How to stop procrastinating
Learning how to manage my urges to procrastinate has been one of the biggest hurdles in creating an energizing career I love. And if I can do it - so can you.
Too often we see ourselves as fixed - as someone who just IS a procrastinator. As if it’s the lot we were dealt with in life and we have to learn to live with it. In reality, anyone can learn to be the person who does what they say they’ll do when they say they’ll do it. It does require learning how to be OK with experiencing uncomfortable things.
But when you learn how to be ok with being uncomfortable, there is nothing that you cannot do.
You’ll learn in this episode
- Why we procrastinate and the often unrecognized impact it has on our lives
- The step-by-step process I use to procrastinate less
- How to make uncomfortable feelings less triggering
Are you ready to create an energizing career you love?
You can create a career that is simply an extension of who you are and how you want to live your life. If this sounds like what you’re after then schedule a consultation. We'll get to the bottom of what's going on for you. And exactly where you need to focus to bring your career and life into alignment. It's free!
Welcome to the career studio podcast, where we boil down the noise and focus on the core concepts, essential for building an energizing career you love. One that is simply an extension of who you are and how you wanna live your life. Anyone can do it. It's just a matter of knowing what to focus on.
Hi, my name is Anne Benveniste, and today I wanted to do an episode on managing procrastination.
Why we procrastinate and how you can begin to unwind from this tendency. This builds on the previous episode I did on feelings, and if you're a mega procrastinator, this is definitely the episode for you. Learning how to manage your procrastination is a big part of learning how to manage your time, which is a cornerstone in creating an energizing career that you love.
So, let's get into it. So, I've definitely been a master procrastinator for most of my life. I always prided myself on being able to just study at the last minute and pull all-nighters to get the grades I needed to excel. I would frequently work over the weekends on stuff I hadn't got done during the week, or I would be staying up late the night before a big presentation or before something was due.
And, and I told myself, and these might sound familiar to you, one, that this is just who I am. Right? I am a procrastinator. This is how I'm wired, and I can't change that. Or I'd say that I work better under pressure, right? I need that pressure to be due in 12 hours, so I have to do it now, and I have no other option. Or I'd say, the last minute is really only when I feel motivated, and I need that feeling of motivation in order to get stuff done. Or I'd say there's so much to do, right? I can't juggle at all. And so, no wonder I'm working on the weekends. No wonder I'm doing stuff at the last minute. I'm just trying to get lots of stuff done.
I'm really busy and I have a lot on my plate, and this is why I'm constantly doing stuff at the last minute or procrastinating on things. But there's a bunch of different results that are created from operating this way. Okay? Four, four things I'm gonna take you through.
One, when we always procrastinate, we're living with a low level of anxiety in the background, right? Because that thing that we have on our plate is hanging out in the back of our mind. We know we need to do it. We haven't done it yet, and that, knowing we need to do it and we haven't done it yet, creates this feeling of anxiety. So, it means when we are relaxing, we can't ever actually truly relax because we have this thing hanging over our head that we haven't done yet and we know we need to do.
Okay. Or another result we create. Number two. Is if you are a master procrastinator, when you actually do sit down to do your work, that work is actually inefficient because you're punctuating it with lots of little micro procrastinations. So, this might look like checking your email or getting up to do some chores around the house or doing some online shopping or responding to texts. So, you're constantly doing these little mini procrastinations while you're actually doing your work. So, the work itself is inefficient.
Third result that we create is just general lower energy. Think about, it's kind of what I was saying with the low level of anxiety. When you have a to-do that, you need to do in the back of your mind, right? Thinking about it, even if it's in the back of your mind, that requires a level of energy, right? The feeling of anxiety burns energy, even though it's in the background. Or your lower energy because you're constantly pushing yourself at the last minute, working over weekends or working late into the night. You're never actually having genuine rest, and you're doing all this stuff at the last minute, so it creates exhaustion. Okay? So, it's actually more tiring to live like that.
And lastly, we create what could be a lower quality work product. Because actually our brains need time to rest. They need time when they're not doing focused work and not sleeping to connect the dots form ideas. It's often why you get your best ideas in the shower on a walk is because your brain has the spaciousness to operate in a different way. And so, if we're constantly doing stuff at the last minute, in a big chunk of focus time, you are robbing your work of that spaciousness, of that time when your brain can kind of think about the work in a different way, right?
