How to get inspired and stop procrastinating
Here's something I wish I learned years ago. The amount of time I wasted procrastinating in my twenty-seven years is astonishing. "It's not time wasted if I enjoy it!", I would tell myself. "Well, yes, but it's not that I don't enjoy working; it's just that I can't seem to get off my arse and start," I would reply now if I could.
So what's the problem here? I'm sure we've all asked ourselves these questions. Am I just lazy? Do I hate my job? Am I scared of success?
I have compiled a list of six top tips you could try to beat the procrastination goblins.
1. Redefine your understanding of the Inspiration -> Motivation -> Action sequence
I learned this in Mark Manson's The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck. In it, he states that we assume the journey to getting stuff done is fuelled by emotional inspiration. Some source of get-up-and-go starts burning within us and leads us to the motivation stage where we feel compelled to take action; to work; to make changes; to better ourselves etc. But, although this is sometimes the case, it is not always the case.
Think about a time where you finally started working. It could be anything; just a time in your life where you were bloody doing it! Go you! The action that you took, there - the action of sitting down and starting - becomes a source of inspiration in itself.
I remember in the days of my education, I didn't like essays. I wasn't bad at essays; I just knew I wasn't having a very nice time writing them. But after I'd made myself a cup of something hot, sat down, opened the document and started thinking of words - any words - that could take me a step closer to the word limit, I found that ideas would strike me out of nowhere. I would have good ideas and arguments to put forward; maybe a joke or two! The act of starting came purely from the solemn acceptance that I could not escape my fate. I was not particularly inspired or motivated before taking the action. The action fuelled the inspiration and motivation.
At the moment, we're currently stripping all the paint off the staircase. It's tedious, hard work that hurts your hands. A couple of days ago I told myself, "Just do one step, Carmen. Then you can have a cup of tea." But lo and behold, within no time I was on my fourth step! The first step I did was so motivating that I wanted to keep on going.
Manson suggests that the Inspiration -> Motivation -> Action is more of cycle:
Inspiration -> Motivation -> Action -> Inspiration -> Motivation -> Action etc. and this means that we can join this train at any point.
Feelings of inspiration and motivation come from external sources. We can control them, to an extent, but with much more difficulty than we can control Action. If we take action; just a small step towards our goal - it could be getting out of bed, switching on the computer, leaving the house, putting on your running shoes - then it can fuel the inspiration and motivation we need to keep going.
Action first. Even a tiny action.
2. Recognise the difference between getting inspired and procrastinating further
I am terrible at this. If I have a project to start, I will happily spend three to four hours planning it. It may even require the purchase of a new notebook. There will be coloured pens, highlighters, post-its and washi-tape. I am in love with multi-coloured distractions convincing me that I'm getting stuff done; the illusion of being productive.
Now, before I accidentally alienate anybody, please note that this is completely personal. I, from time to time, come back to the thought that how on earth am I going to get anywhere in life unless I make a dream board??? And then I remember that I don't want to make a dream board; I just need an organisational high to distract me from the fact that the necessary work I need to do at the moment is a bit boring.
I recently bought a white board and used washi-tape to turn it into a weekly planner. It took about two hours to do and I enjoyed every minute of it. "Now I will finally be organised!", I chanted menacingly. It works for me. My notebooks work for me. These are tools that actively help me take action. So many other things that I know I would enjoy doing are just organisational highs that are, I'm afraid, procrastination in a shiny suit.
Really think about what benefits the task at hand and what doesn't.
3. Use rituals as your action
So in point number one, I mentioned that inspiration and motivation can be born out of action. This is where rituals come in; small actions you choose that motivate us. Things as simple as tidying your desk, making a cup of tea or lighting a candle. These are relatively enjoyable actions that ease us into the action of making a real start on the task at hand.
4. The Ten-Minute Challenge (don't overestimate how long a task will take)
I'm pretty sure I invented this. I used to only be able to get anything done if I had an entire day to do it. I would convince myself that the task - any task - would take hours and hours of my day. Do the dishes? Well, I can't; I'm going out this evening. Write a blog post? Sorry, no; I've got work in five hours. I had convinced myself that unless I could get an entire task completed, there was no point in doing any work on it.
The problem with this way of thinking, other than it being entirely wrong, is that if you spend your life waiting for a three hour block of time to kill, you'll be waiting your entire life.
So here's the challenge. Take ten minutes and see how much you can get done. It could be school work, house chores, a project, a hobby; anything you like. Just set a timer for ten minutes, don't let yourself get distracted and see how much you get done.
Why is this useful? You'll surprise yourself. If you're somebody who procrastinates (which I'm guessing you are as you clicked on this), then the likelihood is you overestimate how long tasks take because you include the time you usually spend putting it off. The benefits are:
You'll be pleasantly surprised with how much you can get done in a ten-minute block
You'll be pleasantly surprised by how easy it feels (ten minutes isn't too daunting)
You will find that the ten-minute block is an excellent action to induce more inspiration and motivation; you will find yourself wanting to work for longer than ten minutes
We're used to the concept of the working day or the school day; a seven to nine hour block spent focussing purely on work. But it's possible to fit in ten minutes here and half an hour there around other activities or tasks. The key is to try and make them quality minutes; don't get distracted. Make them manageable amounts of time. You will inevitably find yourself wanting to work for longer. But it's also okay if you don't.
5. Define "finished"
"Finished is better than perfect", they say. One reason this is true is that "finished" is a definable thing. "Perfect" is opinion. So how will you know when the task if finished? Is it when you've spent ten hours on it? Is it when you've reached nine thousand words? Is it when all of the paint is off the staircase?
Define "finished" before you start so you know when you're nearing it and when you've achieved it. "Perfect" is impossible to define and therefore you will never reach those standards.
6. Don't use your flawed definition of yourself as an excuse
I am organised, smart and have a good memory. However, when I was working in a job that I didn't enjoy, I would cling to opportunities in which I came across as scatty and forgetful. It became my Get Out of Jail Free card. "Ooh, well you know what I'm like!", I would say. And people would laugh as if to say, "Yes, we do. You're scatty and forgetful." But, in truth, I just didn't care enough. And I stopped trying. This, in terms of being inspired and motivated, is just a terrible approach, but it sunk in deeper. I started to forget that this wasn't just a convenient distortion. It wasn't until I realised that I didn't like my job that this became clear to me.
If you think you're disorganised or forgetful, it's more likely that your life lacks clarity.
If you think you're lazy, it's more likely that you need to work on your self-esteem.
Don't use these excuses. You are not the words you - or anyone else - uses to define you. You are a malleable, changeable, growing being.