The Now Habit – Dr Neil Fiore – strategies for overcoming procrastination

The Now Habit by Dr Neil Fiore offers a comprehensive strategy to overcome the causes of procrastination and to eliminate its negative effects.

His techniques will help any busy person get more things done more quickly, without the anxiety and stress brought on by failure to meet the workplace’s pressing deadlines.

Dr Fiore’s work was based on a positive attitude about the human spirit, a belief that work and improvement are natural for the human body and mind, and that problems such as procrastination usually come about from suppression of that drive. I bought the Kindle edition of the book which allowed me to highlight the text and present this summary of the key messages of the book.

I still struggle with procrastination especially on long duration projects which don’t always have clearly defined steps. For example – Prepare a winning Toastmasters speech, start Zumba exercise program,  tidy up files on computer. I read the Now Habit hoping to learn some useful techniques.

The essential message of The Now Habit is this:

Procrastination is a mechanism for coping with the anxiety about starting or completing any task or decision. Procrastination is your attempted solution to cope with tasks that are boring or overwhelming.  It is easy to become addicted to the rewards of procrastination and to resist pressure from authorities such as your manager or your conscience.

The strategy of The Now Habit will lower your anxiety, fears, and self-doubts. You will put aside the fear of failure, the terror of feeling overwhelmed, and low self-esteem, and focus your mind on what you can start now.

“I choose to” instead of “I have to”

Overcoming procrastination requires a change of attitude and instead of viewing yourself as a victim, but to think of yourself as a Producer with with the necessary skills and strategies.

Instead of saying “I have to do something”, change your approach to say “I choose to do this”.  This gives your mind and body a clear picture of what you are choosing to do, and when, where andw how you choose to do it. A frequent question you can ask yourself is “When is the next time I can start working towards this goal?”

Saying No

Saying no is an important practice for procrastinators. It lessens the likelihood that you’ll rush into a task in order to make up for a perceived lack of worth. A direct and maturely stated “No” clears the air much more quickly than a passive “Yes, I guess I have to” that you then resent and rebel against by procrastinating.

Positive Self Talk

There are five negative statements which can be replaced with positive language that will get results

1. Have to -> Choose To

I have to means “I have to, but I don’t want to”. Replace “I have to” with “I choose to.”

2. Finish -> Start

Telling yourself “I must finish” keeps you focused on the completed product somewhere in the future, without ever telling you where to start. Replace “I must finish” with “When can I start?”

3. Big -> Small

“This project is so big and important.” sets you up immediately for failure and overwhelm. Replace “This project is so big and important” with “I can take one small step.”

One small step can be one rough, rough draft; one imperfect sketch. That’s all I need to do now.”  You can never build a house all at once. All you can do now is pour the concrete for the foundation; hammer one nail; raise a wall—one small step at a time. You could never write an entire book now; you can only write one chapter, a few pages at a time. A single, small step is something you know you can accomplish now.

4. Perfectly -> Humanly

“I must be perfect” is negative thinking.  Replace “I must be perfect” with “I can be perfectly human.” Replace demands for perfect work with acceptance of (not resignation to) your human limits. Accept so-called mistakes (really feedback) as part of a natural learning process. You need self-compassion rather than self-criticism to support your courageous efforts at facing the unavoidable risks of doing real, imperfect work rather than dreaming of the perfect, completed project.

5.    Suffer -> Guilt-Free Play

“I don’t have time to play” is negative thinking. Replace “I don’t have time to play” with “I must take time to play.” You can also say “I choose to start on one small step, knowing I have plenty of time for play.”

Putting off living  is the most tragic form of procrastination we can engage in. Not only does it keep us from completing the really important tasks in life, it lessens our respect for ourselves by keeping us engaged in destructive, delaying tactics such as overeating, excessive TV watching, the investment of time and money in a succession of halfhearted and rapidly abandoned hobbies and schemes. Attempting to skimp on holidays, rest, and exercise leads to suppression of the spirit and motivation as life begins to look like all spinach and no dessert.

To sustain high levels of motivation and lessen the urge to procrastinate in the face of life’s demands for high-level performance, we need guilt-free play to provide us with periods of physical and mental renewal.

