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One Weird Trick to Stop Procrastinating

This Simple Brain Hack Frees You to Stop Procrastinating and Get Stuff DONE.

 

You’ve seen those online ads: “One weird trick to lose 20lbs!” “Try this weird trick for 6-pack abs!”

Total BS, no doubt.

But there is a no-doubt, no-BS trick for busting out of procrastination prison. And it works for even the most intimidating, nightmarish tasks on your to-do list.

In fact, it works especially for such tasks.

You know the ones…

The super-complex projects…

The cluster-funks involving multiple people and multiple moving parts on multiple timelines…

The “I-soooooo-don’t-want-to-dooooo-this” assignments…

By the way, this sense of dread in the face of many of our to-do’s is a big reason why our long to-do lists stay so damn long. Because our natural reaction is avoidance of the task (aka, procrastination), often in the irrational hope that it might somehow just go away, or that you’ll find some magic bullet idea that will result in its swift elimination through a sweeping act of ADHD-inspired genius.

Ya, that happens a lot. Not. Ever.

 

Anyway, if you can at all relate to this frustration, then you’ll want to let your mind munch on the disarmingly simple brain hack I’m about to share.

What I mean by disarmingly simple is that it mainly involves little more than the act of giving yourself permission. To fail in a small way. To be slightly imperfect. If you can just do that, this hack will work wonders for you.

To get us started though, I need to paraphrase Dr. Neil Fiore from his book The Now Habit. In it, he basically says the following…

I-Never-Finish-ADHDNever look at a big project and say, “I have to finish that dang thing”. Because you’ll be less likely to schedule time to do it. The thought of having to finish is the surest way to invoke all the mental and physical chemistry that supports continued procrastination.

The more painful or perceived-to-be painful a given task is, the more we will try to seek relief in avoidance. And the notion of having to finish something is almost always painful or threatening.

Worrying about finishing, he says, is a form of perfectionism. Your failed attempts at finishing when you do take up the task, reinforce your belief that such tasks are…unfinishable! You will then wait for that 11th hour jolt to drag you – kicking and screaming – into the finishing…which will surely yield a less-than-perfect end product.

So…Do not think about finishing. Instead, says Fiore, just schedule time to START.

 

OK, sounds easy enough, right?

Well, not when there’s that sense of overwhelm and dread we get when confronted by tough tasks. Not when we’re unable to fathom WHERE to start on a complex to-do. And not when we’re afraid to begin because we know we’ll just get bogged down soon after starting…or that we’ll do such a lousy job at it that…well, Why bother?!!

Now, the hack that lets you hack through all those forms of paralysis is simply to give yourself permission to start. And you do that by…

Giving yourself permission to NOT finish.

Giving yourself permission to be imperfect.

Giving yourself permission to FAIL (to finish).

And that last one’s key. Drop all expectations of finishing. The only thing you need to do is start, with no demand on yourself other than to give it a few minutes’ effort. [TWEET THIS]

And guess what. Once you’re “in it”, you have a decent chance of seeing how best to get it done…and quite often, before you know it, you’ve been “in it” for 20 minutes!! Or more!!

This is the gift that accrues to us when we just give ourselves permission to START. That is, to fail. To be imperfect. To NOT finish.

Weird, huh? Get weird with me and try it. I bet you’ll find that it works.

Starting-Is-Easy-ADHD

“Keep starting – finishing will take care of itself. If you must worry, worry about starting, never worry about finishing.”     – Dr. Neil Fiore [TWEET THIS]  

You can start many times every day. Always focus on what you can do next. One little step at a time. One start at a time.

Deploy this hack and you’ll find you’re less and less intimidated by big-ugly-hairy-ass to-do’s…and you’ll actually start scratching them off your list. Done. And DONE.

