Did you read Shakespeare’s play Hamlet at school? Hamlet is the story of a Danish prince who discovers his uncle has murdered his father and married his mother. Over four agonising acts, Hamlet considers what he should do. The play is 30,000 words long, and the truth is that for around 29,000-words Hamlet does very little, except contemplate his options. Hamlet is literature’s greatest procrastinator.
This is how Hamlet describes himself in act 1,verses 99-100, “A dull and muddy-mettled rascal, peak, like John-a-dreams, unpregnant of my cause, and can say nothing”. Hamlet not only says nothing, he does even less! Are you a procrastinator like Hamlet? Do you start your day with good intentions and a long list of projects, but by the day’s end find you have achieved very little? Have you been distracted by social media, friends, coffee, housework?
Procrastination undermines productivity and will delay you from achieving your goal – reaching your dream. But there are some practical steps you can take to stop procrastinating, so don’t delay and please don’t procrastinate, give them a try straight away.
Step 1: Break down your tasks
Sometimes we put off starting a project because it seems overwhelming. We simply don’t know where to begin. Try breaking the project down into smaller parts and then focus on only one part at a time. For example if you are renovating an old house, begin with just one room. If the project still seems overwhelming, break it down into even small parts. Focus on just the floor or walls of one room. A task list is another super way to stop procrastinating. Put a little tick-off box next to every item on your list and once you’ve completed a job give yourself a big tick! If necessary put a time limit on how long each task should take. Prioritise the jobs, so you will at least get the most important jobs done. If you are delaying beginning, then start with the hardest project and get it out of the way. Tell yourself that once it’s done and dusted the project will be easier and more appealing.
Step 2: Remove distractions
Remove distractions from your immediate environment. If you are distracted by social media, don’t open your email account, or Facebook account. I’ve known people who have temporarily de-activated their Facebook accounts when on a deadline. If you find you are tidying the house, rather than writing your book or studying then go to a library. University libraries are open to members of the public. They are often full of students completing assignments, so you might find that space conducive to getting your work done.
Step 3: Don’t be a perfectionist
Do not be a perfectionist in your work. Yes, you want to do your best but some projects don’t require perfection. They just need to be completed! If you are writing a novel, you must pen perfect prose, but perhaps you need to get the chapter outline done, or the plot down on paper and then you can return to polishing the words. If you are renovating your lounge and it has been a chaotic mess for months, then the time has come to just get it done! Finish painting those walls, buy that new carpet, and move the family back into their lounge room. Also, don’t wait for the perfect time to start a project. Perhaps you won’t commit to beginning until after the school holidays, or until the weather warms up. The perfect time to begin is always now. The start of a new project is often the most difficult, but if you just start you might find that the impetus to complete it follows.
Step 4: Seek support
Seek the support of friends and family. If you are starting an exercise program, find an exercise buddy. If you are being collected or you have to pick your friend up to go to the gym, chances are you won’t put off exercising.
Step 5: Reward yourself
Give yourself some motivation to compete projects. Tell yourself that once you have cleaned out the spare room, you’ll treat yourself to a night at the movies. You might even need to pay yourself. Give a close friend $100 and tell him or her that if you don’t meet your report deadline that money is to go to a charity of his or her choice. If you make that deadline, shout your friend and yourself to a nice dinner out. You might also need to punish yourself. If you don’t make that deadline, miss an episode of your favourite TV show.
If you still are struggling to conquer your procrastination, force yourself to just do five minutes work on the project. Tell yourself that you only have to do five minutes, but work frantically, achieve as much as is humanly possible. Hopefully you’ll find that once you’ve started you want to continue.
Step 6: Make decisions
Many people procrastinate and find that they don’t meet daily deadlines or get projects finished, but other people procrastinate on every life decision. I meet young people who tell me they can’t decide on a career, so instead of going to uni they take a year off and that year turns into two or three. Sometimes you just need to make a career choice and stick to it. Is there really such a thing as the “right choice” in life? Or to succeed do we just need to set a course and see it through? It is fine to change careers. Most people have five to seven different careers in their life. But it is not okay to do nothing, while you are looking for the “perfect” career. Teach for a few years then move into retail or the corporate world. In every job you learn new skills so your time will not be wasted. You are just moving closer to your dream job.
Someone once told me that if you need to delegate a job, then give it to the busiest person in the team. You might think, why not give it to the individual with time on their hands. The individual with time on their hands is the procrastinator. The busy person is the effective worker who is getting on with their projects and meets deadlines.
As the American writer, Napoleon Hill once said, “Procrastination is the bad habit of putting off until the day after tomorrow what should have been done the day before yesterday”. So don’t delay, and get on with life!