This system will make you beat procrastination and crush your dream goals
There are so many hacks, guides and productivity apps out there to solve the problem of procrastination.
Except, they didn’t work for me.
I had an insane to-do list at times, simply because I wanted to crush everything at once and be at par with all those super-performers. However, when I actually looked at my list it actually only became bigger and bigger.
Even when I could cross something off it felt 3 new things came on and I was far away from my dream goals. In this article I will explain why this is the case and how to overcome procrastination.
One day I sat down and really went in detail over whatever I thought is necessary and realized one thing:
There were quite a few points on there for what felt like an eternity to me.
But apparently there was no real consequence. I was still alive. I did not have any real problem out of those things being left undone.
So, why do I even bother and stress myself?
The should-do list problem
This was the start to re-think my to-do lists which was essentially a should-do or maybe even a nice-to-have list. I needed to accept that I had given myself an unrealistic target which I never really enforced.
Today I focus only on what is really important and plan to get those things successfully done.
It is way better to focus on only 3 important things at a time and not 25 out of which none gets really done but where 90% are not important, yet distract from those which are essential.
It was a long process for me but worth the effort.
Just think about what happens to a gazillion of people shortly before New Year’s eve? They make unrealistic resolutions all out of a sudden (well, mostly out of a few glass of champagne too much) — the classical “next year I will become fit, really”.
Yet, about 92% percent of all New Year’s Resolutions according to a study by the University of Scranton fail! Which is a horrible figure if you ask me.
Does this sound familiar to do?
Why we fail to achieve our goals
The thing is: It is rarely just the “one thing” which makes us procrastinate and eventually fail. It is a combination of a few that actually leaves us in an impossible position right from the start to achieve our goals.
Independently whether these are professional or private ones.
The mechanics are the same.
Let me give a short overview what I mean:
1. Targets are not measurable
When you have had already 5 drinks it is easy to promise “to get fit”. Maybe you even remember it a few days later. Who did not do that multiple times? Whenever you do not clearly define what you want to achieve you can hardly ever achieve it, you run after a very blurry target.
It is something different to say that you “Want to be able to run a half-marathon under 2 hours by end of next year” or “reduce your body fat by 2% over the next 6 month”. Notice there is a goal and a time component! This way you can actually measure your journey and see if you are on track or not.
Also, you want to have challenging but reachable goals.
Hell, Edwin Locke and Gary Latham found that simply by setting specific and challenging goals people achieved a higher performance 90 (!) percent of the time.
2. There is absolutely no plan to succeed
Even a well-defined target is worth nothing if we assume to magically arrive at it by the given time. Most people never actually map out how to reach their goals. What does it take? Do you reserve the required time for this? Heck, do you even have the time?
Let’s say you want to reduce body-fat. Probably what you want to do is evaluate your nutrition in the first week, in the second make adjustments to your consumption habits and then follow the new plan.
Additionally you may want to think about also changing your workout routine, so for example you could switch to lifting more weights and doing less cardio. Without a plan and a reserved time (I simply use my outlook calendar to “book” time slots for work out) there is zero chance to achieve anything.
3. We don’t get our priorities right a.k.a. “I don’t have time”
I mostly failed at goals which — bluntly speaking — were never that important to me. Some things sounded simply “cool to do” or might be something “someone expects” it should be done. Don’t tell me you never fell for that!
Hell, if you don’t want to run a marathon that is fine! I get it! But becoming fit as such, maybe just losing a few pounds and fat, is a totally different thing.
Kill anything which is not really important to you. You will face constant distractions anyway (my favorite is “What’s up, let’s go for a drink?”), so by focusing on important goals you get also your priorities right if you only have a few.
Book your time for that and simply say “No drink today, I’ll be in tomorrow though”.
We all have the same 24 hours, each and every day. There is no “I don’t have time for something”, the truth is that something is not important enough for you.
Giving something priority means also focus on it — so no multitasking! The American Friends of Tel Aviv University concluded that only about 2% of people are able to effectively multi-task — the rest not only fails but is reducing overall productivity by 40%.
Don’t be one of those being busy doing something and avoiding what you should actually do.
4. Short and long term goals are not aligned
2 years ago I started to slice my life into 5 major areas, one of them being “Business” and another one being “Me, myself & I” (where basically getting “fit” would fall in).
I started to define 2–3 overall long term goals, so approximately with a 5-year time target. Based on this I would define my short term goals I needed to achieve in order to bring me closer to my long-term targets. There is no point in achieving a goal in one year and then… let it go, so become “un-fit” again.
Whenever short and long term goals are not aligned something is very wrong. Additionally, you can also figure out with the different areas are killing each other off!
So, another area is basically about “Friends & family”… and I cannot have a goal saying “more time with my folks” and at the same time have “do a year abroad” in another one.
I guess you get the point!
