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Overcome Procrastination, Get Unstuck and Get Down to Work

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Woman listening to musicProcrastination is an ongoing struggle for many – even for us here at Asian Efficiency.  There are many reasons why we — and you — might resist sitting down to work. In this post, we’re going to look at a specific form of procrastination (work paralysis) and what you can do to overcome it.

We all go through periods of days, weeks or even months where we cruise through our action lists, effortlessly getting into the zone and ending each day with a sense of productive satisfaction. For many, including myself, days like this affect my mood. Specifically, I feel great. It feels awesome to get in a state of flow and get things done. I’m proud of the work I’m able to accomplish when I’m in the zone, as well as my ability to sit down and make it happen. This good feeling stays with me, affecting my day outside of work, as well as my mood the next time I’m at my desk with a fresh list of tasks. It’s like riding a pleasant productivity wave.

Unfortunately, the opposite happens, too. Frustration sets in when I’m unable to do what needs to be done. Just like the “high” of a productive day, the low of struggling with procrastination follows me beyond my work day. I become irritable and short with others. I question my ability to do good work, which only further feeds the bad feelings.

How do we find ourselves in this state? A big contributor is the feeling of overwhelm. Work and responsibilities can pile up from our main gig, a side job or two, family, friends, and school. The virtual “pile” sometimes seems insurmountable. In this situation, you know what you ought to do — write, create a plan, perform a mind dump, etc. — but you can’t even decide on where to get started. It’s an overwhelming, frustrating feeling that only leads to more of the same.

Time passes and no progress is made, which only increases anxiety and the feeling of overwhelm. We’ve been there, too. Fortunately, we’ve found a way to found a way to conquer this most insidious form of procrastination. We’ve worked with over 13,000 people to help them escape this negative cycle and reach their full potential. You too can achieve success without the stress of feeling stuck.

But before we get to the solution, let’s look at how we sometimes find ourselves getting stuck in the analysis phase of our work.

Why we get stuck

For most people, myself included, the reason for the paralysis is simple: at some level, I feel that a task (or several) in that pile is:

  1. Impossible. For some reason, I’ve convinced myself I’m incapable of completing a certain task(s) successfully.  
  2. Unknown. This is a fear-based hurdle, as humans are instinctively wary of the unknown. What’s in that pile of tasks that I’d rather not see?
  3. Harmful. Perhaps you fear you’ll be exposed as incompetent, or you’ll miss an important deadline, which will harm your professional standing or reputation.

Knowing that this is where likely where your hesitation is coming from, focus on these three things:

First and foremost, forgive yourself!  It’s OK to feel intimidated by a large pile of work. The fear mentioned above is especially harmful because it perpetuates the cycle: you avoid a task by engaging in non-work related activities for part of the day, then you feel bad about doing so, and as a result you lack the motivation to get started. And we’re back at square one. This happens to nearly everyone, and it’s not something to stress over.  

Second, you’ve got to find out why you feel that an outstanding task is too difficult or potentially harmful. Have you struggled with a similar task previously? Did you underperform while performing a similar task previously? If the answer to either question is “yes,” that’s actually great. Here’s why.

To quote Yoda, “The greatest teacher, failure is.” Remember back to your last experience with the similar task or assignment. What lessons can you extract from that? How can that lesson be applied to the current situation? I believe you’ll find you’re more prepared this time around.

Finally, discover whether your feelings are right. In the example above, concerns over repeating previous mistakes were valid. However, we often underestimate our abilities and talents. Will you truly fail at the task at hand? Some truthful inspection of your own abilities might reveal that you’re fully capable of doing what needs to be done.

How to overcome work paralysis

Stressed manNow that we’ve got the “why” identified, let’s work on the concrete steps you can take to overcome work paralysis, starting with the fear of failure.

  1. Understand that the fear of failure is a part of doing your best work and a part of life. As Yoda suggested, failure holds the opportunity for growth. A person with a few failures under his or her belt can help others navigate that terrain. Find someone you admire and ask them about the times they have failed.
  2. Take a step forward. Pick a single task and do it. In this instance, it doesn’t matter which one. Nothing defeats uncertainty like facing your fear. Send that one email, make that one phone call, commit to that one meeting. The momentum of completing small but necessary tasks will build to larger accomplishments.
  3. Prioritize. When I’m feeling overwhelmed and paralyzed, I’ll take a serious, realistic look at what I “must” do. That’s when commitments like free work for a friend, a meeting with someone who wants to “pick my brain” on something get tossed aside. It might seem selfish, but it can really help you clear the decks and get started.
  4. Once you’re prioritized, list out what’s left get started. We suggest identifying two or three most important tasks (MITs) from among that lot to start on.

Lastly, pay attention to your health. It’s precisely when we’re overwhelmed with work that our physical and mental health get neglected. Set time aside for walks outdoors, meditation, some healthful meals, and downtime with family and friends. Get a full eight hours of sleep.

If you want more personalized help, take a few minutes to complete our Productivity Quiz. In just a couple of minutes of your time, we can help you identify the areas to focus on for winning back your time and give you tips and strategies to help you get unstuck and on your way towards achieving success without the stress.

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