As opposed to saying, I'm gonna do the work ahead of time in three separate blocks, over three days, and then in between each one of those blocks, your brain has the time to rest and recharge. And so, then you are approaching the work with that additional brain function supporting you. Okay? There's only so much you're able to do when it's all at the last minute. Your brain needs that deliberate downtime.
So, if you're a mega procrastinator, you can probably relate to some of the results that I just talked through. And actually, the reason that we procrastinate is because we are avoiding feeling uncomfortable feelings. Think about it, whatever the task is that you are pushing back and pushing back, there is some sort of uncomfortable feeling attached to it.
It could be self-doubt or confusion that comes with creating something new. It could be nervousness or insecurity that comes with, again, doing something new that you haven't done before. Or it could be boredom. Because you don't like the task or sadness because it evokes memories that you don't want to deal with.
I used to often avoid looking at my finances because I felt nervous and overwhelmed that I wasn't in control of them, right? That I should be spending my money differently, or that I should have set up some saving structures that I didn't have set up yet. And so, I'd constantly avoid dealing with my finances because I didn't want to face the feelings of insecurity and self-doubt and shame that I was associating with them, or whenever I'm creating something new for my business, I never know the idea ahead of time, right? I have maybe a kernel of an idea and I have to think it through to create the email or to write the podcast, and so it requires me to feel confused. In order to create the content, right, I have to go through not knowing the answer in order to figure out the answer and what I wanna say in order to figure out exactly how I wanna articulate everything.
And that experience is not a joy, It's not comfortable. So, these are the types of tasks that I typically experience, urges to procrastinate around. No one really wants to feel their insecurities, and so if there are things that you are procrastinating on, get curious and ask yourself, what emotions do those activities bring up? Because the tendency will be, instead of, because those activities bring up uncomfortable emotions, let me just push it off.
I don't wanna feel uncomfortable, so let me push it off. Let me push it off. Or instead, let me give myself what I know will be a reliable dopamine hit, which will feel good. So, I get a reliable dopamine hit from going on social media or doing some online shopping, or watching tv or eating some food, or getting done some menial stuff around the house. That makes me feel accomplished. I mean, whatever it is that you use to procrastinate on whatever you do instead, right? That's exactly the thing that makes you feel better, right? Ask yourself, how does that make me feel? It's probably a quicker hit of feeling good than whatever the task is that you're delaying.
Okay? And this is really normal, right? Don't beat yourself up. Your brain has a preference to avoid pain and seek pleasure. So, it's normal that it wants to avoid tasks that bring up uncomfortable emotions, and instead do things that make it feel good. So, what do you do, right? If you're a mega procrastinator and so you're living with this low level of anxiety or inefficient working, or just feeling weighed down and tired by not ever doing anything, when you say you're gonna do it, maybe your work quality is suffering, what do you do?
Okay? And I'm gonna take you through now exactly what you should do to manage your procrastination. So, two things to accept first and foremost. Accept that 50% of life is uncomfortable feelings. Go back to the last episode I did on feelings, but of all of the major feeling categories, half of them are typically uncomfortable emotions, anger, fear, sadness, and all the derivatives that come out of that.
Okay, so accept that life is a 50/ 50 of positive and negative experiences. And importantly, you have the capacity to feel uncomfortable and survive. Think about this, you've definitely done it before. You have done things that required you to feel uncomfortable feelings in order to do them. And you have actually done them. You have experienced the uncomfortable feelings to move through them and get out to the other side, right? You can think about any big goal that you've set for yourself has required you to feel uncomfortable things. This is the thing about creating anything new about doing something you've never done before.
Inherently, that's always gonna come with uncomfortable feelings. What's comfortable is staying where you are and repeating the same things over and over. What's uncomfortable is doing something new because inherently doing something new requires you to feel confusion, self-doubt, insecurity, nervousness.
So anytime you've ever done something, set a goal for yourself and achieved it. You have felt uncomfortable and come out the other side. Okay, so just accept that that is part and parcel of life and it's essential to doing something new. And sometimes what I find helpful here, just as a side comment, is when you think about the feeling that might be associated with the task that you're procrastinating on, let's say it's confusion.
I don't know what I'm gonna say. I have to write this deck or this paper, and I'm not exactly sure how that's gonna come together. And I'm really dreading sitting there and actually working through it in my brain, right? I don't wanna feel confused or I don't wanna doubt the ideas that I come up with. So, in those moments, it's helpful to think about, well, okay, what does actually confusion feel like in my body?
