How to Stop Procrastinating

Lately, I’ve been asked a lot by doctoral students, “how do I overcome procrastination?”

The short answer is to manage your resistance to doing the tasks you’ve set for yourself.

But that is easier said than done. And what does that even mean?

I’m reminded of the quote by Olin Miller, “If you want to make an easy job seem mighty hard, just keep putting off doing it.”

Managing your resistance means acknowledging WHY you are not doing the things you believe you need to be doing and then taking the action anyway. The WHY is always because you are avoiding feeling a certain way.

A lot of the time, we are not consciously aware of what feeling we are trying to avoid. Herein lies the work to be done.

To gain awareness of what you are trying to avoid, you need to examine your thoughts. Thoughts cause our feelings (even when we are unaware of the connection between the two), always.

A quick and reliable way to examine your thoughts is to do a daily thought download for 5-10 minutes where you write everything you are thinking [about what you procrastinate doing] down on a piece of paper. Write without censoring yourself. Think of the phrase “dance like nobody is watching” and then write like nobody is reading.

From this list of thoughts, choose one and repeat the thought in your mind a few times and scan your body for what emotion comes up. Look for physical sensations like changes in muscle tension, energy flow, or temperature. Often the physical sensations are subtle, but there.  This will help you make the connection between your thoughts and your feelings.

Allow yourself to feel the physical sensations for as long as they are there. It’s usually a lot less time than people imagine because feelings tend to dissipate when under direct observation.

When you uncover a thought/feeling pair related to what you are procrastinating, become very curious about that thought.  Examine it from all angles. Is it true? Why did you come to believe it? Is it helpful?  What could you believe instead?

Choose a thought that would make you feel like taking action on what you are procrastinating.  You don’t even need to believe the thought 100%, you just need to allow for the possibility that the thought/feeling pair could be your fuel.

The goal is to allow yourself to process the limiting thoughts and emotions, so you are free to take the action.  When you do this process repeatedly a few things happen. You take the power back from the unexpressed emotion.  Stifled emotions act as an energy sink trapping emotional energy.  Like holding a beach ball underwater, all the trapped energy from the stifled emotions eventually explodes to the surface, causing unintended consequences.  Feeling your emotions allows the energy to flow instead of becoming trapped.

Awareness of your thoughts gives you an opportunity to manage your resistance to doing what you procrastinate by allowing you to diffuse the resistance with other supportive, intentional, and motivating thoughts. And repeatedly changing your thoughts about what you procrastinate retrains your neural pathways, pruning the unhelpful behavior and strengthening the helpful behavior.

This kind of shift takes consistent attention over a period of time to become a permanent behavior change.  What it doesn’t require is willpower.  And you don’t need to beat yourself up every time you procrastinate instead of doing. 

You need to focus your awareness on your thoughts and then choose to manage your resistance to doing. Commit to managing your resistance each time you are scheduled to work on something you’d rather not and then choose to do that task despite what you are feeling.

Don’t wait for motivation to strike; create your motivation and get to work. Your play and rest will be far more rewarding if you’ve already done your work.

When you eliminate procrastination, you’ll feel more in control of your time.  You’ll also feel in integrity with yourself.  That builds confidence because you can then rely on yourself to get things done.

In my 6-week program, procrastination is one of the main things that I help doctoral students figure out so they can stop wasting time and laser-focus their energy on finishing their doctorate.  We also work on managing expectations, performance, confidence, and time.  Email me if interested and we’ll have a quick chat to see if it’s a fit.