Sunday, May 1, 2016

Overcoming procrastination so you can create your chic life

Procrastination is something that derails a lot of us, me included.  We want to do things, or add helpful routines in our life, but we don’t.  We put it off, do other (usually unhelpful) things, or do the opposite of what we think we want.  Why do we do that?  It is all to do with the way our brains work.  Humans, like other creatures, are hard-wired to simultaneously seek pleasure and avoid pain.  It’s instinctive.  So by procrastinating, we are avoiding the pain of that task we know needs to get done, and seeking pleasure by doing something we think is more fun instead.

It’s so simple when you have it explained like that, but what’s the answer?  How do we overcome that instinct?  What I’ve found out is that we don’t have to overcome it, because that sounds hard and boring and like it might not even work (surely that is worth procrastinating on).

What we need to do is link pleasure to the thing we want to do and pain to not doing it, basically the opposite to what we’re doing now.  Say I have a long and boring few hours ahead of filing, admin work and bill paying at work (I procrastinate a lot on these dull tasks).  Putting it off doesn't logically make sense, because it will still be there later, it won’t disappear.

Instead, thinking ahead to the end, and about how good I will feel when everything is organised and dealt with is enough to get me started.  And getting started is often the hardest part I find.  Once I get started I’m actually quite happy to keep going.  If I start flagging or looking around for something more fun, I’ll keep waving the flag at the end line – ‘Look Fiona! Over here! This is what your desk will look like if you keep at it, you’ll feel so good when it’s all done!'

I've brainstormed all my other procrastination tools below.  I find it helps to have many different options, to tackle something from all angles.  You might find one that really is the key for you.  I love it when that happens.  Sometimes it can literally be one sentence I read in a book that unlocks a block for me.

fiona’s top tips to overcome procrastination

  • Change your words from ‘I have to’ to ‘I choose to’
  • Just start – that is often the biggest hurdle
  • Divide your task down into chunks and start with the easiest one
  • Tell yourself you’re not going to do the whole lot, just one part to start with (you’ll probably feel like carrying on, if not, you’ve started at least)
  • Ask yourself ‘how would my ideal self handle this?’ or ‘what would an elegantly organised woman do in this situation?’
  • Start something whenever you take the notion, even if it is at an odd time.  I find that the energy is strongest then, and I often complete something I’ve been dithering on
  • Go in sideways or start in the middle – there is often more than one way to approach things
  • Write a list of everything you’re procrastinating on and pick the easiest/quickest/least painful item to start with
  • Keep the end result in mind.  Don’t think ‘housework’, think ‘my home will look so good’
  • Give yourself permission to only to ten minutes on that task.  Worst case scenario is that you do ten minutes, best is that you do the whole thing
  • Reward yourself afterwards. This makes me complete something quicker so I can get to the good stuff.  At work sometimes my husband sometimes says ‘you may as well go home early tonight’.  I can’t tell you how that lights a fire under me to get all the loose ends tidied up before I go!
  • Channel someone else – Martha Stewart, Audrey Hepburn, your favourite celebrity, your super-organised friend – whoever inspires you to be an onto-it person
  • Reframe the way you think about yourself.  Don’t say ‘I’ve always been a procrastinator’.  Words are so powerful so use them wisely. Instead, tell yourself ‘I find it easy to get things done’ whenever you have the old thought.  It sounds too simple, but it retrains our brain.

You might think 'yeah, yeah, I've read all these before'.  But have you actually taken action on any of them?  Crazily enough, they all work well when you do that.  I seem to reinvent the wheel over and over and then, when I take action, everything's okay, procrastination averted.  Doing things to get things done, who knew!

What if it’s fun stuff you’re putting off though?  What if you imagine yourself regularly attending live theatre but never go?  What if you want to take dance lessons but have never researched it?  Is there is a project you’d love to tackle but you just can’t gain traction?

Firstly, ask yourself do you really want to do it?  Sometimes we hear what we think is a good idea but deep down don’t really think we’ll enjoy it.  The two options, therefore, are to not seek out a theatre experience and just forget about it, or make a note in your planner to start researching.  Even better, do it right there and then – open the newspaper or pull up shows online and book one, even if it's months away – strike while the iron is hot!