Uncouple the label of the emotion from the physical sensation. So, confusion has a lot of cultural connotations, but if you actually ask yourself, what does confusion feel like? Well, for me it usually feels like a light tension that runs down the centre of my chest. Maybe there's some warmth in the top of my chest and maybe my brain feels a bit foggy.
So physically, if I'm going to do the task that I'm procrastinating on, I have to be willing to feel confusion, which means I have to be willing to feel a. Tightness in my chest, a warmth in my chest, and a fog in my brain. So, I can ask myself, Am I willing to feel a light tightness in the center of my chest? Am I willing to feel, a warmth. Am I willing to feel a fog in my brain? And when you start to look at emotions in that way, instead of the label of confusion, just look at them as the actual physical sensation in your body. It starts to reduce them of their power because, okay, yes, it's less comfortable than joy, but I mean, you haven't broken a leg, right?
You're not sick. It's not, it's not strong, strong pain. It's an uncomfortable sensation that will last minutes, hours, depending on what the task is. So, I ask myself, Is the goal of producing and writing a podcast episode worth an hour or two of those sensations? The fog in my brain, the, the tightness of my chest? Well, the answer is yes. That can be an interesting way to start to think about your emotions is uncouple them from the label of the emotion and just ask yourself, what do they feel like in my body?
Okay, so you've accepted that 50% of life is uncomfortable feelings and that anything you do that's new is going to come with discomfort, right? You have to feel uncomfortable feelings in order to do new things. So, once you've accepted that, here's what you do to manage procrastination. One, decide ahead of time when you're gonna do the task, okay? This requires you to use your prefrontal cortex, which is the part of your brain that makes long-term planning decisions, and it'll require you to find time on your calendar for when you have the availability to do this, right?
Cause if you just try and fit it in when you have free time, you're never gonna have free time. Because you're just gonna procrastinate on it. So, you have to decide when you're gonna do it and actually block that time in your calendar. Okay, so for writing the episode, I'm recording right now. I blocked three hours one day, and then I blocked 90 minutes now when I'm actually recording it.
Then when your calendar pings for that reminder to do whatever, you blocked, you want to expect that you will feel resistance. You will not want to do the task because in the moment, remember, your brain wants to avoid pain and seek pleasure, and in the moment, the primitive part of your brain, the part of your brain that's directly connected to your spinal cord that all animals have, this is what's engaged.
And it's going to just wanna do the thing that makes it feel good. It's not gonna wanna do the thing that's uncomfortable. So, your brain is gonna have a little temper tantrum and say, I don't wanna do this now. So, you want to expect that you are not going to want to do the things you put in your calendar.
So, in this moment, your calendar pings the thing that you wanna do. The time is now. And your brain doesn't wanna do it. You feel resistance to do it. You're like, Ugh, I really would much prefer to go make a snack. So, in this moment, you want to get curious, and you want to tune into your body. You want to ask yourself, what is the physical experience my body is having now?
And you want to really describe it to yourself with specificity in the same way I was able to describe to you what confusion feels like. You should be able to describe that for yourself, for whatever you're resistance is. Look for tension in your body. Sometimes it's gentle. It's not always super strong. It could be a clenching in your stomach, it could be a vibration somewhere.
It could be your brain racing and telling you lots of reasons of things you'd rather do. So, tune into that physical sensation and then critically, don't resist it. Don't ignore it. You actually want to let the feeling express itself. Allow there to be a warmth in your stomach. Allow there to be a tingling in your chest. Whatever it is, actually feel it, because often what happens is we're used to just putting the blinders on to our feelings and just ploughing through. Trying to ignore the resistance while we actually do the task, but when we try to ignore the feeling, right, we don't tune into our body. We don't let it express itself.
When we just put the blinders on and plough through the task without actually paying attention to our body, this takes up a lot more energy because we're resisting our feelings. Okay? Resisting our feelings is hard work. And so, this is part of what contributes to exhaustion, and this is part of what makes doing uncomfortable things difficult, because there's that extra level of refusing to experience the reality, the discomfort that comes with that task.
Plus, once you open up and tune into your body and let that feeling express itself, it usually lasts a fraction of the time that it would if you resist it. Emotions need airtime. They need air to burn up. When we resist them, we suppress them, and we keep them in our body. I talked to all about this in the last episode.
