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Help for Anxious Procrastinators (Don't Read This Later!)

09/03/2016 10:56 GMT | Updated 09/03/2017 10:12 GMT

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Anxiety and procrastination are two things which seem to be inextricably linked.

Sure, we all know what it's like to procrastinate a little (who hasn't gotten hooked on a box set when we should be studying/working/exercising).

But, if procrastination is getting in the way of you achieving your dreams, doing well at work or University, or worse, it's actually causing more anxiety, then it's time to do something about it.

I've experienced my fair share of procrastination. That sweet sense of relief once we decide to postpone a task. A temporary freedom from the pressure of having to do something which is hard, boring or scary.

In the past, I've been one to start a day with BIG plans, only to end it with a spotless house, a bustling Facebook page and an untouched to-do list.

This can be followed by guilt, worthlessness, frustration and anxiety over all the things we should have been doing instead.

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It's not entirely known what causes procrastination, but there have been links with low self esteem, low self belief and fear (of either success or failure)

A couple of years ago I was on the cusp of taking some big steps in my career, but I kept holding myself back.

I let a constant stream of 'busyness' get in the way of the things I really needed to do.

I was letting fear hold me back.

'What if I get it wrong! What if I'm laughed at? What if everyone hates me?!'

I had a strong fear of failure, but not only that, I feared success even more.

'What happens if I can't sustain the success, or it's too much hard work?'

However, recognising these fears has helped me to move past them. I started to see them for what they were and made a decision to notice the fears but to move forward anyway.

The truth is that taking action is the best cure for fear. When we take action, we show ourselves that we can handle the consequences and our confidence grows and grows.

Here some incredibly helpful tips for overcoming procrastination:

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Eat that Frog

It's tempting to want to start the day with a few easy tasks to ease into the day gently.

Big mistake! Huuuge!

Instead, productivity guru Brian Tracy says we need to 'Eat That Frog!'

By this he means we need to 'eat' (do) the ugliest frog (most challenging task) first.

By doing this, we bolster our self esteem and set a precedent for the day.

Winning at a difficult task earl on increases your momentum and confidence and inspires you to get on with other difficult stuff too.

So instead of starting your day with a leisurely cruise around social media and low level email answering, start it by making that difficult phone call or tackling that challenging spreadsheet first thing. Taking action is the best cure for anxiety - since once we've taken action, we realise things aren't nearly as bad as our anxious minds make them out to be.

Tim Ferris suggests we also always make our bed in the morning; as it's a small win that builds our confidence and leads to bigger wins throughout the day.

Social Media and Emails

These are the ultimate distractions AND a source of anxiety and information overload in themselves. If I'm not careful, I'll get into checking social media or emails several times an hour. Each time we do this, we waste time and it takes a while to get back on task.

Sometimes, checking social media can feel like a drug; as Daniel Goleman discusses in his brilliant book 'Focus'.

He states that checking emails and Facebook can be addictive since it sets off the reward mechanism similar to that of a person taking cocaine.

It's a little 'hit' of information or gossip drives us to keep logging in when we should be getting on with other things.

To avoid this, you could try turning the internet off on your computer while you work, stopping notifications from being 'pushed' to your phone or using an app like "Anti Social' to block certain website between certain times.

You'll be less distracted, and calmer.

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Visualisation

Before you begin your day, visualise in your mind how you'd like it to go.

See yourself getting on with things with focus, calmness and confidence. Visualise successful outcomes and feel the good feelings associate with it.

See yourself enjoying relaxing at the end of the day, feeling proud of yourself and knowing that you made good progress.

When we imagine things that same parts of our brains are activated as if they were happening for real, so it's great way to prep yourself for success.

Start before you're ready

Often we'll make excuses about 'not being ready' or 'not good enough' which hold us back from the things we really want.

Maybe you tell yourself you're not ready to give that presentation, or not good enough to start dating or start a new hobby.

Everyone has to start somewhere and you're almost guaranteed to get better at it once you actually get started.

Richard Branson says 'start before you're ready' - and trust that you'll learn and get better as you go along.

Not Trying = Automatic Fail!

When you procrastinate out of fear of failing, you're ensuring you automatically fail. You lose every shot you don't take.

Remember, there is no shame in failing!

Ask any successful person and they'll tell you about all the failure that they've had (and continue to have). It's a natural part of the process of doing stuff.

You are here to learn and grow as a person, not to be an image of perfection.

Try and fail, learn.... and try again.

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Take little steps

Often, we'll procrastinate because tasks just seem too damn big and scary.

However, David Allen, author of 'Getting Things Done' suggests that instead of trying to do too much at once, we should instead break things down into teeny-tiny steps and just do one small thing at a time. Setting a time limit on it makes it seem even more manageable.

For example, if you're looking to start a business, think about the first little steps that you could take. Maybe researching domain names for an hour, or asking 5 people for feedback on your idea, speaking to each person for 20 minute each.

Small steps add up to big ones and you'll grow your confidence and self belief in the process.

Scheduling

I procrastinate a lot less when I schedule everything hour by hour for the day and there's no anxiety about what I should be doing next.

A surprising amount of time can be wasted trying to decide what to do next, flailing around without direction, or just taking little cheeky breaks all too frequently

When I schedule tasks in, I know exactly what I'm doing and when and I schedule breaks in too. It's much easier to follow a plan like this.

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The Pomodoro Technique

This technique involves getting an egg timer and timing yourself for 25 minutes of solid work.

There's nothing like the sound of a ticking clocking to focus your mind on a task!

Then, importantly, give yourself a five minute break before moving on to the next 25 minute block of work. Scheduling in breaks are just as important as the actual work.

Which of these tips will you be trying out? Do you have any other tips for me?

Let me know in the comments (and please share this with a fellow procrastinator who may need it!)

Images from 123RF and IStock.