It’s the same with a project you think you’d like to do.  Ask yourself why you’re dithering.  Does it seem like it would be hard, or take more time, money or energy than you feel you have to give right now?  If you think you’d be very happy to have that particular project completed, reframe it to yourself, saying ‘I am choosing this project, it will be fun and easy and I’ll be finished it sooner than I thought’ and then imagine the outcome, how cool it's going to be.

All of these tips have helped me, and I promise you I used to be a very proficient procrastinator.  I still am sometimes, but I don’t want to identify with that, so I say ‘I used to be’.  Nowadays, I prefer to identify myself as someone who completes tasks with ease and pleasure.  It’s a much better way to think.

Please let me know if you have any questions, and I’d love to hear how you handle procrastination.  Please note any blog post requests too, I love receiving them!  And… what are you going to complete – or even start – this weekend that you have been procrastinating on?


  1. I use the technique of starting the task and committing only to a certain amount or a certain length of time.
    I don't like having jobs hanging over my head and strive to have them done expeditiously. I like to pay bills (on-line) as soon as I receive them. I may miss a few days or even weeks of interest free grace but it can lead to me forgetting about the bill or having it disappear under a pile of other papers. The interest I end up paying is most annoying!

  2. I write lists and cross off the jobs after I complete them...often the one thing I want to tackle the least stays on the list for awhile until the paper is a mess of jobs done and it remains...this spurs me on to get on with it so I can recycle the paper!
    You have highlighted some great strategies...reframing those thoughts is one I have never considered.

  3. Anonymous, the interest would be negligible, but the peace of mind gained... priceless.

    Hostess, I call this the 'whatever it takes' technique. I can relate to it too! If it takes doing that last job to be able to throw the piece of paper away, I'm all in :)

  4. Thank you for acting upon my blogpost suggestion so quickly; I was so excited to see it. I have, at one time or another, tried many of your suggestions. My favourite is one that I had completely forgotten but intend to implement again right away. My twist on your "pretend you are an icon" suggestion is to pretend that I am the curator of a great house. If I were the steward of Buck House, or the White House, or 24 Sussex, what would I do next? A really helpful persona used to be Alfred of Wayne Manor. He wouldn't stand for a "Jammie Day"!

    I'm presently struggling with way too many projects underway in way too many areas of my life. And they're all bogged down for one reason or another. Time to call Alfred! Thanks so much for this, Fiona.

  5. My pleasure Kerry. Is Alfred from Wayne Manor the original
    Batman tv series? I used to love watching that and I do remember him. With all your projects, make yourself a big list, dividing it into the different areas if you like, and then ask Alfred to go through it with you. Having it all written out takes away the overwhelm, doubly so because then you can choose one to start, cross it off, choose another. Delete some, combine some. It's easier to get a handle on things when they're out of your head and on paper.

  6. I've finally found a method that works for me for both procrastination and breaking, or starting a new habit - piggyback the task on another already-formed routine.

    For example:
    I have to dispense medication to the person I care for at 8:30 every morning. Immediately afterwards I do the thing I dread most that day (typically household chores) without thinking about it.
    After dinner and washing up I go for a 40-minute walk almost as though it's a continuation of dinner.

    Although I worked this out for myself over a year ago, I only recently realised that this approach is a 'thing'. It's the only strategy that works for me and I'm a life-long procrastinator.


  7. That's a great technique, Spud, thank you for detailing it and giving two examples. I can't wait to try it out.

  8. Oh, Fiona, how could I forget?! Probably the best ever essay on procrastination by one of my favourite bloggers. It's a long read but absolutely worth it.

    Part 1

    Part 2


  9. These are great tips, thank you! Procrastinating really makes me feel awful, like a cloud of doom overhead at all times. Getting rid of that feels good. I will definitely use these techniques.

  10. I tended to be a wanderer, especially if I didn't really want to do something. I'd find something out of place and think, "Ooo, I need to take this to the other room" go to do that, get sidetracked, wander away and never go back to the original room.

