Taking a breakI’m a procrastinator from way back (no, that’s not me in the photo). From a long, long, long way back. If there was a way to make a living from procrastinating, I’d be at the cutting edge.

But I’ve found that dawdling through life just ain’t that useful. Well, d’uh. It’s not good if you want to achieve things or even get the basics done.

So what did I do about it?

Well first, I identified what stops me from moving and why. Clearly, you need to be able to spot your signals. What do they look like? What are the thought patterns that stop me from moving? What do I physically DO when I’m actively adjourning? Once you’re aware of these things, you can then devise some easy steps to shut them down and move from being a lazy bugger to someone who does stuff. For some, that’s quite a leap.

It’s usually tough for me to get going on anything, so it’s important I force myself to take the first step. That’s probably the biggest, most obvious, and easiest thing to do. It’s a constant battle, of course, as I find it easy to keep putting things off until tomorrow. But I know, through experience, that once I get past that first hurdle I’m fine.

So why is it so tough to start something? For me, I find that my mind races all over the place, constantly trying to sort out the best way to do something. I find I tend to focus on the final outcome too much, which leaves me with a mind view of, for example, a complete project. And if it’s a big project then that’s a scary proposition because it will usually seem so far away and involve so much to do.

That thought process also manifests itself, at least in my brain, for all sorts of other tasks, even down to the smallest thing. It’s hard to break the habit of a life time. But it’s so important.

So…after you’ve identified your signals the best thing to ask yourself is: “What’s the first thing I need to do?” Sometimes the first thing will be the only thing. Sometimes it will be a tiny action as part of a list of many complex actions. Whatever. Get started by doing the first thing first.

Chris Gillebeau recommends that you just, “Get out the door.” He is, among many other things, a runner and uses this philosophy to push himself on days when he doesn’t feel like going for a jog. I love the concept. You can apply it to anything: sales, writing, cooking, the dreaded house chores. Anything you like.

For me, that’s enough. As I said above, I find that once I’m on my way – moving – I’m fine. That’s when the magic happens. But I do need to practice. Don’t just get out the door once. Do it again, and again, and again. And again. Then repeat.

I would add, however, that there are a couple of tools you could use to help keep on track. I’m a habitual list writer and I find this to be a huge help. The experts are divided on this. For every list writer you’ll find a list burner. That doesn’t matter. Lists work for me because they’re simple, clear and easy to use (much like me).

I’ve also found that deadlines are very useful, although they have to be clearly enforceable, with consequences for not meeting them. In business you’ll have, for instance, client deadlines that are usually non-negotiable, so the trick is trying to mimic that when setting deadlines for your own endeavours.

In my experience, it takes an incredible amount of discipline to hold yourself accountable to even the easiest deadline so try to find a way to externalise the deadline. The best way is to tell someone about it, whether it’s your partner, a mate, a business colleague, or someone else you respect. Depending on where you spend your time online, you could even expose your deadline to your social media communities. If you verbalise it you make it real, then you’re more likely to get it done.

At the end of it all, it’s important to recognise when you complete something. Self rewarding is important. You could make a cup of coffee after you send an important email or you could shout yourself a week in Sorrento after completing that million dollar deal. If you’re a list writer then just crossing things off is reward in its own right.

This article is a classic example of how this process works for me. I sat on the idea for a couple of days. Initially, I didn’t think I had much to say about procrastination. Not good. So I identified what I was doing then wrote an article heading and followed that up with a couple of paragraphs. Then let it sit for 24 hours. The next day I came back to it and nailed the first draft in about half an hour. The proofing didn’t take more than a few minutes a day or so after that. I now have a short article and summary that I can use as a tool to come back to when I find myself procrastinating. My reward? Lunch.

Quick summary – my anti-procrastination steps:

1. Identify your procrastination signal(s).

2. Analyse these signal(s).

3. What is the first thing to do?

4. Get out the door.

5. Practice.

6. Write a list or set a deadline.

7. Reward yourself.

This is what works for me. What works for you?