How to stop procrastinating and get it done
Why do we put off things we know we should do? Whether it is exercising more, clearing out the garage or managing our photos, we have an idea of what we need to do but the thought of going through the actions of these tasks can seem overwhelming, distasteful or pointless. Even knowing that putting off certain tasks could hurt us later, we will still hesitate. So how do we stop procrastinating and tap into motivation when we need it?
When faced with a decision to make or a task to complete, we usually rely on our self-control in order to push ourself to get things done. Furthermore, our motivation, which is based on the expectation of receiving some reward for our efforts, can support our self-control, and make it more likely that we will get things done in a timely manner. (1)
Procrastination happens when our motivation to finish a task is weakened and the rewards are abstract or negligible. Not having a clear objective, being told to do something, or just being too tired at the end of the day are all things that can weaken our desire to complete a task.
Fear is often the strongest motivator. It’s what drives us to buy home or car insurance because we fear we won’t be able to afford the outcome of a disaster. The reward is knowing that most of the costs are covered if something horrible does happen. But not all things can be covered by a monthly fee.
Recently my brother experienced a terrible flood in his basement due to freak rainstorm. Four inches of rain fell in 1 hour in an area that typically gets 3 inches over the whole month. As a result of the flood my brother lost many possessions that were ruined by the 4 ft of rain that turned his basement into a swimming pool. Insurance would cover the laundry machines, furniture and a computer, but not the photo albums filled with pictures from the days of shooting film. In addition to rebuilding his basement he is now faced with going through all of the soaked albums to see what, if any, prints are salvageable. Insurance won’t cover photographic memories.
From a photo management perspective, my brother was on track to do everything right. He had backed almost all of his digital photos to the cloud but there were still some images on his computer and all the prints in the albums remained unscanned. He knew what needed to be done but he just hadn’t finished the task because there was technically no urgency and as such, no real motivation. Flooding of the type he experienced is still extremely rare.
The “just in case” tasks are often the hardest to complete. For those, we definitely need a plan.
How to stop procrastinating
Have a clear objective
The first step to overcoming procrastination is to have a clear objective – the absolute WHY you need to do the task in the first place.
I hate cleaning my house but I love a clean house. My objective is a clear. I am motivated by the discomfort and anxiety that a chaotic house brings. To encourage me to get through this loathsome task, I treat myself to a cold beer when I am done.
With photo archiving, the objective is to preserve and protect past memories. And potentially, share them with others. The motivation is that in their current state they are vulnerable to time and moisture. Scanning 25 years of prints however, is a daunting task.
Understand your type of procrastination
The second step to overcoming procrastination is to understand why you, as an individual, is avoiding the task. This excellent resource can help you figure this one out. It could be lack of energy, not sure where to start, or fear of doing it wrong. It could be that the task, like photo archiving, is too big. One option could be to break it down into smaller parts.
Create a plan of action with measurable and obtainable goals
The key to this step is to create a schedule that suits your personality and lifestyle. Look at the overall objective and break it down into smaller more manageable tasks. Set a deadline for each task. Fit those tasks into your day. For example, for photo archiving, review one album each night while watching tv, or decide on two albums a week but pull them out and leave them on the kitchen table so you can review them whenever you are in the room.
Make it as easy and enjoyable as you can. Turn on your favourite music, pour a glass of wine. Whatever reward you can think of that will motivate you to finish the task. Try to get into a flow of work by eliminating distractions and creating a comfortable work environment.
Set deadlines that are concrete yet reasonable
It’s important to set a completion date, as it constrains how long you work on a task. But it is also important to decide on dates that are reasonable for your day to day life. When you are just starting to exercise, don’t plan on working out every day. Start with two days a week and go from there.
If you are sorting through your photos, set a date for the completion of each stage: reviewing, scanning, and organizing. Allow yourself some flexibility but not too much. Create some form of accountability with a friend to check in with you.
I like to save my desert until after I finish the dishes. That way I am motivated to get them done and I get to relax over something yummy. Figure out what will motivate you through the steps, not just at the final completion of the project, but at all the milestones along the way.
Whatever your objective may be these steps can help you get it done. The key is to remember WHY you are doing the task. Write this objective down, put it on a post it and place it where you will see it every day. Or set reminders on your phone. The key is to stay focused and not fall off track.
And if this still seems overwhelming, don’t be afraid to ask for help. There is strength in knowing what you are good at and what will just take too much of your time and effort. Sometimes it just makes sense to hire a book keeper or a handyman, or in my case, someone to clean the house.
Whether it is photo archiving, managing your website or learning how to live more sustainably, I can help you come up with a schedule and systems customized to your lifestyle.
Feel free to contact me here.