How to Get Over Procrastination in a Day

On Tuesday I procrastinated worse than I had in months. I couldn’t even approach my desk, and spent a large part of the day in bed. Not sick: just hiding.

I was unhappy about this, since I have deadlines like everyone else. And a part of me was thinking things like:

Nothing much seems to happen during the doldrums but you have to pass through them to get to the exciting places. Just stay the course and don't abandon ship!

Nothing much seems to happen during the doldrums but you have to pass through them to get to the exciting places. Just stay on course and don’t abandon ship!

  • “This sucks.”
  • “I’m falling further and further behind.”
  • “I make my living helping people solve this very problem. How mortifying.”
  • “I’m a fraud—and everyone’s going to find out I’m a fraud.” (That’s two giant terrors bundled into one concise package, by the way!)
  • “What if I never recover from this and am blocked the rest of my life?” (That’s called catastrophizing.)

(Notice how the anxiety escalates.)

Because of my experience helping myself and others through situations like this, I knew that, as tempting as it might be to just give in to an orgy of self-recrimination and panic, doing so would only make the problem worse.

So I spent the day just hanging out: watching videos, reading Jane Austin for the umpteenth time (as well as some less-enobling literature!), watching television, and taking a walk. And I made sure my self-talk was even more compassionate, understanding, and forgiving than usual.

And guess what: Wednesday was fine. And Thursday. And today (Friday) almost certainly will be. In fact, the last couple of days have been phenomenally productive.

I didn’t know at the time that I would rebound so quickly, of course: I could only have faith in the process. However, the speed of my recovery was proportional to the strength of my commitment to self-compassion.

In other words, it was my utter refusal to indulge in harsh self-talk or self-recrimination that enabled me to speedily recover my productivity.

I see this with my students and coaching clients all the time. The turning point is almost always when they realize—intellectually, emotionally, and deep down in their bones—that, not only does perfectionism not work, it’s counterproductive. It’s when they commit to expunging even tiny residual amounts of perfectionism from their thinking that they turn the corner and start making fast progress on their writing and other work.

Here are some techniques you can use if you’re procrastinating.

But the foundational technique is self-compassion.


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