Blessings and Bountiful Crushings,

Alan

P.S. I want to thank all the FANTASTIC people across six European cities that hosted my appearances and workshops this month. And of course, the hundreds of people who turned out to attend. You know who you are – cuz I probably hugged you a few times! Can’t wait to do it again! -AB

P.P.S. Dawdle. Hesitate. Shilly-shally. However you describe your own chronic procrastination…it is yours to crush. -ab

P.P.P.S.  If you haven’t yet heard of www.CrusherTV.com, I hope you’ll check it out. It’s a video library full of useful productivity tips and “brain hacks” to help beat procrastination, get prioritized and manage your time. Tons of other benefits for members, including free group coaching sessions. Hope to “see” you there! ab

30 Responses to “One Weird Trick to Stop Procrastinating”

By JennJJenniferennJennifer - 6 July 2015 Reply

Thanks, Jaci, I get what you are saying!

By heidi - 5 July 2015 Reply

Hi Alan. I find your work so encouraging! Those of us who have spent our lives feeling like failures look to you and your mess-to-success life with hope!

I was just curious if you’re familiar with Stephen Guise’s Mini Habits? I find similarities between his approach and yours.

Thanks for all you do!

By ADD Crusher - 5 July 2015 Reply

Yes, have indeed heard of “Mini Habits”, but never bought the book….until today!!! Thanks for your suggestion! -Alan

By m - 4 July 2015 Reply

nope… not for me..
i feel that adds to ore frustration and self sabotage.. “if youre going to do something do it properly” is how i work.. and im actually teaching myself to accept that & take the time to ‘officially relax/let go’ of the thought guilt pressure..
its ironically a similar result you are talking – to allow Self to be Imperfect… etc

By m - 4 July 2015 Reply

hmm..sorry..i have expressive/ writing probs..
i actually meant starting repeatedly gives me more self-hatred & actually anger/rage [at myself] because of impatience….
&
teaching myself to have ‘official’ downtime where the to do lists /guilt is truly not allowed to be involved etc

By ADD Crusher - 5 July 2015 Reply

Indeed — allowing yourself to be imperfect — even if you insist on doing it “properly”, is a huge freedom…to succeed! -Alan

By Jaci - 20 May 2015 Reply

About Jennifer’s comment… I think sometimes we’re afraid of success, because it messes with our lower self-esteems, or we’re afraid that if we do succeed, we, or others, will now hold us to a higher standard, which we are afraid we can’t continue…. probably because we know we have a hard time with endurance…. but it’s ok to succeed! and it’s ok to fail! We can love ourselves, either way! 🙂

By B - 17 May 2015 Reply

Ummmm, how did you transcribe my exact problem?? After I’m done being weirded out & just before I force myself to NOT HYPERFOCUS ON AWESOME BLOG I JUST DISCOVERED ALL NIGHT BECAUSE SLEEP IS SO NEEDED…I shall ponder this.

I’m a scientist; logical, practical. But also creative & artistic; impulsive & irrational? And expect myself to be super-human even though I know it’s impossible (it is SO possible!). No, it is never possible. So giving myself permission to not write the perfect research proposal or miss a citation or type a sentence I’m not happy with…that is a challenge indeed.

This is not the first time I’ve heard this recently. But forgiving & giving myself permission to NOT be superhuman (while dealing with lots of other fun things like depression & PTSD & a “you can’t make this sh!t up” bowl of…something) — I’m trying. Eensy steps. More like scooching. Then jumping backwards.

I was not diagnosed until ~2 yrs ago; I’m 36. While it was a huge gift that shifted my entire mental paradigm & explained my entire freaking life, it’s somehow simultaneously made it more frustrating. I’m collecting a toolbox, but having to make time to USE it is exhausting — in a way, ignorance was bliss & I could just blunder about being me (yet frustrated as to why I couldn’t be “better.”). See, now I can’t even write a comment, they’re all paragraphs & I’m probably going to proofread & edit it.

So instead, I’m simply going to remember what the point was, which was implementing a completely logical tool which I understand, yet is really freaking hard for my brain to do. And I’m going to lodge it on the shelf with the other new tools to try, in bits at a time. Then I’m just going to hit post & pass out.

Thank you (complete with obligatory apology to all who are subjected to my rambling) —

By ADD Crusher - 18 May 2015 Reply

Love your rant/stream-of-consciousness. Don’t fight it — channel that energy into your passion! And of course, give yourself permission to be imperfect!! A

By B - 18 May 2015 Reply

Thank you! Positive support can be hard to come by (I do warn people up front: the answer to your question may be a very long treatise including 7 topics you never asked about until I have forgotten the question). I just need a nap-or more accurately a sabbatical!! If only those existed for mere mortals!

