Amanda Jacques
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Amanda Jacques in Stack That Money,

How to Stop Procrastinating

I know, it's the dreaded 'P' word! Don't worry, I am here to help. I'm sure we have all experienced procrastination in one way or another. It can prevent us from achieving our goals, get us into trouble, and cause undue stress and anxiety. One would think we would inherently avoid it due to the consequences, but many of us don't.

So why do we procrastinate? Procrastination itself isn't a character flaw. Procrastinators are made, not born. Most people procrastinate because of self-doubt, perfectionism, avoiding discomfort, rebellion, or a fear of failure. You aren't lazy, and you don't lack motivation.

In fact, we should start thinking about motivation as a finite resource. Every day, when we get up, we have a limited amount of motivation. Some tasks require a lot of motivation and some take hardly any. We can choose when and where to spend it, but when it runs out, that's it for the day.

Alright, so what are we supposed to do? Here's the good news: You can stop procrastinating with a simple behavior-modification technique. Basically, we need to make the task habitual. I know, you're thinking it's too simple and can't possibly work. Think again, young Grasshopper! This same technique has helped me change the way I deal with procrastination in many areas of my life.

Think about it. Most of the things we do every day are habitual. We put very little thought and effort into them, and they don't require a significant amount of motivation. We get up, brush our teeth, make coffee, shower, get dressed, etc. We're just going through our 'routines', and those 'routines' are just a string of habits that we have learned through repetition.

So, are you ready to learn how to get started? I've laid out the process in simple steps. Remember to have patience with yourself. It's a process, and it takes work. If you fail, just keep at it. Still with me? OK, on to the steps.

Step 1: Choose an attainable goal. Something that would make a noticeable, positive impact in your life, but not so overwhelming that you can't bear to face it. Here's my example: I want my kitchen to be clean every morning when I get up. This is a pretty big undertaking for me. I'm married, work from home, and have 5 young children.

(Remember, this is only my example. This same technique can be applied to any area of your life. It could be work, school, finances, or anywhere you're having difficulty succeeding due to procrastination.)

Step 2:
Break the goal into small tasks. They should be very small and achievable. Something you can get done quickly but still get a sense of accomplishment. Try to include how and when you will do them. This is my breakdown:

  • Have every dish in the sink clean when I go to bed.
  • Sweep and mop the floor after dinner.
  • Wipe the stove and counter-tops after I put leftovers away.
  • Wipe down the table and chairs after dinner.
  • On Sundays I make a large family meal. On this day, while I wait for dinner to cook, I will clean the kitchen window, wipe the fronts of cupboards and drawers, and wipe down appliances.
Step 3: Choose one of your small tasks, and do it every day for at least three weeks. Research suggests that's how long it takes to form a habit. That's it. Just do it over and over again until it requires almost no motivation to start the task. Before you know it, you won't even think about doing it, just like you don't think about brushing your teeth every morning. After that task becomes routine, add another task.

Remember, we are creatures of habit. This will work if you stick with it. Also remember to be patient, and give yourself permission to fail. Even if you fall off the wagon for a few days, all is not lost. Just start back up where you left off. You can do it. I believe in you!