Okay? So, the calendar pings, it's time to do the task. You are not going to want to do the task. Tune into your body and ask yourself, what does it feel like, and then let that feeling express itself without resisting. And so, you want to start then doing the task because you are okay feeling uncomfortable feelings, and you know that that's part of life and that is required to do new things.
So let that feeling express itself while you begin the task and as you execute the task, continue to feel the tension in your body while you're doing the task. So right now, as I'm recording, I'm tuning into my body, and I have a bit of tension in my stomach. I have no idea what that feeling is. Maybe a bit of nervousness around making this a good episode, but I am allowing it to be there. I'm noticing it and I'm continuing to record while I feel it. Equally, you want to notice, you know, do you have urges to get up and make a cup of tea or check social media? So, notice those urges without reacting to them. Let them pass. Okay? This is gonna allow you to continue to stay focused on the task and get through it much faster, more efficiently than if you're constantly distracting yourself with little procrastinations.
Okay? So, then you've completed the task and this feeling of completing the thing you said you do when you said you do it, is amazing. It's so good that it almost becomes motivating in and of itself, right? Think about working out, right? And you go, you don't really wanna work out, but you said you would. Or you have a commitment to lose weight, and this is part of your schedule, and you don't wanna work out, and then you actually do. And after you're done, you feel amazing, right? You're so proud of yourself for having. The endorphins in your body make you feel good, and this is very similar to sticking to your schedule that you've created for yourself.
For me, I'm very intentional about blocking out on my calendar what I wanna do every day. Exactly when I wanna do it. And I look at my to-do list. I decide how I'm going to do my to-do list over the week. And I block that in my calendar. And so, for me, my day is a series of starting tasks with resistance, cuz I don't usually wanna do a lot of them. And then those tasks end with the feeling of elation of having completed them.
The feeling of pride, right? The feeling of confidence that I am someone who does what she says she's going to do. So, my day is a series of these ups and downs and that's normal. Life is a 50 /50 of positive and negative emotions and experiences. One of the things that helps with that is, especially at the beginning, giving myself little rewards for completing a task, especially one that I don't wanna do.
Giving yourself rewards is critical component of habit formation. So, this could be like getting up and making that cup of tea in between tasks or calling a friend or going on a walk or giving yourself a break. Whatever feels like a reward. Allow yourself to have one after you finish the task. Okay? This is often helpful when you are learning the muscle of doing things that you say you're going to.
Think about working out at the beginning before you're in shape and you're really craving the endorphins that you get from working out and the feeling before you're really there. Working out might feel really hard, and so a good way to create that habit is to give yourself a smoothie or a nice cup of tea or whatever it is that's motivating to you, and you give yourself that reward until the activity itself becomes a habit. Or the feeling that you get from completing it becomes motivating in and of itself. Okay?
So that's how you do it. You block your schedule ahead of time. You expect you will not want to do the task. When the task comes, you tune into your body and you get super curious and you allow those sensations to express themself without resisting, and you just continue to allow them to express themselves while you do the task. And then, you allow yourself to have a break, have a reward, and bask in the feeling of having completed the task, and you expect that these peaks and troughs are part of your day and your week of getting stuff done.
Okay, and in summing it up, I actually realize that I forgot to tell you one thing that's really important to do in terms of managing procrastination. And that is getting super clear to yourself on why it matters for you to do that task. What is your motivator? Getting clear on your motivator can help motivate you, right? Sometimes we forget the reason we're doing things, okay? So, for me, when I feel like I wanna procrastinate on writing my podcast, I remind myself. How important it is for me to help as many people as possible create energizing careers they love. How that idea, that mission really galvanizes me. Okay. That I really feel like this is my life work. That I'm doing what I'm supposed to do with my life by working on this topic. And so, this podcast is really a facilitator of my life purpose.
And so just reminding myself of that can help instil motivation from me while also holding, in the other hand the inevitable discomfort that comes with creating something new.
Okay? So, this is how you start to overcome procrastination, okay? And this is a muscle that you will have to practice. The results that you create, and these can be motivating too. The results that you create from learning how to do stuff, when you say you'll do it are as follows.
One, you're gonna be less anxious. Because you are going to trust yourself that you will do the thing you said you were going to do when you said you were going to do it. You know that if you blocked the time for 3:00 PM on a Thursday, that you're gonna do it at 3:00 PM on a Thursday, so you're not gonna feel anxiety about when it's going to get done because you know, and you trust yourself that you will do it then.