5. No accountability
The last one is a very hard one. It is easy to lie to yourself. Nothing is happening. However, as soon as you go out and tell your friends and loved ones what you’re up to the picture changes.
Suddenly your goals become not only yours but also those of your friends. Tell them about your progress and your struggles. They will kick you at times when it is necessary, will support you if you ask them for it.
The American Society of Training and Development (ASTD) did a study on accountability and the result speaks for itself:
- There is a 65% probability of completing a goal if you commit to someone.
- Having specific accountability appointment with a person you’ve committed increases your chance of success by up to 95%.
Make it part of the process, this makes failing way harder miles ahead of the actual target.
Design a system to crush your goals
The only way how you can really crush your goals, kill procrastination and outperform is by building a system that helps you to achieve your dream goals.
I explain what I mean!
The 4 steps to kill procrastination and achieve your goals
1. Change your mindset
This is maybe the most important part, the rest is just a consequence.
You must understand one thing — there is no such thing as “I don’t have time”. So admit if something is simply not really or that important for you.
Hint: If you don’t “find” time to do something but you are sitting each day 2 hours in front of the TV (for which you don’t plan, ever!) then you know your “to-do” is probably not really important.
In only 2 hours tons of stuff could get done, theoretically.
However, if you look at your list of 15 to-dos then they don’t fit into those 2 hours. I used to wasted time én masse on Facebook & Co just to avoid an unnecessary phone call (that would talk maybe 3 minutes, if at all).
No productivity hack or guide will ever help you to solve this!
Because if that was the case there wouldn’t be the problem of procrastination! Sometimes life is that simple.
Some days you are simply more productive than others. That is just fine. Accept it and move on. Don’t let negative vibes about not getting something done on Wednesday affect your Thursday.
Ask yourself one question: What happens if you do not do something today… or at all? Literally, what is the consequence? In a lot of cases the answer will be “nothing”.
Accept reality and find a way how to deal with it.
Well, research revealed that only 5% of your daily activities are actually consciously driven — which means the real show is run by your sub-conscious part of your brain.
Robin Sharma described a great way how to influence you sub-conscious part by creating a dream collage in this video (at 3m 50s):
The key is: Sub-consciousness works in pictures.
He suggests you build a dream collage and look at it first thing in the morning and last thing in the evening and literally burn this in your head.
Your performance will follow, because it is aligned to your sub-consciousness!
There are of course other ways. I usually watch videos on YouTube which illustrates the “perfect picture” for any given goal to me.
I can literally feel how this more and more goes deep in to my sub-consciousness.
There are different tactics for this of course, but the principle is just as described above.
2. Focus on what is really essential
So once we have adapted our mindset, set the baseline let us get to establish a new way going forward.
First let us go over whatever is on your to-do list with the goal to simply have it deleted afterwards. How does that work?
In the best “Getting Things Done” style (if you never read it, do it now!) you can start with a quick review of your current list:
In a nutshell that means: If it is actionable and takes only a few minutes… THEN SIMPLY DO IT!
Next you must see what is really important to you. We are back at the consequences. What happens if you simply delete the to-do or defer it to (much) later?
If the answer is nothing or not much, you have your answer!
I think was “about” to start learning Spanish (well, actually Catalan!) for the last 5 years… until I simply hit “DEFER”.
Right now it is not important to me.
This should leave you with those things you really want to do out of a certain reason. These should not be too many at a time — because then we are back in an unrealistic state and will again run into procrastination.
For each of those make sure that your to-do is clearly defined! If it is not, reformulate it!
You can simply do this by becoming SMART!
In 1981 George T. Doran wrote a paper called “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management’s goals and objectives”, which describes how goals should be defined. There are different variations and for entrepreneurs this one I believe makes the most sense:
- Specific — what will this goal achieve for you?
- Measurable — you must be able to put numbers or qualitative indicators here (like “15% increase)
- Achievable — can you, given all circumstances and resources (which one) possibly achieve it?
- Relevant — Why are you doing this? Does it contribute to your 1yr, 3yr and 5yr (or whatever you hopefully have) goals? Is it important just now?
- Time-related — specify when the result can or must be achieved (making 100k in 1 year is probably more challenging than if you have your entire life for it)
So one example would be:
“Increase your blog traffic from 10.000 to 25.000 unique visitors in the next 6 months to generate more leads” — this would satisfy S, M, R, T.
Now A is not directly mentioned but you must decide for yourself if it is.
So you see, “becoming fit” will not make the cut here!
Here is one more important point: Really think about what your number one goal right now is — no lying to yourself! Any business owner simply must know what the #1 goal is — so define it, work towards it and eliminate and noise around it!
It is amazing how many people have no answer to that question, make sure you are not one of them
3. Plan for success and make execution trivial
There is one other thing why I hate any to-do lists (be it in written or “in your head”): only because something is on there does not mean you have actually reserved time for doing it!
