Now, I was going to read a book on procrastination, but I kept putting it off. It would be funny if it wasn’t true! Procrastination is a major issue in modern life, just check out where you’ll find there over 14,000 people who are trying to stop procrastinating – a veritable hive of habit breaking inactivity. You are not alone! It is constantly near the top of the list of bad habits that people want to break.

Procrastination isn’t ‘not doing things’, it can be ‘doing the wrong things’ rather than the right things right now. If we are honest, the majority of us procrastinate to some degree or other. However, highly successful people generally don’t. That makes procrastination a prime issue to tackle on many people’s self-improvement journey. I am no exception.

Procrastination is touched upon in so many books, but it is a very hard thing to deal with. A good remedy seems hard to find. So far my favourite book has been The Now Habit: Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-free Play by Neil Fiore, Ph.D.

I had not read one of Neil Fiore’s books before, but “Dealing with the Emotional Side of Cancer” had been recommended to me, so I purchased the Now Habit. Perhaps I was procrastinating?

The Now Habit isn’t perfect as a book or as a system, but nothing is. However, I and many other people have found The Now Habit remarkably helpful. It was written out of Neil’s own struggles and his work with clients.

Here is a brief overview, but there is no substitute for reading the book in full. Hopefully this will provide some encouragement to you, running through the content of the chapters:

Introduction to The Now Habit

Starting with a Maslow quote, the introduction sets out a positive philosophy for dealing with procrastination – The Now Habit. How to move from being a procrastinator, to being a producer.

1. Why we procrastinate.

The warning signs:

  • An impossibly long “to do” list and talking to yourself in “have to’s”
  • Being unrealistic about time and vague about goals and values
  • Feelings of depression, low self-esteem and fear.

Our worst critic is ourselves. We judge ourselves a failure, before we have even started. Procrastination is inherently rewarding – you escape the object of your fear and do something that you ‘want’ to do, rather than something that you ‘have to’. Sometimes the object of the procrastination even goes away, because circumstances change, or because someone else deals with it. Procrastination is a self-reinforcing, vicious circle. It can express resentment, or it can defend against fear of failure or the fear of success. A really helpful productivity quote:

“The drive for success involves setting a goal, making it a high priority, and then investing time and energy towards its achievement.”

2. How we procrastinate

Explaining and understanding how procrastination happens, with the procrastination log. Neil suggests you just carry on procrastinating for a week, but keep a log of how you do it. This is actually a surprisingly hard exercise to do! It is always a good idea to keep track of how you use your time. Those with a background in time-billed professions are good at this, but the rest of us have a bit to learn. Start by creating safety – This is the first step out of procrastination. We naturally avoid doing ‘dangerous things’, the way to get them done is to make them less dangerous. The book gives some powerful illustrations.

3. How to talk to yourself

Avoid counter productive messages:

  • “have to’s” send messages of stress. Contrasting the language of the procrastinator with that of the producer: ” “I choose”, “I decide”, “I will”.
  • “should’s” are messages of depression. should looses its original meaning and instead focusses on resentment and anger, disappointment. Just like “have to’s” it is out of line with the “choice” of the producer.

The power of choice – moving from resistance to commitment. Start learning how to say no. Five self-statements that distinguish procrastinators from producers, with ways to transform your self-talk:

  1. The negative thinking of “I have to.” Becomes “I choose to.”
  2. The negative thinking of “I must finish.” Becomes “When can I start?”
  3. The negative thinking of “This is so big.” Becomes “I can take one small step.”
  4. The negative thinking of “I must be perfect.” Becomes “I can be human.”
  5. The negative thinking of “I don’t have time to play.” Becomes “I must take time to play”

4. Guilt-Free Play, Quality Work

Procrastination leads us to put off living, and this is a huge tragedy. Procrastinators and workaholics have much in common. Neil introduces the ideal of the Pull Method of Self-Motivation. A sense of mission is the ultimate in the pull method. We work productively when we can anticipate pleasure, rather than just pressuring ourselves into doing things. Play is important. Guilt-free play leads to quality work. My personal version of this is to play the game of seeing what I can do in a hour.

5. Overcoming Blocks to Action

There are three major blocks to action:

  1. The terror of being overwhelmed
  2. The fear of failure
  3. The fear of finishing.

These are three tools to tackle them:

  1. Three-dimensional Thinking, the Reverse Calendar.
  2. The work of worrying, worry constructively and have it over with.
  3. Persistently starting, just keep on starting.

6. The Unschedule

This powerful concept gets you to look at what you are not going to do and to firmly book in play (leisure, socialising, …), to make it guilt-free. There is lots of comment on this around the blogosphere:

  • On DirtSimple.
  • and on Jim Gibbon’s blog in a great post on the Top 5 Productivity Tips of 2006.

7. Working in the Flow State

Learning to focus and relax, to work productively. The whole area is a massive topic in its own right, this is a great introduction.

8. Fine-Tuning Your Progress

Plan for setbacks – accept that you will fail sometimes and make a plan to get you back on track, to give you resilience.

“Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task” – Willian James.

9. The Procrastinator in Your Life

Now you are cured, the book runs through some tips on how to deal with those other procrastinators in your life.

The Now Habit – In closing…

The Now Habit is a fantastic book, well worth reading. We can feel that procrastination protects us from others judging our efforts, or from change, but actually it just holds us back. I think the net net for me is this: The secret to busting procrastination is to understand the truth, the action reality of each situation. Realise when you are procrastinating. Realise why you are procrastinating. Then confront those reasons with the truth of the situation. Also that it is ok to fail, it is ok to be human. It is OK to succeed too. And lastly, that it is OK to have things change. You have a choice, don’t be afraid to use it.