How to Finally Stop Procrastinating With 1 Simple Journaling Methodology
An action packed, 3-step method to keep you on track every day.
You are 100% committed to work effectively towards your goal today.
But then… Nothing happens. So, with a strong resolve, you commit not to procrastinate tomorrow, only to watch with horror as your monkey mind joyfully hops all over the place, engaging in anything but the one thing that you should be doing.
Sounds familiar? At least that’s how it often feels like for me.
Here are two things you need to know in order to beat procrastination:
- You need to start doing the (important) task at any cost and stay focused for long enough to get it done. Nobody can do that for you.
- You can use a system to help you. I’ll show you how.
You will need a pen, your journal (or a piece of paper), 20 minutes to set it all up, and then 1 to 10 minutes everyday to keep yourself on track.
Here’s what I noticed in a few months of using this system:
- the amount of days when I procrastinate decreased dramatically (5 days in the last month);
- even if I procrastinate, I still manage to complete the minimum required to progress most of the time (I failed only once in those 5 days);
- if I procrastinate it is very easy to bring myself back on track for the following day.
Ready? Grab your pen and paper.
Define the Goal
You probably heard that before, but if you don’t know where are you are going, you’ll likely end up somewhere else.
Your goal is your compass, so keep it visible, preferably in a place that makes it super clear that this is what you are working towards.
Depending on what you’re working on, your goal can be a specific quest (eg. write a thesis), a behaviour (eg. meditate 1h every day) or a principle to live by (eg. ‘win-win or no deal’).
Make it as specific as you can. ‘Run a marathon’ is not specific. ‘Run a marathon within a year’ is better. ‘Run the Edinburgh Marathon in 2020’ is even better.
Call to action (we’re trying to beat your procrastination, remember):
Take a few minutes to define your goal.
2. Break It Down
We are naturally wired to avoid what’s hard (such as doing the one thing that we know we should be doing). It’s in our psychology.
In fact, procrastination is a negative habit loop.
- Goal seems hard to achieve;
- Challenging emotions surface (eg. self-doubt, anxiety, stress);
- Procrastination provides temporary emotional relief (especially “socially acceptable procrastination” such as reading or tidying up);
- Awareness of procrastination reinforces challenging emotions, which closes the loop and begins a new cycle.
It’s a trap!
To break the cycle, start at the beginning: break the goal down into simple actions.
But not just any actions. You want High Impact Actions.
High Impact Actions are:
- Few (aim for no more than 3);
- Within your control (something you actually can do);
- Habitual (actions you can do everyday);
- Highly predictive of your success (if you do those things, you are most likely to achieve your goal).
For example, if my goal is to write a thesis, my High Impact Actions could be:
- Study for 1 hour every day;
- Write for 1 hour every day;
- Plan my writing for tomorrow (1 hour every day).
That gives me a total of three things I need to do every day. It’s not about writing a thesis (seems complicated and hard), it’s about maintaining these three habits (seems clear and easy).
Keep your High Impact Actions in a place where you can see them everyday. Begin your day with looking at them, to make sure that you are crystal clear on what is it that you need to do.
Remember: if you’re engaging in something that is not your High Impact Action, then you are likely procrastinating.
Call to action:
Define up to three High Impact Actions. If three sounds like a lot, start with one.
3. Track and Optimize
You know what’s your goal and what are the things you need to do to get there.
Now you need to figure out whether you’re actually progressing or not. To do this we’ll set up a simple habit tracker (Minimalist Journaling System) so that you can analyze your data.
Here’s how it works (in a nutshell):
- One square corresponds to one day;
- If you complete all of your High Impact Actions that day, you get to mark the square (eg. use a symbol you like);
- NEVER SKIP TWICE (according to research, skipping twice in a row is what often breaks habits).
If you miss a day, for whatever reason, you have to complete a review. Ask yourself:
Why didn’t I complete my High Impact Actions today?
What measures can I put in place to make sure that it won’t prevent me from completing my High Impact Actions ever again?
Write your reflections down. They are invaluable for optimizing your process.
Call to action
- Prepare 30 squares (for starters), so you don’t need to draw them everyday. Alternatively, there’s a .pdf template waiting for you at the end of the article.
- Think of a symbol you’re going to use to track your progress.
A few ideas:
You know the goal.
You know how to get there.
And you have your journaling system in place.
Every morning, look at your goal and High Impact Actions. Then complete them.
If you fail, review why it happened in the first place and make sure it doesn’t happen again.
And remember: never, EVER, skip twice.
Bottom line is, there are various tricks that can help, but you need to do the work. And you are more than capable of doing it.
Here’s your .pdf download with the template.
- Minimalist Journaling Starter Kit
- Why You Procrastinate (It Has Nothing to Do With Self-Control) by Charlotte Lieberman
- How to Consistently Act From Your Deepest “Why” and Optimize Your Time by Benjamin Hardy, PhD
- How to Beat Procrastination by Wait But Why
- How To Break Bad Habits – The Ultimate Guide by Sílvia Bastos