Have you ever had a day where you feel like you haven’t gotten anything done? And you think to yourself: “man, I am so lazy! What’s wrong with me?” The textbook definition of lazy is an unwillingness to work or exert energy on a consistent basis. The truth is, very few people are truly lazy. Sure, we all have those days where we can’t get motivated for the life of us, and even though we’re working, it feels like no work is getting done. We’re focusing on non-pressing, menial tasks because we don’t want to tackle the big, important ones. I call this state we sometimes find ourselves trapped in analysis paralysis. It’s something that happens to all of us, and it tends to be an especially big problem for creative people who deal with complex tasks.
To understand analysis paralysis, it’s important to see that this mental block on our productivity actually comes from our desire to achieve great results. Facing a complex task, our creative mind starts to analyse all the ways we could go about doing it, and instead of diving in and getting it done we get caught in a feedback loop of anxiety. The longer we delay beginning, the more complicated the task ahead seems to become. A classic example of analysis paralysis is writer’s block. Writer’s block isn’t really an inability to write, it’s an inability to start writing. Sitting there, staring at the blank page, you’re trying to decide on the perfect story to tell or the perfect first line, but you end up not writing anything at all! Here’s a powerful truth about productivity that has changed my life (and helped me overcome my analysis paralysis): Starting imperfectly is better than not starting at all! It’s easy enough to go back and fix your mistakes later, but putting off starting something isn’t going to make it work better! Perfectionism can be a destructive characteristic if we don’t counteract it with a willingness to make mistakes. When you’re gripped by analysis paralysis, staring at that blank page, tell yourself it’s just the first draft so that you start doing! The human mind is like a unicycle: it works a lot better when it’s moving. Then, dangle a carrot as a reward. If your mind knows it’s going to get a nice, juicy reward in exchange for getting going, it suddenly becomes a heck of a lot easier to start. Examples of rewards could include a massage, a piece of chocolate, or a celebratory dinner with loved ones.
The Power of Persistence Defeating the urge to procrastinate and overcoming analysis paralysis is the first step toward becoming a more productive person. But for a lot of us, it’s difficult to stay  focused on (and committed to) our goals, especially the long-term ones. So how can we learn to stick to our goals, even when the going gets tough? Highly effective people have cultivated the ability to keep working toward their goals, even when they feel discouraged. It might look like they have some special super-powers that the rest of us lack, but the truth is that they have learned techniques to lean into their perseverance. With time, these traits become part of their personality.
One of my favorite motivational researchers, Angela Duckworth, describes the characteristic of persistence as grit. Angela talks about the self-sabotage cycle;’ a psychological trap that most of us are victim to without even realising it. The self-sabotage cycle goes like this: we get excited about a new project and in that excited early phase we are able to commit to our goal; but then, with the passing of time as we face tough obstacles or begin to lose focus, we drift away from our commitment and get distracted by other things. That’s where grit comes into the equation.
Angela Duckworth teaches that we can develop grit by using four key techniques that she defines as: interest; practice; purpose; and faith.
  1. Interest: Investing focus in the details of your project. What are the things about your task that make you curious or fire your imagination? That’s where you can build your interest which will keep you on-task when you are distracted by new ideas.
  2. Practice: Deliberately devoting time and energy to your task on a regular basis. Habits are powerful, and good habits are formed by repetition, so build your practice right into your daily schedule.
  3. Purpose: It’s easier to get motivated to do short-term tasks if you keep the finish line in mind. What is your ultimate goal? It’s important to devote yourself to the task at hand but don’t forget to keep your eye on the prize.
  4. Faith: Believe in yourself. When you feel discouraged or you come up against obstacles, be your own cheerleader! Positive inner dialogue is very important. The voice in your head should be reminding you that you are a winner.
Cultivating grit in your personality is a powerful tool for overcoming procrastination. I talk more about overcoming the self-sabotage cycle and building grit in my Lifehack Bootcamp ‘Finish What You Start’ video! T=EM2 There was this guy, Albert Einstein (you might have heard of him) who figured out that energy and time are actually the same thing, seen from different perspectives. When Einstein came up with his famous formula – E=mc2 – he was thinking about astrophysics, but time and energy are bound together in the productivity universe as well. Let me explain… There never seems to be enough time to get everything done, does there? But even if we had all the time in the world, there’s still a limit to the energy we can muster in a single day. Most of us can focus productively for a few hours at a time if we’re at full energy. But after that, fatigue sets in and our effectiveness drops dramatically. Personal energy is not a bottomless well. If you keep dropping the bucket in but don’t allow time to let the well refill, sooner or later the bucket is going to come up dry. It’s extremely important to create a lifestyle that charges up your energy reserves, rather than leaving you feeling drained. I call this practice self-resourcing. Building a productive lifestyle is about balancing time and energy so that you can achieve your goals and stay motivated. Most things worth doing take time and sustained effort. If you pour your energy into your tasks but neglect self-resourcing, sooner or later you will burn out.