To control your work habits you must make the periods of work shorter (less painful) and the rewards more frequent and immediate (more pleasurable)—interlacing short periods of work (30 minute blocks of time) with breaks and rewards. Structure the rewards so as to increase the probability that you will start on the task each day.

Enjoying guilt-free play is part of a cycle that will lead you to higher levels of quality, creative work. The cycle follows a pattern that usually begins with guilt-free play, or at least the scheduling of it.

Three major fears

The three major fears that block action and create procrastination are as follows.

  1. the terror of being overwhelmed
  2. the fear of failure
  3. the fear of not finishing.

These three blocks usually interact with each other and escalate any initial fears and stresses.

I liked the author’s suggestion of “Persistent Starting”. Instead of worrying about how much much is needed, it is better to get started and actually do something.  Work on the task for 30 minutes then have a short break. Do another 30 minute block of work. Eventually you will finish the task. So instead of procrastinating day after day, commi to start working for no more than thirty minutes each day. This will change you from a procrastinator to a producer. The important thing is that you got started.

When you’ve overcome inertia, you’ve gotten yourself beyond the most difficult part. Sometimes “getting started” is enough to get it finished as well. The act of starting reveals the real work you must do, rather than the work of avoiding what has been feared. As you face that fear you see that there is only work, difficult perhaps, but not the multiple worries and anxieties you imagined.

Unschedule

The author suggests creating a weekly schedule, “an unscheduled” with 30 minute blocks to record every thirty minutes of uninterrupted completed quality work. He also uses this timetable to record all the non-work activities including leisure activities. F. Skinner did with his time clock.  The result is you will get more done when I you can look forward to recording small achievements and then reward them with time for fun activities and other rewards.

The Unschedule keeps track of quality time worked and rewards to look forward to during my breaks.

The Unschedule is a weekly calender of committed recreational activities that divides the week into manageable pieces with breaks, meals, scheduled socializing, and play. In addition, it’s a record of your productive, uninterrupted work. It provides producers with a prescheduled commitment to guilt-free time for recreation, plus a realistic look at the actual time available for work.

Starting is easier because thirty minutes of work is too little to be intimidating, while it is enough to make a good start and to receive a break or reward. Thirty minutes reduces work to small, manageable, rewardable chunks that lessen the likelihood that you will feel overwhelmed by the complexity and length of large or menacing projects.

The Unschedule builds your confidence in two ways: first, it gives you immediate and frequent rewards following short periods of work, rather than delaying a sense of accomplishment until the task is completed; second, the habit of recording each period of work gives you a visible reward that allows you to see how much concentrated, uninterrupted work you have completed each day and each week.

The Unschedule and the guilt-free play system help you to put more time into your leisure and more quality into your work.

Our usual habit is to schedule our work time and to leave our play reasonably unstructured. By requiring you to schedule and stick to recreational time, and to limit your work activity at first to predetermined periods of thirty minutes, the Unschedule builds up a subconscious desire to work more and play less.

Limiting ourselves to important stuff

Given our limited amount of time and energy, we must make decisions and set priorities in order to make progress on one goal and to avoid disappointment and feelings of failure about the rest.

To ensure that your way of setting goals helps you overcome procrastination, make commitments only to those goals and paths that you can wholeheartedly embrace. To avoid the frustration of the procrastination cycle, you must abandon unattainable goals and halfhearted wishes. There are so many things I would like to do that I have to make hard decisions about what dreams to let go.

One of the best-kept secrets of successful producers is their ability to let go of goals that cannot be achieved or started in the near future.

To set realistic goals you must be willing to fully commit to working on the path to that goal and be capable of investing the time and energy required to start now. If you cannot find the time or motivation to start working on that goal, let go of it, or it will keep haunting you, making you feel like a procrastinator—as if you’d failed to accomplish something important that you promised yourself you would achieve.

Part of our hesitation to set goals comes from the knowledge that any time we make this kind of commitment we risk confronting setbacks and demands that will require us to stretch beyond our usual comfort limits. Setting a goal will require you to steer your activities in one direction, within a prescribed time period, along a path of challenges that will remind you of your human limits and frailties.

To be truly effective in your goal-setting, you’ll need a functional subgoal that tells you what to do today in order to get closer to that ultimate goal. Action-oriented subgoals will help you to visualize when, where, and on what you need to start each day to achieve your goal by a certain deadline.

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