Thanks for taking the time to write excellently thought-out posts, we always need people who speak our language (and honestly, if the whole world could just draw pictures for everything, life would be so much less confusing!), & for the fine balance of challenge & empathy. I have some reading to do…

By T. Brown - 24 April 2015 Reply

How about when it comes to completing college? I started many years ago and being heavily penalized for submitting assignments late (meaning my A work would end up earning me only a C) left me too emotionally scarred to begin again until recently. I also got all of the negative feedback about being lazy, not just sucking it up and getting things done, etc, ad nauseum. Now there are accommodations for ADD but even with assignment deadlines removed I am having trouble because my work deadlines (I own my own business) must come before course work. So I find myself way behind and wonder if it’s worth it to “keep starting” to get my bachelors degree. While instructors will be somewhat able to have some flexibility, I am concerned that there’s an invisible limit to what will be allowed and that I’m butting up against it. The other problem is learning new technology at the same time as trying to master the course work. So in addition to the course work taking more time, it’s like having a whole additional class where I have to learn how to format things in the Microsoft Office suite in order to submit assignments the way they are required to be presented. Guess who’s now headed for the land of overwhelm? Me! I’m just not sure how to sort through all of this. Not being sure of having the time I know I need to finish this one class is leaving me paralyzed. If I end up not being granted the time I need, any work I do is wasted as far as finishing the class is concerned. For what it’s worth, I have successfully completed two other classes, on time, and with very minimal accommodations, none of which were deadlines. The difference was that I didn’t have work deadlines that got in the way of things.

I’d welcome your comments about my situation if you have time. And thank you for offering some of the most helpful information and tips I’ve found anywhere about the challenges of living with ADD. As someone who was diagnosed when I was 53 years old, trying to break the cycle of failure when it comes to dealing with the academic world is not any easier than it was when I was younger but at least I now know what’s wrong!

By ADD Crusher - 30 April 2015 Reply

My friend, I hear you! Took me 10 years to get a 4 year degree and, while I know it’s a longer haul than that for you, it’s the same frustrations. Just know that your courage to still try and get it done is pretty awesome. Actually, it’s VERY awesome. Some great people finished college “late”…started playing guitar “late”…created a new business “late” in life. Don’t give up!

By Deborah B. - 19 July 2019 Reply

Hello, T Brown. Your post hits home for me – as an « older » ADD adult going back for a college degree. It’s been 4 years since you posted – can you give a progress report? I’m interested!

I was diagnosed ADD at about the age of 50 years (by a psychologist in France, where I now live. I’m from USA). Between 18-30 years old, I tried 5 times to « go to » college. Getting there was the easy part! Staying never panned out. I changed jobs often (office assistant, salesclerk) then at 22 yrs old became a flight attendant (stayed 8 years), which had been my plan since I was 12. I got lucky. After that ended (injury), I wandered from one interesting-enough situation to another until I moved permanently to France where I married and had a child at 40 yrs old. Time passed (it was complicated!), and by default I became this odd housewife and quirky mother, trying to catch up with/adjust to this crazy life around me. After the diagnosis at 50 yrs old, I felt I had a basis to work from for managing myself. But I never found professional help – I had to discerningly do online research and reading. So much info… but finding what can be applied to one’s personal needs is a daunting task. I learned to go at it in small bytes and put to practice what fit. I took online courses at my hometown city college which was a very good fit for my learning style. I put the pressure on myself to concentrate on the tasks at hand, not on the goal of finishing. But it took enormous amounts of time. Online classes are not across the board high-quality – finding a good one requires research (www.ratemyprofessor.com, for example). Some classes were excellent, some were disappointing, a few were abandoned because I didn’t have the groundwork necessary. I chose not to take accommodations so as to be able to make my own assessment of where I stood with handling my particular difficulties. That helped me a lot, but it took so much time. Not practical in a fast-paced world, but what it served me was to understand myself better. So, it was a personal success. Academically, not so much (I completed 15 credits in 3 semesters…). But I loved what I did learn.