Self-resourcing can take many forms, but some of the most important can be built into a healthy daily routine. Creating positive sleep habits is very important because without quality sleep your mind and body don’t have the opportunity to heal and recharge. Eating a healthy diet, staying hydrated and exercising regularly are also essential parts of self-resourcing. The good news is that practicing positive habits actually enhances your ability to stay  focused and maintain a self-resourcing lifestyle. It’s a win-win formula. You’ll have more energy and be more productive. The key to the formula is managing your most precious asset: time. Time Management Training for Everybody ‘If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!’ – Benjamin Franklin. We only have so much time in every day, so using it effectively is incredibly important. The key to good time management is planning ahead. This means setting specific goals and tackling them in a methodical, strategic way. Big tasks can be overwhelming, so it’s important to break them up into smaller pieces that you can accomplish in a reasonable time. Vague ambition is not motivating – motivation comes from being able to take specific action to reach your target. Runners use this technique to overcome fatigue in a marathon. Rather than focusing on the distant finish line, they set their sights on a landmark within visual range. When they reach that point they choose another landmark to focus on, and so on. Winning the race is still the goal, and their interest investment is still firmly focused on that outcome, but the task at hand is just to get to the next corner as fast and efficiently as possible.
When you set about planning your projects, deconstruct the big goals into tasks you can achieve in a single day, or a few hours. An effective project plan is made up of a list of small, achievable tasks that are prioritized so that each accomplishment leads to the next. Just like the marathon runner, you know the ultimate destination, but your immediate focus needs to be firmly set on the landmark within sight. Set one or two specific goals to tackle first thing in the morning. At the start of the day, our energy is at its highest level and we are able to be most effective, but as the day wears on ‘decision fatigue’ starts to set in and we become less and less focused. Commit to your plans at the start of the day when your mind is fresh and stick to your goals. The feeling you get when you tick off the tasks you’ve completed will be really motivating.
Planning ahead is one of the cornerstones of productive time management. Another equally important element is focus. We’ve all got crazy busy schedules. There’s a lot to do, and only a limited amount of time each day! One way to get the most out of your day is to examine the parts of your life where your time is being wasted. Do you spend way too much time zoning out, scrolling through your social media? Is that contributing to your life in a positive way? We had a client who was struggling to find time to spend quality time with her husband and work out, but was convinced that she wouldn’t been able to reclaim any of her time in her schedule. Turns out – she was spending over 10 hours a week watching and reading the news. Just the news! Once she became aware of that, she spent those 10 hours in line with what she really wanted. . Take control of your device addiction. If you would like to reclaim the time you lose to mindless phone-browsing every day, and put that time into achieving your goals, try Manoush Zomorodi’s bored and brilliant challenge. Delete all the social media apps from your phone, go cold turkey and find out what happens when your idle mind is free to imagine, create and ponder without being distracted by the bells and whistles coming from your pocket.
Like cutting out sugar, quitting caffeine or going vegetarian, staying away from social media might be a life-changing experiment. It has been for me! Disconnecting myself from the constant distractions of social media, (especially Facebook, my personal addiction) has had a really positive effect on my ability to focus. When I want to use social media for work I can login on my laptop but I set aside a specific time each day to do it so it doesn’t distract me all the time. Consider spending the time you usually waste browsing Facebook exercising, cooking, meditating or maybe just talking to your friends. I used to spend more than two hours a day just scrolling through Twitter. Now I use that time to take salsa classes with my wife and learn Spanish. Nurturing the Inner Child I’ve talked a lot about effectiveness and productivity in this post, but now I want to switch it up a bit and focus on fun! Being well organized is vital to conquering procrastination, but so is allowing FUN into your life. Without time away from work, your motivation is going to dwindle until it disappears completely. Taking time away from work to rest, recharge, get creative and have fun actually makes you way more effective once you come back to your work. As you implement the productivity strategies we’ve been talking about, also try a little experiment to keep your inner child happy and fulfilled. Go roller skating with friends, visit a museum you’ve never been to before, work on a 1,000 piece puzzle with your kids… Something that completely shifts your focus away from work!
Take Action! ‘Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.’ I love that quote from Dale Carnegie because it perfectly captures the simple, powerful truth about overcoming procrastination. All the planning in the world won’t get results until you do something about it. One of the most motivated (and motivating) people I know, Mel Robbins, has a simple principle that she calls ‘the five-second rule.’ I love the five-second rule because it’s the perfect antidote to procrastination. Mel’s idea is that if you have a goal you want to achieve, or a task you want to complete, you need to take physical action within 5 seconds or you risk losing motivation. Starting is everything. Once we take action we are committed to an idea. Make a plan. Set specific achievable goals. Do it. As soon as you get started your chances of success are practically guaranteed.

Demir & Carey Bentley

Demir and Carey Bentley are the founders of Lifehack Method, WSJ & USA Today bestselling authors, and executive productivity coaches. They've helped thousands of people avoid burnout and soar to their highest level of productivity. Read more about them here.