In this article I'll show you 4 of the most common causes of procrastination so you can work out which one applies to you. For each one I offer you a tried and trusted procrastination-busting tip.
Cause 1: You don't know what you're trying to achieve
If you're hesitating because your goal isn't clear, or you don't believe in it, then you will find it really hard to motivate yourself to get started.
Procrastination-buster 1: Set a clear goal or outcome
As Stephen Covey says in his book "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" - begin with the end in mind. Start by imagining yourself in the future when you have completed the activity, and then describe it to yourself in detail, in the present tense.
For example, if you're procrastinating over what you should do about writing your recruitment policies, try setting your clear goal as "I have published a simple, clear, easy to follow policy which adheres to all current legislation and helps my managers to carry out effective recruitment."
Why does it work?
By describing it as if you've already achieved it, your brain begins to organise your thinking around that outcome, and you will find that the steps you need to take to get there will begin to be easier to see.
If you want to learn the NLP Well-Formed Outcome process, then you might consider taking our NLP Diploma.
Cause 2: You just don't feel like doing it
When your state of mind isn't right for the action that you need to take, then you will need to make a definite decision to shake yourself into the right state of mind.
Procrastination-buster 2: Change your self-talk
Listen to what's going on inside your head. If you're saying to yourself something like "I really don't want to do this", or "I hate doing this kind of stuff", or even "I just can't be bothered", then it's time to change the record.
Choose an alternative sound-track for your inner voice, like "I can do this", "It's quick and easy" or even give yourself a motivational pep-talk - "Up and at 'em, Atom Ant" works for some people. Make sure you repeat your new self-talk several times. It is the repetition and reinforcement that helps to change your state of mind.
Why does it work?
Your self-talk has a direct and immediate impact on your state on mind, which in turn affects your motivation. Some people even feel a surge of physical energy when they harness the right self-talk.
If you want to learn how to change your self-talk, then you might consider taking our NLP Diploma.
Cause 3: You're in two minds about the task
I was working with a client recently who said “I want to write this sales proposal. It’s really important to my business because it could be a big new contract for us. But something is just holding me back.” Part of him wanted to get started on it, part of him was putting the brakes on. The trouble is, when you feel like this you often don't know the reason behind the part of you that is resisting.
Procrastination-buster 3: Talk to both parts of you
Take a quiet moment to reflect on the two conflicting parts of you. Just focus on one part at a time. Start by giving it an identity or a name - my client called his first part "a can-opener – getting past tough metal to reach the fruit inside". He called the other part "a concrete block – tied to my car stopping me from making progress".
Ask each part what it wants, what it is trying to achieve, what it hopes for and what it is afraid of. My client discovered a positive intention for both parts. The can-opener wanted to open the way to an important contract. The concrete block wanted to prevent any action that could lead to an embarrassing or costly failure.
By this stage, you should find that the parts want to collaborate instead of compete and you can begin to explore different ways forward. My client found that by testing his plan of action with a colleague, and delegating certain parts of it to technical specialists he could bust his procrastination, get on with writing the proposal and improve his chances of winning the work.
Why does it work?
When you have an inner conflict, are in two minds, or feel like part of you wants one thing and part of you wants another, your mind is operating as though each of these two parts are complete mini-versions of you that are actively fighting each other instead of working together to make progress. By first acknowledging each part, then allowing it to speak up, you can open up the possibility of the two parts working together to get the best result.
If you want to learn how to identify your "parts" and to integrate them, then you might consider taking our NLP Practitioner course.
Cause 4: The activity is too huge and overwhelming
In theory, we all know the answer to this one - "How do you eat an elephant? Cut it into smaller chunks." In practice, our elephants stubbornly refuse to be cut up. You may be facing a task which is so big that you can't even begin to see a way to cut it into smaller chunks.
Procrastination-buster 4: Focus on the baby steps you CAN take, not what you can't do
All forward movement needs a force to overcome inertia, and so the best way to get started is to apply
some force. Choose just one thing that will create forward movement, but make it a tiny, baby step so that nothing will stop you from doing it. For example, walk over to a colleague and tell them that you're starting on it. Or start a new document called "Progress Plan" and write one thing on it. Or make that phone call, or dig out that file you need to consult, or send one email to a client, or even just go and put the kettle on.
As long as you promise yourself that the first baby step will lead to a second and a third, then you have begun to make forward movement.
Why does it work?
Quite simply, big chunks create overwhelm, which creates inertia. Small steps build up to larger steps which create forward motion.
It was the philosopher Lao Tse who said "Even a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step".
Bonus procrastination buster
If you're trying to get all your ducks in a row before you get started, then remember It only takes one duck to start a row.
About Madeleine Allen: The author is a specialist in Leadership. Communication and Personal Development for business professionals. An NLP Trainer and Master Practitioner she conducts in-house corporate training (learn more at www.allentraining.co.uk) and public courses in NLP (learn more at www.nlpedinburgh.co.uk)