Most people enjoy brainstorming, coming up with fresh ideas, and starting new projects, yet the majority fails to execute.
That’s because coming up with ideas is easy, but getting shit done is hard.
We often see the most remarkable progress on projects at the very beginning: On day one, you have a simple idea; on day two, you already have a colossal mind-map covering everything in detail. And even though ideas aren’t worth much, we like the feeling of progress, even if it’s just an idea.
But after the first, fun part, finishing projects becomes hard.
Michael Lopp summarized the four stages of every new project and how it feels to him in a simple yet powerful chart:
According to Lopp, the first part of a new project is the most enjoyable. That’s the time we explore the idea, come up with imaginations on how it could turn out and what the rewards might be.
As you move further and make progress on a project, the amount of joy and excitement drops. The final stage is always long, exhausting, and not fun at all.
However, while Lopp states that the final phase is debilitating, he also mentions that it’s the most critical part.
“Whether it’s writing an article or building a feature in software, the work of finishing is both the most important and the least interesting.”
— Michael Lopp
If you care about the outcome of a project, you need to make it through the first stages as quickly as possible and then focus on the final phase.
And whenever you find yourself procrastinating during any of these stages, it’s likely because of one of these three reasons:
- You are afraid to fail: Every time you finish something, you make yourself vulnerable because you allow people to judge you and your work. Prolonging the conclusion of a task is a way of avoiding feedback.
- You’ve set the bar too high: If you’ve done a great job once, you might fear to finish a new project because you’ve set a high standard. Setting big goals can be fun, but not finishing tasks because of your own standards is not enjoyable at all.
- You don’t want the fun to end: If you love what you’re doing, you might procrastinate because you’re afraid of what’s next. Finishing a lovely project might mean that you have to work on a new, less exciting task.
I started dozens of new projects during the past years and experienced each of these procrastination stages more than just once.
That’s why I’ve been continuously looking for ways to eliminate procrastination and work more efficiently. By now, I have probably tried every productivity technique that’s on the internet.
And while most of them didn’t really help me to beat procrastination and have more time, the following strategies actually did change the way I work.
Put Yourself in Jail
Creating a metaphorical jail and putting yourself there whenever you need to get important but annoying tasks done is one of the most useful productivity hacks I ever tried.
There are a few ways how you can put this into practice:
- In jail, you have all the time in the world. You don’t need to rush or stress yourself. Instead, you can just tackle one task after the other because you know that you have time. You can slow down, concentrate, and take time to get your thing done.
- When in jail mode, you eliminate all distractions. Imagine sitting in a prison cell where you only have items that you really need to get your work done. Put everything else away, eliminate all distractions, and get yourself in a focused work mode.
If your mind is focused, you’ll get more done in a few hours than most people accomplish in days.
And the most powerful way to get more done in less time is by putting yourself into a flow state.
Flow states are defined as the following:
“A mental state in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.”
When in flow, you get more done than during usual work sessions because you’re in the zone.
Particularly when working on challenging, annoying tasks, we often tend to distract ourselves. That’s why the combination of putting yourself in a mental jail and using the power of flow states can help you double your productive outcome and save many hours per week.
Fall in Love With Baby Steps
One of my former coaches always talked about baby steps. He preached that whatever you do, you need to be willing to start with small moves and gradually increase your impact over time.
As someone who likes to think big and move forward quickly, I initially didn’t like the idea of taking baby steps. But over time, I realized why his advice is so powerful: Quite often, we procrastinate because we don’t know what the next meaningful step is. We feel lost, overwhelmed, and unmotivated.
During these moments, taking baby steps and making one small move can make all the difference.
Whenever I feel lost in a project or a specific task, I step back and break my project down into the smallest moves.
Once I figured out the smallest action steps, I set a timer for 15 minutes and try to move forward with that project for 15 minutes. I eliminate all distractions and give my best to solve the problem. After 15 minutes, I decide whether I want to move forward or not.
If I quit, I start again with 15 minutes the next day.
In most cases, the first 15 minutes are the hardest and once you make it through them, it becomes easier to keep going anyway.
Put Your Ego Aside and Ask for Help
One of the most profound business tips I ever received is to replace how by who.
Whenever you feel stuck, there’s a high probability that someone might help you to get the job done much more efficiently.
In short: Asking for help helps.
Most of us spend way too much time and energy on finding a solution instead of asking experts for advice or getting help from our community.
No matter what your task or project is, there are undoubtedly thousands of people who could support you.
Asking for advice is no shame. It’s a sign of greatness.
Next time you end up procrastinating because of the difficulty of a task, ask yourself whether you know someone who could support you.
“Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don’t know something, and to learn something new.”
- Barack Obama
In a world full of distractions, being productive and getting things done is not always easy. Yet it’s the only way to come closer to your goals and create a life you love.
In a nutshell, eliminating procrastination and working more effectively mostly comes down to two things:
- Knowing why you do what you do: Having a strong desire to accomplish your tasks and reach your goals, being intrinsically motivated to give your best and improve yourself every day.
- And creating a distraction-free environment: Getting rid of notifications, clutter, and anything else that might lead to a waste of time. Plus, planning ahead so that you can get to work and start your day productively right in the morning.
If you live according to these rules and apply the three strategies to eliminate procrastination, you’ll be ahead of most people and get your work done much more efficiently.