So, take anything you need or want to do and break it down into smaller chunks if it is too big (which typically is always the case, otherwise just do it now).
In the previous point we made a simple to-do or goal and defined it in a SMART-way.
That’s great and important.
Now we need to find time to actually do it. Let’s say based on my goal I have defined a weekly workout-routine that would look like this:
- Gym — 4x weekly (Mon, Tue, Thu, Fri)
- Sprint Session — Wednesday
The next step is to… simply put it in your calendar!
Ramit Sethi is very right when he says:
If it’s not on my calendar, it doesn’t exist
Here is my calendar from a certain week:
Note that most entries have been anonymized — but I also left some in which are not crucial to show.
Before you scream… yes, I usually get up at 5am and work out in the morning — but that is not important for this topic and today!
I have actually two calendars in Outlook — one private (blue), one for business (green). However, Google Calendar and a few different colors will be just fine for that!
So by scheduling those I achieve two things:
- I have blocked and allocated time slots for my sessions
- I do not need to run around and remember myself “that I should get fit”… it is already decided.
That is maybe a drastic change in the beginning, but willpower is only a muscle. Once you live that system you don’t think about it — if your calendar says “work out” then you simply execute it. When I check my schedule before I go to bed and see “Gym” I just prepare my stuff and everything is ready to grab the next morning.
What is the point wanting to achieve something but do not plan to have the required time for it?
However, you need to respect your priorities! If a friend calls you to go for a drink the answer is “No, sorry… not this time because I am busy” (thankfully that doesn’t happen at 7am… usually).
But it is also great is to accept certain failures: usually I plan to do sports 6x per week, so 2 more sessions outside either running or mountain-biking. Why? Because I know that 1–2 times a week I will not go for it.
Which means I still will do sports at minimum 4x per week!
Know and understand your psychology!
Sherlocks will say in this particular week I only scheduled 5 appointments. Yes, that has its reasons. You also see on Sunday, 11am an entry “Weekly Schedule Planning”. This is where adjustments like that happen. Not every week is like the other.
There are family events, parties (you don’t want to run on a Sunday morning after having a few drinks) and so I plan my week ahead and make my adjustments. That’s life!
I also have plenty of those “appointments” with myself, sometimes only 15min like “order weekly food delivery” or “book flights to XY”.
I even book time to just “Read” — because I love to read for a variety of reasons and will never tell you that I did not have time for it, like most of my friends do.
4. Create a focused zone
The last step is to create an environment in which you can actually work. In my gym I see half of the people doing one set and then chat for 15 minutes. Doesn’t like productive to me. I just work out, I wear headphones (which typically is less inviting for others to talk to me) and simply focus on my workout plan.
The same you must do in your office — especially if you are working from home!
There is a flood of information every second — from “just checking mails” you find yourself half an hour on Facebook and suddenly texting via WhatsApp.
This is a catastrophe. It may sound cool, but again — the truth is we humans are NOT multi-tasking capable!
Here are a few simple tips how you can do that:
- Close all unnecessary applications (especially your mail-client and chat programs) and if needed use tools like “StayFocusd” for Google Chrome or “LeechBlock” for Mozilla Firefox to ban distracting sites like Facebook, Instagram & Co.
- Turn your mobile in silent mode and put in the other room. Yes, the world will be still standing an hour later.
- Pick on task only to work on (actually — you should have planned ahead and just do whatever your calendar says). Let us assume you write a blog post — and now you want to spend an hour writing. Then do just that! No research, no editing, no looking for images.
Another very great method to focus is the Pomodoro technique. This is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo. Now stay with me, I know what you are thinking!
It essentially boils down to “do only one thing at a time” and the following steps:
- Decide which task to do
- Set the Pomodoro timer to 25 minutes
- Work on the task until the timer rings… do nothing else!
- After the timer rings put a checkmark on a piece of paper
- If you have fewer than four checkmarks, take a short break (3–5 minutes), then go back to step 2.
- After four Pomodoro’s, take a longer break (at least 15–30 minutes), reset your checkmark count to zero, then go to step 1.
So, not to over-engineer — but 1 hour = 2 Pomodoro’s with 5 minute breaks and don’t do more than 4 in a row, which is one full Pomodoro cycle.
A very simple but effective technique as that and even half a Pomodoro cycle can create miracles!
There are many reasons why we fail, usually having no clear targets, no real plan and the wrong priorities are the most common. But also having no clue how a certain goal fits into the short- and long term planning plays a big role. Combine this with no accountability (“nothing happens if I don’t achieve the goal”) is the perfect recipe to fail.
However, when you build a system instead focusing on certain tactics like productivity apps you can kill procrastination and achieve your dream goals.
- Change your mindset
- Focus on what is really essential
- Plan for success and make execution trivial
- Create a focused zone
Do you have any other strategies to kill procrastination? I’d love to hear from you in the comment section!