“The choice is not working or not working, but which type of work; even feeling guilty because of procrastinating takes some effort. When you commit to a goal, you’re committing to a form of work that brings ongoing rewards. When you procrastinate, you’re choosing a self-punishing form of work.”
The Now Habit: Short Summary
The Now Habit by Neil Fiore tackles procrastination. Neil focuses on the emotional issues making people procrastinate. The biggest of which is the anxiety associated with completing a task. Neil offers strategies on how to beat procrastination. Most of the strategies are excellent, and you will find them useful.
Why We Procrastinate
Procrastination: “A mechanism for coping with the anxiety associated with starting or completing any task or decision”
Warning signs of procrastination:
- Life feels like a long list of obligations that cannot be met
- Being unrealistic about time. For example, saying that I will start the project sometime next week instead of being specific
- Being vague about your goals and values
- Feelings of frustration, unfulfillment, and depression
- Being indecisive
- Low self-esteem and assertiveness
One of the reasons why we procrastinate is to protect our self-worth. Procrastination helps us temporarily relieve our deeper inner fears. These fears include the fear of failure, the fear of being imperfect, and the fear of impossible expectations.
The fear of judgment stems from over-identifying who we are now with our work. Because of this fear, people engage in a counterproductive drive towards perfectionism.
How We Procrastinate
To improve performance, you’ve got to know how you do anything.
The key to knowing how you procrastinate is to log your time. Create a journal and write down all the activities that take up your time.
“Keeping a record of how your time is spent will alert you to many areas of inefficiency and lost time, but it will not provide you with the cues in the actual work situation that signal the need for a change in focus if you are to avoid falling back into your old patterns.”
The five stages of anxiety and procrastination:
- You give a task the power to determine your worth and happiness
- You use perfectionism to raise the stakes of a mistake. You make it seem that any mistake equals death
- You feel frozen with anxiety because your natural threat assessment system produces adrenaline to deal with threats to you
- You use procrastination to escape your dilemma
- Finally, you use a real threat such as a deadline to overcome your fears and start the task
“In order to maximize your performance in a stressful world, you must create a protected and indisputable sense of worth for yourself. Until you do, energy and concentration will be drained from work and put into preparing for imagined threats to your survival, and into procrastination as a means of coping.”
Successful people fail many times, but they bounce back to work on another success.
How To Talk To Yourself
In many cases, procrastination is an act of rebellion and assertiveness. By learning to challenge and replace your negative internal dialogue, you can free yourself from negative attitudes.
“To heal self-alienation and inner conflict between the authoritarian voice and the rebel, you’ll need to learn a language that removes the need for conflict within yourself and with those who you feel have power over you.”
Rather than saying that I don’t want to, or I have to say I choose to. Saying I choose to gives you power over the task at hand.
Learn to say no to take control over your life and time.
How to change from a procrastinator to a producer:
- Replace “I have to” with “I choose to”
- Replace “I must finish” with “when can I start?”
- Replace “This project is too big” with “I can take one small step”
- Replace “I must be perfect” with “I can be perfectly human”
- Replace “I don’t have time to play with “I must make time to play”
Guilt-Free Play, Quality Work
The most tragic form of procrastination is putting off living. It prevents us from completing really important tasks in our lives and lessens respect for ourselves.
To sustain high levels of motivation, we need to lessen the urge to procrastinate in the face of life’s demands.
“One of the reasons we procrastinate is out of fear that once we start working, there’ll be no time for play, that work will deprive us of play and the enjoyment of life.”
We are more likely to be productive when we can anticipate pleasure and success rather than isolation and anxiety in our work.
To minimize procrastination, structure your rewards such that you will be motivated to start on the task each day.
“Enjoying guilt-free play is part of a cycle that will lead you to higher levels of quality, creative work.”
Schedule for guilt-free play. This will give you a sense of freedom over your life and will allow you to settle more easily into short and focused periods of quality work.
Overcoming Blocks To Action
Procrastination is a phobic response to what you fear as it allows you to avoid what you fear. If It is your only defense against fear, procrastination will become a hard habit to unlearn.
There are three major fears that block action and that lead to procrastination. They are the fear of failure, the terror of being overwhelmed, and the fear of not finishing.
