All action and no thinking is bad; so too is all thinking and no action. The search for perfection can easily lead to procrastination. Because we cannot conceive an ideal solution we keep searching and searching. We use one thinking tool after another and fall into paralysis by analysis. For most situations in life, there is a time for thought and a time for action. Here are some tips for overcoming the roadblock of procrastination.
Ask yourself, ‘Why am I stuck?’
If you are stuck in a rut then ask yourself why this has happened. Are you baffled by the problem? Are you scared of taking action? Are you lazy? Are you waiting for perfection? Are you worried about the costs or risks of taking action? Is there something in your mood or emotions that is holding you back? Be ruthlessly honest with yourself. Write down the reasons for your procrastination and you will see that most of them are feeble excuses. Focus on the serious issues and find ways to overcome them. Solve this problem the same way you solve other problems – with critical analysis and creative thinking.
Admit that it is all right not to know
Sometimes we have to admit to ourselves that it is all right not to know the answer. We cannot be right all the time and we cannot know everything. It is better to acknowledge that we do not have the solution right now and move forward on that basis than to wait eternally for the correct solution to appear.
Don’t wait for perfection
The perfect can be the enemy of the good. If we keep searching for the perfect partner, the perfect house, the perfect job we can find that life has passed us by. We can strive for perfection but we must recognise that, although the journey is worthwhile, we will never arrive at the destination. Constant improvement is a generally a better goal than outright perfection. If we are moving in the right direction then we will get somewhere useful. There is a saying that is used to inspire writers, ‘Don’t get it right, get it written.’ It means that it is better to start writing and then correct and improve what you have done rather than to wait until you have completed all the research and planning you can possibly do.
Phone a Friend
Use a coach, mentor or friend as a sounding board. Discuss the issue with them and openly share the problem that you have in moving forward. Choose someone who is discreet, honest and forthright. You need someone objective who can challenge your views and thinking. They will often suggest ideas or actions that can help. If you now agree to do certain things it is more likely that you will complete them because you do not want to admit to your friend the next time you see them that you have done nothing.
Remind yourself of the benefits
Write down the benefits that will flow from completing the task. Perhaps it will help your finances, your prestige, your career, your relationships, your family, your social life, your health, your self-esteem. Each benefit is a reason for action. Follow this up with a list of the consequences if you fail to complete the task. Who suffers? How would you feel? Many people are more motivated by avoiding risks and negative consequences than by the rewards of achievement so look at it both ways.
Do something – get into motion
There are times when it is very difficult if not impossible to make the right decision. Under these circumstances you have two major options. You can keep analysing, keep thinking, keep talking, look for more information and wait to see if things become clearer. Or you can deliberately take some action, see what happens and then revisit the decision. One question that can help you when faced with these two options is this, ‘What is the worst that can happen if I take this action?’ If there is a risk that you could lose your job, ruin your relationship or start a war then the action is almost certainly unwise. If the risk is manageable then you should consider action rather than inaction. Doing something produces momentum; it gives you a different view of the situation and injects some energy. The important thing is to watch what happens and be prepared to change direction if necessary.
A great way to overcome procrastination is to articulate your goals. Break them down into manageable targets and write them down.
Share your goals and actions
Once we have told someone we are going to do something we are more likely to do it. The sense of commitment and obligation is higher. Share your goals and targets with someone supportive. Sometimes they can be a partner in the activity. It is easier to go jogging in all weathers if you and your neighbour have a regular commitment to jog together. Share your goals and achievements. Celebrate every small success. It will keep you motivated.
Pause, don’t stop
We should think in terms of a pause, not a stop. This may seem like semantics but the difference in mental approach is crucial. Whereas we can stop for an indefinitely long period, we pause with the deliberate intention of moving forward again soon. Brilliant thinkers spend time thinking and because of that they come up with more and better ideas. They select the best ideas and then put them into action.
Mentally Rehearse then Act
Many studies have found that people who mentally rehearse an action do significantly better than those who do not. The subconscious mind it powerful and it retains the positive images of the mental rehearsal. Before a presentation, a business meeting, a speech, a golf shot, a musical recital or an interview practise the event in your mind. Imagine a perfect performance. Go through all the keep aspects in your mind. Feel the sensation of success. This will bolster your self-confidence and dramatically increase the level of your real achievement. Mentally rehearse the action then act.
Paul Sloane writes, speaks and leads workshops on creativity, innovation and leadership. He is the author of The Innovative Leader published by Kogan-Page.