then by the end of the day, they’re still staring at an empty document. The antidote to this self-destructive kind of procrastination is to simply begin. Speaking again of early AM routines, one of the most beneficial for high performers is to write a few morning pages to get the creative juices flowing. Abandoning withering self-critiques in favor of writing a guilt-free first draft will greatly improve your word count and, after all, nobody ever edited a blank page. Artists, animators, and architects do something similar with their visual creations – just get sketching.
- Break the Habit
We often think of procrastination as a one-off thing, saying something like, “I didn’t get much done this morning because I was procrastinating.” Yet according to author Steven Pressfield in his seminal book The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, procrastination is much more damaging when we allow it to become our default modus operandi.
“Procrastination is the most common manifestation of Resistance because it’s the easiest to rationalize,” he wrote. “We don’t tell ourselves, ‘I’m never going to write my symphony.’ Instead we say, ‘I am going to write my symphony; I’m just going to start tomorrow.’ The most pernicious aspect of procrastination is that it can become a habit. We don’t just put off our lives today; we put them off till our deathbed.”
Experts like James Clear claim that the only way to break one habit is to replace it with another. So if you’re really serious about pushing past your procrastination, start by just doing something. In Make Your Bed: A Daily Journal, Admiral William H. McRaven suggests beginning each and every day with a series of small, repeatable wins – beginning with the title of his book. While this might not appear to have anything to do with your biggest tasks, you’re setting a positive pattern for the rest of your day and can ride that momentum right into the things you must get done.
- Stop Overreaching
One of the reasons that we can fall into the trap of procrastination is that we outline an unrealistically large list of things we try to get done each day, and then get overwhelmed by how daunting it is. Or if you have a monster productivity day in which you push way harder than usual, you might set the bar based on this unusually prolific performance, and then get discouraged on every subsequent day because you realize you’re going to fall short. So you start messing around, getting distracted by your social feeds, and putting off the one or two must-do tasks that are most crucial.
To counteract these pitfalls, try to deliberately overestimate how long it will take to accomplish everything. So if it usually takes you four hours to write a blog post like this one, budget for four and a half or five. This way, you will build in some wiggle room in case chaos creeps into your schedule while avoiding overreaching.
Also recognize that just because you get a lot done on one particular day, this could be an outlier and not a target you can consistently hit. It’s better to set easily achievable goals and crush them regularly. Like a weightlifter who rarely misses a rep, you will build a practice of ongoing success with a few things, rather than failing to achieve too many and then letting procrastination encroach as you become increasingly discouraged.