The Now Habit tools that diminish stresses and worries:
- The three-dimensional thinking and the reverse calendar. When you are sure of the size, length, and breadth of a task, you can easily plan how to tackle it. You can, for instance, create mini-deadlines for the project
- The work of worrying. Use worry to redirect your thoughts and actions to remove the threat at hand
- Persistent starting. Once you commit to starting something, see it through by identifying the negative self-talk that is likely to prevent you from completing the task
Only work can diminish your anxiety.
“The Unschedule asks you to aim at starting for just thirty minutes. That’s right. By committing to start working for no more than thirty minutes each day, you can begin a program that turns you from a procrastinator to a producer.”
While 30 minutes is not a lot of time, the important thing is to get started.
The unschedule begins with an image of play followed by quality work. By incorporating breaks as you work, you can use them as rewards to motivate yourself. Also, recording each work period will give you a visible reward that allows you to see how much work you have achieved each day.
To create your own Unschedule:
- Start by filling your Unschedule with as many non-work activities as possible. This will help you realize that you don’t have 24 hours a day to yourself or all weekend to work on your projects
- Fill your Unschedule with work on projects only if you have done 30 minutes of uninterrupted work. Use the 30 minutes deadline to motivate yourself and to work more efficiently
- Take credit for work that represents 30 minutes of uninterrupted work. That half-hour represents quality work
- Take a break or reward yourself after each 30 minutes of quality work. This will create positive associations with your work instead of negative ones
- Keep track of the number of quality hours that work each day and week. Emphasize your accomplishments
- Leave a full day each week for recreation and small chores that you need to take care of. Use this day for rejuvenation and to maintain creativity
- Before going to the recreational activity, take 30 minutes to work on your project. You can use this strategy to get started on projects that you think are too hard
- Focus on starting. Replace your thoughts on finishing with starting
- Think small. Just aim for 30 minutes of quality work time
- Keep starting. Forget about finishing and always think of starting the next thirty minutes
- Never end “down.” Remember to always reward yourself after the 30 minutes
Working in The Flow State
A flow state is a state that is intensely focused and also calm.
Learning to work creatively will increase your level of excitement as you work.
“Peak performers in sports, music, medicine, and business have these experiences when they are fully absorbed with almost effortless attention in a challenging task. Psychological and physical health benefits, invigoration, and relaxed alertness have been attributed to these states.”
Performing relaxation exercises can make you focus at work. Breathing exercises in which you focus on your breathing are especially helpful when it comes to building focus.
“Working in the flow state or in the zone removes the emotional need to procrastinate and accelerates your progress toward your goals.”
Fine Tuning Your Progress
“It’s not necessary to totally eliminate your old patterns or relinquish your old identity to learn a new behavior. In fact, you can use familiar patterns to alert you to the opportunity to exercise the choices you now have. You now know alternative ways of behaving.”
To strengthen your new habits, you can use planned setbacks. Here is the process:
- Choose a task that you are likely to procrastinate on, like paying bills
- Notice the warning signs of procrastination. For example, feeling that you will be left without cash or missing out on fun with friends
- Consciously choose to procrastinate for a few hours and observe the self-statements that lead to guilt and self-criticism
- Notice how this process of self-criticism leads to depression, guilt, and resentment
Your planned setback will point you to when you are most likely to procrastinate, and you will be in a better position to fight the habit next time.
“A successful person is willing to take reasonable risks, knowing that there are no guarantees except Murphy’s Law that “if something can go wrong, it will.” Successful people fail many times and bounce back, refusing to let anyone failure define their worth. In spite of the difficulties and failures they face in life, successful people learn to be resilient and carry on.”
How to set goals effectively:
- Recognize the work of procrastinating. Recognize that you cannot escape work by procrastinating. That’s fantasy
- Freely choose the entire goal. State your goal is the form of a choice and not something that you have to do
- Create functional, observable goals. Translate your vague goals into something tangible
The Procrastinator in Your Life
We live and work with people whose procrastination affects us negatively.
To work effectively with procrastinators, managers must keep in mind the many emotional issues that make people procrastinate.
Managers should address the emotional problems in terms of commitment rather than compliance. They should focus on manageable objectives.
“Commitment to a task sparks much more creativity and motivation than compliance. Management through compliance places a heavy burden on the manager to maintain sufficient authority and force to have workers acquiesce to orders without question.”
Managers should also minimize negative criticisms as that leads to the very fears that cause procrastination.
Combine constructive recommendations with praise. If a job is well done, start with recognizing that before offering any criticism.