You know that heavy feeling you get when you’re working on a project or goal but it’s hard to get motivated? The whole thing feels like a drag. It’s not enjoyable, it becomes onerous, and you start procrastinating.
In the end you achieve a big fat zero, with a large side helping of guilt. Not to mention a generous smattering of self-pity.
But . . .
Tomorrow’s a new day! Tomorrow you’ll get cracking and nail that baby!
But . . . (you know what’s coming, don’t you?)
Tomorrow ends up being a depressing repeat of today. And before you know it, you’re stuck in Groundhog Day.
Whether it’s a project at work, home or a long-held goal (like ‘get fit’), procrastination is a blight on many of our lives.
Worse, with procrastination comes the deadly reaching for the snacks, the coffee and the wine. Because you’re feeling sorry for yourself. And when you feel sorry for yourself, your arm develops a mind of it’s own. With almost no conscious awareness, you reach for said soothing snacks to ‘help you feel better’.
And still that project weighs heavily on your mind and your to do list.
But what if you could change the way you approach projects and tasks so procrastination (and it’s accompanying sugar, caffeine, and guilt hit) isn’t a problem?
What if you could change the way your mind works?
So instead of feeling like the whole thing’s too bloody hard, you turn into someone who does what they say they’re going to do, when they say they’re going to do it.
What magic is this you speak of, you ask in wonder?
Not magic, oh grasshoppers, just some tweaks to the way your mind works and a healthy dose of common sense.
And before you get too excited, let me confess that procrastination is one of my biggest daily challenges. And it is thus, a topic dear to my heart.
So I’m going to illustrate my points from personal experience. Let me tell you about the current bane of my life – my website redesign.
Hint: if you couldn’t care less about my website woes, you’re forgiven. Skip through to the points below.
It all started a couple of months ago when a series of silly and ignorant decisions about the website were made. And the whole kit and caboodle ground to a halt. pscounselling.com.au was suddenly unusable.
It was like I’d dropped it, and it broke.
Now, I’ve had websites for over 10 years, so I’m no stranger to the dramas, redesigns, speed problems, nasty hacking – you name it, I reckon I’ve been through it.
So theoretically, I knew the solution was to get on with, quickly and smartly. No fussing around.
But . . . in my wisdom I decided to pull forward the redesign I was planning for later in the year. And do the mend and the redesign at the same time.
Yes, I know. Some people just need to learn the hard way.
Heavy, fed up, feeling sick and uber-sorry for myself – that describes how I’ve been feeling about my once magnificent website. And the sudden enormous and unplanned workload I’d committed to.
In past years during website dramas, I’d start every email to my team with ‘I hate the website . . .”
This time I decided to practise what I preach, and change my mindset and my whole approach to it. I put these points into action – see what you think.
How to change your mindset
1. Prioritise self-care
How can you find space in your mind and your life to get onto those projects (websites, anyone?) when you never make any time for yourself? Of course, you feel sorry for yourself when you’re working, when that’s all you do.
You need space for yourself so you can connect to the process of changing your mindset.
We’re talking time set aside each day for exercise/mind-clearing/recharge activities PLUS downtime at the end of the day.
Work out what you’re going to do, plan it, and stick to it. And do it in the first half of the day. More about that in a moment.
Case in point: I know I need to exercise most days – walking/yoga/a bit of gym – so I can stay sane, and keep my body working the way I want it to.
But take a guess what the first thing to be ditched when I’m feeling overloaded with work or life is?
I’m too busy running the family, a client needs an urgent appointment, I’m working on the website . . . I don’t need to tell you how endless the excuses are.
But exercise gives me space and clears my mind. And I feel so good when I do it and do it regularly.
So during my yukky website weeks, I promised myself that I’d do my exercise NO MATTER WHAT. I made it my absolute priority.
Sure, I still don’t want to sit down and immerse myself in the website, but because I feel better about myself, it’s magically easier.
2. Do essential things early in the day.
The research in the psychological literature about willpower is clear – we only have a certain amount of willpower to spend each day. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.
So schedule the things that are hard to do (those heavy tasks that you have historically procrastinated) at the beginning of the day. And knock them off your list.
Case in point: I’m an early starter in the morning (call me crazy). So I looked at what I do in the morning, and rearranged it to put time into that website reviewing, selecting images, tweaking copy, each morning.
Pot of tea, website for an hour(ish). Then off to exercise.
I can’t say it was a pleasure, but it worked, and it didn’t feel overwhelming like it has in the past.
Sometimes a self-imposed deadline meant I needed to look at the website at the end of the day. Talk about pulling teeth . . .
3. Instead of trying to achieve 10 things at once and entering ‘headless chook state’ make use of a fabulous app or beautiful notebook to create a to do list.
You want what I call a master list – with absolutely everything you need to do across all areas of your life, on it.
Then you want a weekly to do list and a daily task list.
Use a notebook or try one of these brilliant apps.
Now here’s where you need to be sensible.
If you’re like me, you’ll over-estimate what you can achieve in an hour or a set time. So be super-and-maturely realistic. Make sure your daily list has just one or two tasks on it that absolutely have to be done. (On top of exercise/down time). But make sure those things don’t total more than an hour. The idea is to actually get them done, not leave them endlessly on the list.
If a task takes longer than an hour, I break it down to smaller tasks so it feels more doable.
Case in point: An hour on the website each morning was enough. It moved my project forward, but I didn’t get lost in it.
And each day, I’d achieved something. While I still worried about the website in general, I didn’t feel overly guilty about it.
4. Talking about lists, let’s address getting everything out of your head and onto a list.
When you keep everything in your head, it can weigh you down. And you run the risk of turning into one of those people who wakes in the middle of the night with a whirling head and who can’t get back to sleep.
Golden rule: if it’s in your head, take it out and put it on a list.
Create space by clearing your head of stuff you don’t need to store in it. You know how good you feel when you’ve defrosted the fridge, cleared out the pantry, or gone through your wardrobe? That’s what you want to do in your head.
Once those things are out of your head and written down, they’re safely stored, they won’t be lost or forgotten, and you can get on with the work
Case in point: Instead of thinking how good it would be to have time to organise my to-do list, I took myself out to a series of cafes over several days and did it.
5. Reframe your negative approach to a positive one.
When you find yourself thinking and talking negatively about your project and starting to feel pathetic about it, catch yourself and flip that thought upside down.
Acknowledge how you’re feeling, recall why it’s important to you, and reframe it.
Case in point: Remember how I’m the miserable ‘I hate the website’ person?
Well, I had a stern talk to myself (after explaining this concept to a client, and realising I could do it myself).
I reframed all my heavy thinking about the website. A good website is a thing of wonder and beauty. How amazing is it that we have the ability to work with the talented people who pull it all together for us, and we have the technology to make it so! How proud of my achievement am I going to feel when it’s done!
Sure, rehauling anything of this magnitude is disruptive and a pain in the neck but, truth be told, I’m excited about being able to do it, knowing a bit more about the process than last time, and looking forward to the finished product.
This change in my mindset meant a change in my emails and conversations. I stopped leading with my heavy old woes. And when asked, I said, “I’m still working on it, and it’s taking a tad longer than planned, but I’m very happy with how it’s coming along.”
And instead of noticing others ‘catching’ my heaviness and feeling sorry for me, people smiled, said they were looking forward to seeing it, and then we moved on.
So what do you think? Can you put any of these points into action?
(Oh, and please remind me next time I have a website drama that there’s no need to use the ‘opportunity’ of mending it to redesign and rewrite the whole bloody thing!)