Update to the present – 13 months ago I started training in a field that has always interested me (textile arts, particularly weaving). I have a small retirement, I’m still married, and I’m moving ahead with this project of having my own weaving studio (here in France). I had to figure it out step-by-step, sometimes suspend the notion of time in my own projects, and most of all NOT ABANDON when it was often discouraging. It’s a work in progress, but that’s what life is, isn’t it?

To add, I didn’t have professional help, but somehow, my friends have always believed in me. My husband is not so emotionally supportive, but he let’s me do what I want, as he puts it. So, it’s been a mix of tenacity on my part (stubborness and not knowing when to quit!), possibilities, and not involving/depending too much on others.

This has become so long a message! It’s been cathartic, though so thank you if you are reading this.

So T Brown, how has it gone for you?

By ADD Crusher - 19 July 2019 Reply

This is a wonderful update, Deborah. Thanks for sharing it. The combination of your tenacity and passion is an unbeatable combination. That’s been my formula too!!! AB

By Robin - 24 April 2015 Reply

I have procrastinated for as long as I can remember, and as hard as I tried when my kids were growing up, to forewarn them of the consequences that come as a result, two of them, like me, are chronic procrastinators. Now in my mid-40’s, my struggle seems to be getting harder rather than easier. Is it that procrastination has become such a way of life that I’ve accepted it as normal, finding comfort in the discomfort of it all? Or have I simply become an accomplished procrastinator? In other words, “Yeah, I’ll have to pull an all-nighter and kill myself to get it done in the eleventh hour, but I can do it (I always do) and it will be perfect…so let me just “eat the marshmallow” here and surf the Internet a while longer.” Either way, I clearly don’t fear the consequences. Otherwise I’d change. I may not like the consequences, but I seem to accept them every time.

By ADD Crusher - 30 April 2015 Reply

Yes, many of us have found a “balance” or an “arrangement with procrastination”. I guess the question is, are you truly satisfied with how things are (even if begrudgingly). You may be, and that’s ok. But maybe there’s a way to get at a deeper desire you have — something that could fuel your pursuits. It’s a topic for a longer convo, but I do talk about it in Way 2 of the ADD Crusher videos. There might even be a clip of it at http://www.YouTube.com/ADDCrusher. Not sure but there’s plenty of other good stuff there for free….bless…AB

By Robert - 21 April 2015 Reply

This is a great post makes a lot of sense, I find myself trying to be perfect in finishing a task, therefore my tasks almost never get finished, it’s hard to mark them off my list when in my mind I don’t see them “perfectly” finished. I’ll start a task, then keep going on it until it’s done but that could be hours from when I started, then I don’t get to anything else. It’s like when I stop a task that I feel isn’t finished I feel like I have to push through and try and get it done.

Here’s one for you, so I’ve always had challenges assessing my skills when it comes to a career and or job hunting. I feel like I don’t even know where to begin when it comes to skills evaluation. It’s always been painful to see your friends knowing what they’re good at and moving in that direction. So I put it off and it has cost me dearly.

By Jennifer - 11 April 2015 Reply

I have recognized that sometimes I have some weird form of anxiety when I complete a project. For example, I had everything ready to close my dad’s estate but procrastinated for several weeks to actually file the paperwork. When I finally went to the courthouse I caught myself hesitating and wanting to backout. Crazy. I should have felt relief to mark it off my to do list. Its almost like I want to hoard my tasks. Lol. It makes no sense to me.

By ADD Crusher - 16 April 2015 Reply

This is an interesting description of this behavior. Sounds like it could be a form of perfectionism — fear of “completion” means you must be forever satisfied with the results??? Whatever is the source, you are making progress by facing it, questioning it, and knowing that it is not rational or in your interest. Keep on crushing!

By Anna - 31 March 2015 Reply

I have problems with starting. So for that I find this great.
But my big problem, especially at work is that I start things..get excited about projects but for some unknown to me reason, I usually just stop before the end – so my negative feedback is that I cannot run a project end-to-end. Any tips on that?

