Feeling stuck? 4 ways to beat emotional procrastination

How many days do you sit at your desk, or get on with jobs around the house, and you’re busy all day, but somehow you never quite get around to that one thing that you really want to do.

Or that thing you know you really need to do.

There are a million things competing for your attention and you’re just so busy.

It doesn’t feel like you’re putting it off.

But that’s exactly what you’re doing. Deliberately, subconsciously, or by accident.

Everyone does this. It’s human nature.

But, I know you’ve got ambitions. And to reach your goals, you’re going to have to get around this ever-so-tricky mental block that we all have.

Easier said than done, eh? 

So how do you do it?

Here’s are the strategies that I use to get unstuck:

1. Recognise you’re avoiding something and work out what it is

Oftentimes, you don’t feel like you’re putting something off. But when you think about starting that thing, you:

  • get a flutter of nervousness
  • think of another job that ‘needs’ doing first (however small or unimportant it is)
  • suddenly have the urge to ‘just check your emails‘ (and secretly hoping there’s something in there that’ll distract you)
  • decide that you can’t start it without a bit more planning
  • think that it would be much easier to do if… you had your laptop out / had a few hours of quiet / found a different software or app to do it in
  • think that it’s not worth doing until you’ve got some more of the basics of your business to a perfect state
  • feel overwhelmed and don’t know what to do first
  • believe you’re not good enough to do it, so why even try?

Do you recognise any of these signs?

What is that thing?

I bet you know exactly what it is.

2. Decide how you’re stuck

When you thought of that job you need to do. Or all the jobs you need to do, what feelings came up? Are you:

  • scared of doing it wrong – perhaps, because you can’t afford to do it and get it wrong, perhaps you’re worried you’re not good enough to get it right
  • bored and unmotivated
  • overwhelmed by all the things you’ve got to do
  • lost as to how to start

These feelings encompass the 4 main reasons we procrastinate.

To get unstuck, you need to address the cause of that feeling. But first…

3. Work out what’s causing that feeling.

Then you can solve it.

I’m scared

Feeling scared of doing something wrong comes from perfectionism, having such limited time or money that you can’t afford to ever be going in the wrong direction, or anxiety of how you’re perceived.

Perfectionism and anxiety are tricky, for sure. You need to find out what, at a deeper level, is driving your fear of leaving something incomplete or imperfect. Strategies to deal with it include:

  • Sketching out the worst things that could happen, and what people will say if you don’t reach perfection, and then looking at how realistic those things are.
  • Looking at how other people do things. Are they always perfect? Hell, no! And you still like them and think they’re great at what they do. So you don’t need to demand so much from yourself.
  • Deciding what is ‘good enough’. Aiming for and achieving 80% is better than aiming for 110% and never getting started.

If having limited time and resources is stacking up the stress, the only way out of it is to take away those pressures. Make time by getting help with the kids, leaving the house a mess, or dropping a day of your employed work.

Money pressure is a great drive to action, and the starting point of many a successful entrepreneur. But too much worry just freezes you up. You have to de-risk. Keep on working in your employment part-time until you can quit for good. Or find a couple of easy-to-win low-paying clients who’ll tide you over while you build up to win the high-paying ones.

I’m bored

Being bored can come from the prospect of a monotonous job, or even depression. 

If you’re concerned about depression (and with being stuck at home for a long time, it’s easy to fall into a low mood) the best thing you can do is take action. This assessment on the NHS website can help you understand the severity of your feelings and your GP’s door are always open to talk about this important subject.

If the job you’re avoiding is just damn monotonous and there’s no way around that, can you suck it up and just get it done? If not, think about how you can delegate it – could a friend help you out, your partner, or a virtual assistant?

I’m overwhelmed

It’s so, so easy to look at the huge list of things you’ve got to do and stumble. Where should you start? What comes first? 

You end up half-making a plan, flitting between lots of different things as you try to multi-task, chopping and changing as you remember something else that you’re meant to be doing as well, and in the end, feeling thoroughly stressed and making a lot less progress than you’d hoped.

Over the years, I’ve read up a lot on productivity and planning, and tried tons of different systems. No single one has been a silver bullet. But I’ve gathered enough tips and tricks along the way that I’ve created my own philosophy that keeps me organised, on track and working through things in a sensible (and calm!) priority order.

The key is a list. It’s that simple. I find it so incredibly freeing to empty out my mind and know that it’s all recorded somewhere. It won’t get forgotten and it’ll all be worked on when I’m ready.

So how does it work? 

  • Keep a list. 
  • Use a free tool like a spreadsheet, Google Keep, Asana… It doesn’t really matter what you use, but you want to be able to access it and add to it from anywhere – your laptop, phone, iPad.
  • Focus on the list, not the tool. Whatever you choose, all you need it to do is keep your list in one place. Don’t let all the fancy features of a productivity tool, like calendars and due dates, projects and assignees, distract you. 
  • The list doesn’t need to be beautiful. What you’re going to build with the time you spend doing the tasks on the list is what’ll be beautiful.
  • Once a day only, set aside time to go through your emails and the new things on the list. If they’ll take less than 2 minutes, do them there and then. If not, put them on the list and put them into the priority order (more on this coming up).
  • During the day, every time you think of something else to do, add it to the list.
  • Once you’re working on something, nothing can take you off-task. Anything that comes up (unless your house is burning down) simply goes on the list.
  • Now and again, prioritise the list. 
  • Push the things that are the most important to the top. These are the things that will really move you forwards towards your goals.
  • Write down actual actions you can take. Aim for the middle ground between a vague, lofty goal and spending-more-time-writing-out-every-detailed-step-than-you’ll-actually-spend-doing-them. Each line should be a practical task (which can be made up of several smaller tasks that aren’t noted down, as long as you know what they are).
  • Don’t let small, unimportant things distract you. They soak up all your time and you never get onto the big, important things.
  • Set goals of what you want to have achieved in a month, six months and a year. 
  • But don’t sweat it. 
  • Your job is now just to work down the list, getting things done in order.

One of my friends once told me something that a successful entrepreneur they worked for said:

“You always overestimate what you can do in a year. But underestimate what you can do in five years.”

I love this. It shows that consistency and showing up are key.

Just turning up and working through your list in a sensible-ish priority order is the best thing you could possibly do. 

If you keep at it, you’ll achieve big things.

I don’t know how to start

You’ve read all the blog articles and guides on what to do next? But you’re still stuck.

The answer is simple. Just start.

Yes, in six months’ time, you’ll look back and realise that you probably did it a bit wrong and you’d do it differently now you’ve got all that experience.

But you’re never going to get that experience if you don’t give it a go now.

And, honestly, no one other than you really minds if you did it a bit wrong. It’s probably still better than most of what’s out there on the internet. So your version of ‘a bit wrong’ is probably still pretty decent.

If you don’t know how to pick a topic to write about, just use the first thing that comes to mind. Or pick an email or article you read recently that interested you and write your own take on the same topic.

If you don’t know how to write an application for work or proposal for a client, throw down the bullet points that are in your head. Once they’re on paper, it’s easy to write naturally around them.

If you’ve got a new software to use, just sign up and follow the instructions. 

It’s much less scary once you’ve got into it.

If you’re stuck with getting started working from home and becoming your own boss, check out my Be Your Own Boss ebook and toolkit. It’s got everything you need to know to get started as a high-earning freelancer, with simple checklists and detailed step-by-step instructions for every single thing you need to do.

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