Just Start: You Don’t Have to Like It to Do It

Six steps to stop procrastinating.

Posted Nov 17, 2018

 Rawpixel/Pexels
Source: Rawpixel/Pexels

Don’t wait to start that project.

Even minimal progress toward a goal can help you achieve it.  And you don’t have to like doing it – you just need to get started.

If you’re hesitating to get started, this is procrastination.  We delay performing an action even though we know our delay may negatively impact ourselves or others (Pychyl, 2010).

For example, Linda hopes to earn a promotion at work. She’s had four weeks to complete an important project.  A busy manager, Linda gets distracted “putting out fires” with her clients and team.  Each day, she says she’ll start the project, yet each day she procrastinates. Now the project is due in two days. Telling herself she works better under pressure, Linda works late the night before it’s due. Realizing she could have done a better job if she’d started earlier, she’s angry with herself for habitually putting things off.

Occasionally avoiding a task may not be much of a problem, but for some of us, procrastination is a habitual behavior.  

Where do you fall on the procrastination continuum? According to psychologist Timothy Pychyl, Ph.D., the first step to overcome procrastination is looking at your patterns.  Make a list of typically delayed tasks and the thoughts and feelings involved, then follow these helpful strategies.

6 Steps to Stop Procrastinating

1 – Just Get Started.  Even minimal progress toward a goal lets us feel more positive about the objective and ourselves (Sheldon, 2004).  Typically, once we begin the task we discover it’s not as “bad” as we’d anticipated.  Sometimes we wish we’d started sooner to have more time to work.

Just start! Take one small step to get the ball rolling down the hill toward completion.  

For example, Adam has a college class assignment due in two weeks.  He’s been avoiding it.  Finally, he takes the first step.

  • Day 1: He creates a file and simply types a working title, his name, and the date. He congratulates himself for getting started. 
  • Day 2: He writes a few simple ideas – just notes to get working.  The momentum stimulates his interests and he searches for information on the Web. 
  • Day 3:  He begins a rough draft. 
  • Day 4: He researches a few more ideas. 
  • Day 5: He writes a rough draft for much of the assignment.
  • Day 6: He finishes the project.

2 – Be Prepared – Create an If-Then Plan.  Think ahead to create plans you’ll perform when the going gets tough (Legrand, Bieleke, Gollwitzer & Mignon, 2017).  An if-then plan can stimulate the resolve to overcome “I can’t” and “I don’t want to.”

These automatic contingencies can help many situations.  For example:

“If I feel bored when I’m doing this task, then I’ll take a breath, focus my attention, and keep  working.” 

“If I want to check my email during the hour, then I’ll turn my phone off, and  continue doing my homework.”

“If I feel like I need to eat a sugary snack, then I’ll walk for 10 minutes instead.”

3 – Remember You Don’t Have to Like It to Do It.  To achieve a goal, our current level of motivation does not have to be high to get it done – “We can do something even if we don’t feel like it” (Pychyl, 2010).  Just beginning the task can positively shift our motivation and attitude.

4 –  Engage a Growth Mindset – This is the belief that we can improve and our abilities can blossom with effort and hard work. Adopting a growth mindset can pull us toward optimistic ways to face challenges, get started, and persevere toward goals (Dweck, 2006).

  • Talk to yourself with a growth mindset voice.  “Lots of successful people have a tough time getting started or struggle along the way.  I can take that first step and deal with whatever the challenges.”
  • Remember you have a choice.  How do you interpret failures to begin and challenges along the way?  How can you improve your self-talk?
  • Realize you can increase your effort. Learn new strategies. Stretch yourself. Do it.

5 – Plan Realistically.  Get a reasonable understanding of requirements to complete the task effectively and on time (Brown University, 2008). 

  • Break the task into small, manageable steps – be honest about what you can do in a particular time frame. 
  • Allow yourself relaxation and rewards as you complete steps. 
  • Keep track of progress. Adjust tasks and your commitments as needed. 
  • Avoid perfectionism. Be reasonable about expectations from yourself, others, and the situation.

6 – Let Yourself Know What Procrastination and Delay are Costing You.  Pause. Mindfully notice a few breaths.  Ask yourself – how has your procrastination habit impacted your stress level, relationships, financial well-being, and professional potential?  Listen to your answer.  Now take your next right step.

References

Brown University  (2018). Overcome Procrastination.  Retrieved from  https://www.brown.edu/campus-life/support/counseling-and-psychological-services/index.php?q=overcoming-procrastination

Dweck, C. S. (2006-2010). Mindset. Retrieved from https://mindsetonline.com/changeyourmindset/firststeps/index.html

Dweck, C.S. (2006), Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York, NY: Random House.

Legrand, E., Bieleke, M., Gollwitzer, P. M., & Mignon, A. (2017, April 10). Nothing will stop me?

Flexibly tenacious goal striving with implementation intentions. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/315912581_Nothing_Will_Stop_Me_Flexibly_Tenacious_Goal_Striving_With_Implementation_Intentions [accessed Sep 21 2018].

Pychyl, T.A. (2010). Solving the procrastination puzzle: A concise guide to strategies for change. Penguin Group, New York, NY.

Sheldon, K. (2004). Optimal human being: An integrated multi-level perspective.  Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. New York, NY.