Smashing procrastination paralysis

Procrastination is a royal bitch. I fell back into the rabbit hole last month and then had to deal with the horrible feeling of frustration at time misspent and disappointment in myself for not achieving the goals I’d hoped for the week.

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I work from home with my child outsourced. I also need to be on social media channels regularly throughout the day to do my work. I think these two things immediately place me in the high risk for procrastination category. While procrastination joining hands and skipping merrily along with the world wide web can keep you updated in the latest hilarious twitter hashtags (#sochifail) or viral youtube clips (try Convos with my 2yo) – it doesn’t get the work done. I end up getting to 11pm, onto my third wave of energy (when we all know I should have gone to bed at 10pm because I live with a 3yo who frequently ensures sleep is broken), get smashed with anxiety and adrenalin and trying to achieve this:

It’s just not a sustainable model of getting work done. Because life.

I end up feeling tired, guilty, stressed, and overwhelmed.

So, I thought I’d put my procrastinating to good use and research how to snap the freak out of my paralysis. In case any of the Cartel collective have had a touch of the procastees too, of late, here are my top 5 tips:

  1. BREAK IT DOWN. Apparently most people procrastinate because they are feeling overwhelmed with the tasks ahead, or as a result of perfectionism (you want to do something so well, you literally can’t even start it). Breaking tasks down into manageable smaller pieces gives you an achievable goal for the work session ahead. Using me as an example this might be reducing “finish PhD”, to “submit four papers to academic journals”, down even further to “draft dot point outline for survey report – introduction section”. If you are a fan of lists (and who isn’t?!), this also enables you the smug satisfaction of crossing lots of smaller things off in a week – which adds to your feeling of making progress and helps break through the #overwhelm, because you’re getting stuff done.
  2. HAVE A PLAN. It seems straightforward and bloody obvious, but I realised something I stopped doing between the end of last year and the start of February was planning my work schedule for my days/week ahead. I think this is partly because I’m living in a paper-and-pen – but also a digital planning – life and kind of forgot where to put what I needed to be doing anywhere! I was sitting down each work day thinking “right, must get STUFF done, so MUCH STUFF to get done”, but failing to define what stuff and when. In a normal workplace, meeting preparation and deadlines are often influenced by others, guiding our routine, but when you’re working at home independently, it’s easy to let that slip. Don’t. I’ve found assigning myself certain things for each work day (e.g. blogging posts and social media scheduling on Monday; Tuesday for correspondence, online/phone meetings and follow up; PhD on Thu/Fri for consistency) is improving the predictability of my week and again, helping me regain control of my workflow. Obviously this is flexible and I often make changes as required, but as a general game plan, it’s a format that is allowing me to put aside distractions from one project when I really need to focus on another, rather than flitting between them feeling there’s SO MUCH to do and achieving less.
  3. LET IT BE IMPERFECT. There’s a great quote from Ernest Hemingway, “the first draft of anything is shit” and you really need to embrace this to smash procrastination paralysis. Whatever you are doing, it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be DONE. I do a fair bit of writing and I know for a fact that it’s so much easier to progress something once a draft is done. Even if that draft is of the purest snot quality, it will be easy to rewrite or change once the draft is down. Sitting for lengthy periods agonising over the perfect opening sentence, or choosing the right font is pointless. Slap down what you need to have a framework for your task, then work from there. Some experts recommend doing the thing you perceive as hardest/worst first; others say start with your favourite (thanks experts, you’re awesome). I think just do SOMETHING. Because then, you’re on your way. You don’t need to enter a full marathon to get fitter. As Champagne Gillian showed us, you just need to get out the door.
  4. DEADLINE/ACCOUNTABILITY. I probably shouldn’t lump these two together, but I have always been atrocious at sticking to self-imposed deadlines. So for me, for them to stick, I need to share and publicise them! A part-time PhD colleague and I catch up fortnightly and spend a day working together. This is great for lots of reasons, but mainly because we share our goals for the next fortnight, talk about any roadblocks and strategies to overcome them and feel held accountable at the next meet up. You can share your goals with colleagues, friends, family members, even write them on a note and whack it on the fridge. Something to help your momentum push you towards achieving the goal or task you’ve set yourself.
  5. STOP INTERRUPTING YOURSELF. Don’t get distracted by emails arriving, or Facebook updating. I’ve turned off my smart phone app notifications, I only allow myself to check emails three times a day and guess what? The world has continued to spin. I feel much calmer too. The frenetic pace of our lives can have our brains in a tizz jumping from one thing to another. I’ve found committing myself to one THING for just 15 minutes (because I can do one thing for 15min, everyone can!) has often been enough to get my head into a gorgeous productive flow – you know the kind where you look up and realise you’ve been making fabulous progress for the past two hours and it feels like 12 minutes? That. If you’re a social media addict or web browsing whore, I strongly recommend implementing a browser plugin like StayFocusd that will cut you off if you go over your time allowance on sites like Facebook and Twitter (or even news sites – you can select limits for anything).

I’d love to hear what has helped you smash procrastination paralysis too! Please share in the comments below. NOW START!

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Written By

Carolyn is the editorial director of Champagne Cartel and a freelance writer. In her spare time she is a long-distance runner, peanut butter enthusiast, and single mum to three incredible humans.


  • Oh, Mia, you have just summed me up to a tee! I am a perfectionist so suffer dreadfully from the “can’t start… won’t…. be ….. perfect……” stress. Goodness, even doing stickers with the toddler makes me wince. “But darling, surely the cow doesn’t belong on the roof??” (all the while screaming internally “it doesn’t matter”!!!! and knowing that deep down, sadly, to me, it does).

    And as I face a mountain of ethics applications, the usual stress of preparing lectures AND moving my office of seven years two doors down, these tips are incredibly timely. Thank you xx

    • It is my pleasure to be in such good company and ridiculously relieving to know I’m not the only lady the procrastees have been messing with! Good luck with ethics applications (ugh!) and yes, you’re right, the odd cow on a roof really is OK in a 3 year old’s world. I mean – it actually happens:

  • I am a class A, Olympic Gold Medal, Life Time Achievement Award winning procrastinator…or, I will be as soon as procrastinators get around to organizing these very necessary award events :). In an attempt to relinquish these titles I have relegated myself to only playing Mine Sweeper when I’m actually working on something. No TV, no Internet, no amazing new book, no reorganizing the pen drawer…only Mine Sweeper. This seems to help because no matter how overwhelming a project may seem it will eventually be much more appealing than playing yet another round of Mine Sweeper. As an added bonus, I find the mindlessness of that game a great way to move past writer’s block.

    • Magnificent channelling of procrastee tendencies into minimal-impact activities. WELL DONE. I think I try to tell myself that’s what I do with social media (“just checking in case there’s something work-related I need to respond to”, but really – I need to be tougher with my StayFocusd limits. Might do that RIGHT NOW! Thanks though – it’s a great tip! 🙂

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