How to stop procrastinating in three easy steps

You're not alone if you prefer putting things off to facing them head on. Procrastination is a common way of stalling your life—here's how to sort it out right now.

Want to know how to stop procrastinating? Here’s a simple three step rule that always works for me when I feel like putting things off.

I started using it years ago, in the days of being a kid and having to face school immunisations. My normal plan was to be in the line outside sick bay, wanting to eat my permission form, encouraging people to go ahead of me so I could put off getting my shot.

One year—and don’t ask me why, I probably wanted to impress someone—I decided to face the inevitable and be almost first in line. No more waiting for three classes to go before me. Roll up the sleeve, stick out the arm, job done.

That feeling was so liberating. Yeah, I still had to have an immunisation but facing up to it meant I only had three seconds of slight discomfort, not that plus an hour of painful suspense and anticipation.

So that was my lesson learned—putting something off just adds anxiety and stress to whatever is coming. It’s best to do it at soon as you can then get on with life.

First, I want you to know that you can’t wriggle out of stuff by using ‘fancy’ procrastination. That’s procrastination that looks good—you clean your whole house instead of making a phone call, or make a casserole to drop to your neighbour—but it’s still procrastination.

Also, know you're not alone. A UK survey this year showed more than 84 per cent of people puts off must-do tasks.

(This is one of things I'll be talking about at The Coaching Institute's free global virtual summit 'Discover Your Inner Coach' on September 12 and 13.)

Before I share my strategy, a quick lesson on procrastinating. We all know it’s when we avoid things, but it’s also key to know we avoid them because they produce a certain emotion within us.

It’s the discomfort of the emotion we don’t like, not necessarily the thing. Which means it’s important to get in touch with what that emotion actually is, to work out what it is that’s blocking us. Most people are avoiding a feeling of anxiety or a fear, potentially a failure.

The way to handle these normal emotional experiences is to rewire our brains to move towards the discomfort, which is going to be short term, not long term.

Interestingly, if we procrastinate on a regular basis, what we’re doing is playing short term comfort off against long term pride. I understand why people have an emotional experience which they face pushing through discomfort, but it needs to happen to get the goals we want to achieve.

Okay, ground work done. Here’s how to stop procrastinating:

The first thing is to pause and acknowledge the feeling that exists within the body. Could be anxiety, could be worry. Get clear on what it is.

The second thing is to validate yourself or validate the person who is procrastinating. Stop internally berating yourself, if that’s happening—‘I shouldn’t feel like this’, ‘I should be more confident’.

Beating yourself up about it just makes it worse. We want to be kind and use self soothing words to tell ourselves it’s okay to feel anxious, it’s okay to be scared.

The third thing is to take action and embrace the discomfort.

Tell yourself, ‘I can handle this’ then consciously move towards the uncomfortable feeling. This might seem weird, moving away from a place of comfort takes a whole bunch of energy and actually gives us more anxiety, but you will start to feel calmer once you pick up the phone and make that call, sit down and write that paper, log on and sort out your finances.

You’ll probably forget you were anxious because you’ll be doing the thing you were putting off.

If you got value from that, share it with anyone you know.

And if you want to break down more ideas like this for your own life and others’, click here to book your free spot at  The Coaching Institute's global summit 'Discover Your Inner Coach' on September 12 and 13.

Matt Lavars is one of Australia's leading coaches, trainers and speakers, and head facilitator at The Coaching Institute. In between mentoring thousands of coaches and leaders all around Australasia and helping others build incredible culture, Matt is passionate about fitness and music. His healthy office lunches whipped up in five minutes are the stuff of legend.

Matt Lavars
Matt LavarsThe Coaching Institute