    I read a tip several years ago - he said to take several cheap baskets or large paper bags (the type that sit up). Anything needing to go to another room has its own room basket. Do not leave the room you're doing until you are finished. Then take basket and put away the stuff where it goes. Don't do too many rooms in a day as it leads to burn out.

    He suggested tackling certain rooms/projects on the same day each week which builds a habit. I do laundry every Monday - wash, dry, fold AND put away. If I try another day now, the stuff stays in the dryer or laundry basket undone until I need something out of it! I work to stick to the specific day I assigned the job.

  11. I have just completed a week of procrastination and general inertia. After returning from a trip south, I had pledged to tackle my closet the first day back. One week later, it remains a wintry, tangled mess. Not sure exactly why I felt this way, after-vacation let-down, rainy weather, general ennui. So I tried to be honest with myself and decided that having to make decisions about what to get rid of and what to keep was holding me back. Therefore, I am putting things away neatly and deferring the downsizing for another time. I call it creative procrastination!

  12. I ask myself,"What is the best thing you could do for yourself right this minute?" That usually spurs me to take care of tasks I've procrastinated.

  13. I like the idea of doing the easiest smallest job first, builds satisfaction and momentum. I've spent several weeks so far avoiding calling the dentist & doctor--much longer than the actual phone calls would take!

  14. Hi Fiona,
    Thank you so much for this blog post. I had been thinking about this very subject and how much better my life would be if I could just get over it! I currently have an enormous amount of studying to do, as well as the usual housework, looking after children, busy job etc and therefore need to be productive, rather than procrastinating!! Only then will I have a chance of living chic-ly. I love your blog for giving me inspiration and I will definitely be putting these antiprocrastination tips into place, right now!

  15. Spud (2), thank you, I will enjoy having a read of the posts you've linked to.

    Stephanie, I agree, like a raincloud following you around.

    LBDDiaries, I know, there is always something more 'important' to do that pops up. Great organisation tips, thank you.

    Kristien, Brian Tracy says 'you are always free to change your mind' which I love to be reminded of. Even if you've only made the commitment to yourself it can feel like you've piked out, but you are always free to change your mind. It's such a calming thought. You will do your wardrobe pruning when the time is right.

    Sherry, great question!

    Tess, so true, start small. I put off appointments like that too, and it's for no reason. When I've picked up the phone and made the call it's like a huge weight is lifted :) And I can procrastinate those tasks for weeks too.

    Anonymous, so glad to help, and thanks to all the helpful commenters. With busy times, I think it's a matter of picking out the top priorities and giving yourself permission to let the rest slide for a while. Can you delegate the housework to someone paid? Even once a month?


  16. I would love any tips you have on dressing for your body type and how to hide a few extra pounds with clothing when you are feeling a littler thicker than usual. thanks, Carla.

  17. Will do Carla, thanks for a great suggestion.

  18. So many good ideas Fiona, thank you. What has worked for me when I have a task I abhor is setting the timer for 20 minutes and allowing myself to stop when it goes off. However, usually by then I have gotten into the swing of it and rarely stop. I truly believe the hardest part of any task is taking that first step - Marguerite
    PS thank you for such a lovely compliment on my name, I didn't appreciate it as a child because no one could spell it or say it but I grew into loving it!

  19. Thank you for joining in with the conversation, Margeurite. Isn't it amazing how much a timer can get you going! You can to get as much as possible done before the buzzer goes off, and it makes it more fun too.

  20. Thank you so much for this post, Fiona. It's nice to know I'm not alone! I set myself so much to do on lists that grow daily, usually written scrappily on the back of an envelope. Your tips will be so useful.
    I laughed at your second bullet point, it resonated. When enjoying my morning coffee in bed I start to discuss what needs to be done from the list for that day, and my husband then invariably chips in with his usual quip "And it all starts with you getting out of bed!

  21. PP, you are SO not alone!

    Your husband is funny too :)


Merci for your comment. Wishing you a chic day!

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