Okay, so this is going to also free up more energy because you're not thinking about this thing in the background, you've already decided when you're gonna do it and you trust yourself that you're gonna do it then. So, this means that your free time will truly be free because you'll be able to relax knowing that you've already decided when you're going to do everything that you need to do that week.
Okay? Two, you're going to feel more confident because you're going to trust yourself that you will do the things you said you're gonna do when you said you're gonna do them. This is a muscle that really builds confidence. Because doing stuff you've never done before requires you to plan in advance and get things done. And when you're someone who's able to do that, you have confidence that you can navigate new things in life.
Three, you're just going to accomplish more cause you're not gonna be procrastinating on things. So, you'll be using your time efficiently and you'll actually get it done and you'll move on to something else. Your time when you're actually doing the work is gonna be focused because you're not doing micro procrastinations, so suddenly you're actually gonna have more time that you can either use to do more things or to decompress or to spend time with your family, however you wanna spend it, but you're going to just get more things done at pace.
Five, I think I'm on five. You're gonna feel more focused when you're actually doing your tasks. The quality of your work is going to be sharper because you're focused. You're noticing your urges to procrastinate and you're bringing your mind back to the task at hand. You're noticing the sensations in your body and you're allowing them to be there while focusing on the task at hand.
Okay. This is actually quite meditative if you kind of builds on any meditative process. And lastly, this helps you sharpen your intuition because what I'm really having you do here is pay attention to your body. Pay attention to the sensations that are presenting themselves, and when you start to tune into your body and pay attention to the sensations.
You are tuning in to your emotions. You're tuning into your physical reality, and this is what's required in order to trust your intuition, is to really know when it's speaking, what it sounds like, what it feels like. So, the more you practice this, the more intuitive you're going to be. Okay. So, lots of huge benefits to learning how to manage procrastination. Benefits, I think we can all agree are well worth the pain, the inevitable discomfort that comes with doing things we don't really wanna do.
Okay? So, lots of reasons to learn how to manage procrastination that I think we can all agree are really worthwhile. But a couple things I wanna mention here. The reality is that planning your calendar in advance, it's a pretty tedious process. I mean, you might like it sometimes I find it enjoyable. Other weeks, I don't wanna spend the hour, hour and a half it takes for me to think through my to-do list and decide when I'm going to do the important things. But again, I just accept that this is an important part of the process, that I get more done and very clear on my motivation and so I do it anyways, right?
I allow myself to feel the discomfort. I expect I won't wanna do it. I allow myself to feel the discomfort and I do it anyway. And also, and I didn't mention this before, but you know, for tasks that you don't wanna do, another thing is just to make them fun. Put on some good music. Make yourself a nice cup of tea. Change your location. Sometimes I go to the coffee shop to do stuff I don't wanna do. Just to mix it up. Just accept that planning stuff can be a bit tedious, right? And also accept that you're gonna have to feel uncomfortable every day when you're someone who does what they say they're gonna do. When they say they're gonna do it. It will require you to feel uncomfortable because a lot of stuff you're not gonna wanna do. So, you have to intentionally embrace uncomfortable feelings, and this is really the muscle, right? Learning how to sit with discomfort, learning how to embrace uncomfortable feelings. You can mitigate it by getting super clear on your motivation, by making the environment that you're in more fun, but you're still gonna have to feel a level of discomfort, and that's ok.
And the last thing I'd say is like any new behaviour, this is gonna take practice and you are going to fail many times or just not complete it, or not do it or keep procrastinating. And that's totally normal and it's fine. All you wanna do in those moments is just recommit. Recommit to learning how to manage your procrastination, recommit, or accept rather that it might take a long time. It might take many months. It might take a year, and that's okay, right? It's okay for it to take time. It's okay for you to mess up. I think a lot of times the reason people give up on things is because they fail a couple times and then they make that mean that it's not possible for them.
But anything worth doing requires you to be bad. Before you can be good. So, you will be bad at managing your procrastination before you become good. So, you have to make it through those moments when you're gonna be bad. Ultimately, learning how to do uncomfortable things is the currency to every single thing you want in your life.
This is one of the most important skills you can build, and honestly, if I can learn it and get good at it as a lifelong procrastinator, so can you. What I discussed today is how you begin to practice and is after years of trial and error, this is the most effective way and the most sustainable way to becoming someone who does what they say they're gonna do.
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