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The Simplest Way to Avoid Procrastination: Break a Sweat

Show me someone who doesn't procrastinate and I'll show you a -- shoot, I guess a robot. Everyone procrastinates.

I know I do.

Example: I've written over 4 million published words. (Keep the long-winded jokes to yourself.) You might assume sitting down to write is therefore effortless, but at times it's not. I'll make calls, take care of admin tasks, do a little "research" (hey, in my line of work any reading is research, right?), play with the office dog.... Except for the office dog breaks I can rationalize I'm being productive but sometimes I'm just procrastinating.

I also like to ride bicycles. In the last five years I've ridden about 25k miles. I love riding, but sometimes I'll do anything not to ride.

Makes no sense, right? Writing and riding are both things I love to do, yet occasionally I find ways to actively avoid them. Putting off tasks I don't enjoy would make a lot more sense.

Or maybe not.

A little "research" indicates a number of reasons for procrastination: Fear of failure or success, perfectionism, impulsiveness, lack of motivation, lack of self-discipline, etc. Nice list of reasons, but not terribly helpful since everyone faces these challenges. At times we all lack motivation and self-discipline. At times we all are impulsive and easily distracted. At times we all fear failure or success. Each reason for procrastination is a part of what makes us human; we'll never completely overcome any of those shortcomings.

So I put aside the research and thought about myself. While I fall prey to all of the above, mostly I procrastinate when a task or activity seems hard -- even when it's something I love to do.

I love to write but sometimes the thought of writing seems daunting, especially at the beginning of a ghostwriting project when I need to find the right voice and the best way into the material.

I love to ride my bike but sometimes the thought of riding seems daunting, especially in the first few miles when it's cold outside and my legs are stiff and my heart has just started to pound. The first minutes are awful as I pant and gasp and wonder why I'm on the stupid bike, but then something magical happens. Somehow my aversion to "hard" goes away once I break a sweat.

Maybe it's the endorphins kicking in. Maybe it's because my legs are warmed up. Maybe it's because I feel proud I can do something hard and do it reasonably well.

Maybe it's because regardless of the initial pain, once I'm actually riding I remember all the reasons I love to ride.

The same is true with writing. Finding the right voice may be hard, but it's also rewarding. Being able to look at something I've written and think, "Wow, that was hard... but wow, that works," is one of the reasons I love to write.

Wanting to put off a difficult task is normal. Avoiding a challenge is normal. We all feel that way sometimes. I feel sure you have. But I also feel sure you've put off a task, finally gotten started, and then once into it thought, "I don't know why I kept putting this off... it's going really well. And it didn't turn out to be nearly as hard as I imagined."

It never is.

Forget task lists and external motivations and mental mind games. Just try not to think about the pain you'll feel in the beginning; focus on how good you will feel once you're engaged and involved. Focus on how good it will feel to remember why you love what you do.

Get started with that in mind.

Never try to pretend the first few minutes won't suck. They will. But once you break a sweat it will be all downhill from there -- in the best possible way.


Photo courtesy flickr user conskeptical, CC 2.0
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