By Derek Doepker | November 27, 2018
Even high achievers can end up procrastinating important tasks when they feel overwhelmed and stressed. Although urging yourself to just take action may sound like a good solution, it’s a little like telling a sad person to “just cheer up.” What you need instead is a specific process that works with your psychology as opposed to fighting against it.
When you use this ultimate anti-procrastination hack, you’ll bypass any internal resistance and get yourself to take action almost effortlessly. Plus, it only takes about 10 seconds to implement and is virtually guaranteed to succeed when done properly.
The Anti-Procrastination Hack Formula
The formula for taking action is simple: Ask yourself, Can I just [insert micro-commitment here]? A micro-commitment is something so small and simple that you’ll readily say “yes” to doing it even if you have very little willpower.
For instance, let’s say someone has been procrastinating cleaning his house. He can ask, Can I just take two minutes to clean my desk? On the surface, it may seem like that wouldn’t accomplish much. However, he will probably notice an internal shift when he steps into action.
Have you ever not wanted to do something, like exercise, but once you started, you found yourself more motivated to continue? This happens because momentum generates motivation. The trick is to not wait to get motivated. Take a small step that generates motivation and then continue to ask yourself, Can I just do a little more?
After following through on that small commitment to clean the desk, he may find himself thinking, I’ve already started, so I may as well keep going for a little longer. Next thing you know, the entire room is clean.
Let’s look at how this formula can be used to conquer the four drivers of procrastination: fear, overwhelm, uncertainty and perfectionism.
One way to overcome fear is through exposure therapy, which is gradually exposing yourself to things you fear in a safe environment.
Imagine someone who is fearful of public speaking. They may ask, Can I just speak in my living room to a couple close friends on something I love talking about? Since this is safe, they’ll often get themselves to do it. Then they can gradually ramp up the stakes as they get more comfortable: Can I just invite one stranger to join my private group? Can I just introduce myself for 30 seconds at a local networking event? Can I just speak to a small group for five minutes to raise awareness for a cause I’m passionate about?
The key isn’t to break out of your comfort zone; it’s to stretch your comfort zone. Start with something you can do that’s only mildly uncomfortable, build from there, and you’ll gain greater and greater confidence.
Feeling overwhelmed arrives when you only concentrate on the big picture. While it’s important to dream big and find inspiration, if you only focus on that, accomplishing anything can seem daunting. This is why many experts recommend breaking down larger goals into smaller action steps.
If a person wants to improve her health and she’s feeling overwhelmed by how many things she has to change, she may ask, Can I just focus this week on eating a healthier breakfast?
By focusing on just one or two priorities at a time, you’re more likely to make each new behavior a habit. Once something is habitual, you can add new habits without feeling overwhelmed.
One thing that can fuel procrastination is not being able to focus on the next best step. But you can drive for hundreds of miles at night, only seeing what’s right in front of you. Sometimes the only way to get clarity is to take some type of action and then use the feedback for course correction.
An individual who is uncertain about what career they want to go into could ask, Can I just try one new activity this week and see what I enjoy and don’t enjoy? For instance: Can I just volunteer to mentor for an afternoon? Can I just take a cooking class? Can I just write an article on a topic I enjoy?
Even though none of these may become a career, you can gain insight—whether you enjoy working alone or with others, whether you enjoy working with your hands or if you prefer mental challenges, and so on. The key here is the micro-commitment isn’t about making the “right” long-term choice, but rather seeing acts as a stepping-stone to greater self-awareness and clarity.
While doing things well is important, it’s also necessary to give yourself permission to make mistakes. Like a baby learning to walk. You’re not going to nail it right off the bat, and that’s OK.
Tim Ferriss adopted this approach when he gave himself a quota to write two crappy pages a day. This micro-commitment included both the quantity of pages (just two), as well as an allowance for them to be less than perfect.
You can do the same. Ask, Can I just spend five minutes doing crappy work?
Paradoxically, when you remove the pressure to be perfect, you could find that, over time, you end up generating your best work. The key is to create space for creative expression that has no filter for quality and then come back to what you produced later with the mindset of improvement.
When you apply the ultimate anti-procrastination hack, you may notice an immediate transformation, or momentum could build over several weeks or months. Either way, the key is to get started today by committing to something you’re guaranteed to say “yes” to. All you have to do is recall the three magic words: Can I just?
Now, pick one thing you’ve been procrastinating, implement a micro-commitment that will give you momentum and then watch what magic happens as your seemingly small successes generate your biggest breakthroughs.