By ADD Crusher - 31 March 2015 Reply

Yes, @Anna, you’ve articulated a classic ADHD trait: we’re all fired up to do a project, we might even joyfully work on it…but then, when the initial excitement wears off, we just bog down and it becomes increasingly difficult to jump back in with any energy. Don’t worry, you’re not alone in this! Just give yourself permission to move it forward ONE INCH. Just ONE INCH! Bless…Alan

By Jess - 30 March 2015 Reply

This is genius. I have so many nagging little jobs eating at me right now. Spring cleaning being paramount. I’m a horrible house cleaner. But, clearly, you’re right. I need to start with one small thing. Each and every day. Give myself one task to start with. If I get done, I get done. If I don’t I don’t. But as long as I keep starting, I will eventually get to the end.

By ADD Crusher - 31 March 2015 Reply

@Jess — you totally get it. That’s exactly the spirit I’m suggesting. Let it rock!

By Michael Vinson - 30 March 2015 Reply

I’m at odds with this, because all my life I have been taken to task on those things I start, but rarely if ever finish. My father was the same way, and was also taken to task on those issues. He was, and I am constantly asked, “Why even bother starting something if you’re never going to finish it”?
When my ex-wife and I bought our second house we immediately began remodeling, gutting rooms completely down to the studs. The wiring and plumbing was replaced where necessary, new drywall and paint, new wallpaper, etc. But then it got right down to the nitty-gritty of cutting and replacing trim. The major parts were done, how hard could it be to finish this bit? I found out it was virtually impossible. Part of the justification for putting it off was, I think, that it was such a seemingly simple task, that it could be done anytime, and there were other, higher priority tasks to be attended to. Also, since I was told I had done such a great job with the rest, these trim pieces – which i had to make from scratch – deserved no less than my best efforts. So the pressure was on for these final bits to be ‘perfect’, despite my wife’s daily admonitions to simply ‘get it done’, even if that meant cutting corners.
In the process of ‘getting it done’ and striving to make it ‘perfect’, the ‘honey-do’ list for other projects was steadily growing. At one point it was three pages, front and back, on a legal pad. I was told “just prioritize, and do the important stuff first”. Yea, ok, I’ll get right on that. It became a steady ‘this before this before this’ scenario, because each task seemed to hinge on getting another completed first, sort of like putting on your socks first, THEN your shoes. And each task was #1 priority at any given moment in time.
But I tried, I really did. I just dove in and started, determined to accomplish at least SOMETHING. But there was always a glitch, a hangup that prevented me from finishing. Sometimes it was simply changing my mind of how I wanted it to look. Sometimes it was not having a particular tool or materials. Sometimes it was my wife asking why it was taking so long, when there were so many other things to get done. So I gave up, and relegated myself to doing no more than simple repairs as they arose, rather than improvements. Fortunately, I now have neither the wife nor that house to contend with. Unfortunately, I have yet another list of things to do, but only my own voice telling me to ‘get it finished’. I will, later, or tomorrow, maybe.

By ADD Crusher - 31 March 2015 Reply

@Michael, you’ve articulated so many classic reasons for our chronic procrastination — the later stages are less interesting…we want it to be perfect…we don’t know what task to start with…etc. Just know that just as you had the power to get the wiring and other foundational work done, you have the power to finish the difficult details. Just give yourself permission to start, again and again. Don’t give up!

By Jacki Cairns - 30 March 2015 Reply

So true…very helpful. Trying to design a new website today, and this is all very helpful advice. I must plod on…I WILL GET THERE!!!

By ADD Crusher - 31 March 2015 Reply

Yay @Jacki! You WILL indeed!

By Deb Rowley, Psychotherapist & ADHD Coach - 30 March 2015 Reply

Said like the true ADD Crushin’ rock star that you are, Alan! Thanks for the tip. This “one weird tip” is going to help me get started in just 15 minutes!! And ya know what… I’m gonna rock this thing! ~Thanks!

By ADD Crusher - 31 March 2015 Reply

Thanks @Deb! Crush it!!

By Jennifer....Mother, RN, HomeMaker - 22 April 2015 Reply

You are an inspiring person. Thanks for letting me be me….one step at a time,..whether it be a little slower, or faster than another, but let it be OK….think I’ll go back to working on some piles of clutter for a bit, get it done and say to myself, “you’re done Jennifer”….”it’s good enough for me”.

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