Ask a random person on the street for their advice on procrastination and they’ll tell you:
“Just don’t procrastinate.”
“If you procrastinate, you’re lazy. So don’t be lazy.”
Problem solved. That was easy!
You would never expect a student to develop exquisite intonation by telling that student, “Don’t play out of tune.”
You would go in-depth, discussing what good intonation sounds like, how to hear it, how to produce it, and you might even talk about the physics of sound (if you’re a nerd like I am).
So why not have a robust method for coping with procrastination?
A lot of people are afraid to face the shame associated with procrastination, so they just don’t talk about it.
Here’s the thing, though: everyone procrastinates.
So we’ve established that everyone procrastinates occasionally. But don’t think that means you should just sit around procrastinating all day.
Instead, develop a robust method to end your procrastination and finally reach your true potential.
Use these three methods to prioritize, breathe, and act courageously.
Figure Out What’s Most Important…to you, right now
Take 5 seconds to answer this question:
What is the most important, crucial, must-get-done project you are working on right now?
Did one project come to mind?
Maybe a few competing ideas floated to the surface. Or maybe a flood of to-do list items threatened to derail your sanity.
Take a deep breath. It’s going to be OK.
If your priorities are murky and thinking about the number of things you have on your to-do list stresses you out, don’t worry – you’re not alone.
As musicians and teachers, we all face a constant stream of competing tasks.
How do the most influential teachers manage everything?
The best news is that it only takes a few minutes to set your priorities straight.
Here are my two favorite priority-management techniques:
1. Make a List
- Grab a sheet of paper (or digital alternative).
- Start with an unnumbered list. Write down the 3-5 most important tasks or projects you’re working on right now.
- Take a few minutes and consider how to rank these tasks/projects.
- Rank your list in order of how important it is to work on today.
Sometimes, the list method isn’t enough. When I find myself managing a whole bunch of different tasks in different disciplines, it can seem nearly-impossible to rank one thing over another. When that happens, I find someone to talk to about my goals.
2. Talk It Out
- Invite a friend or colleague to chat over coffee/tea/lunch.
- Enjoy a casual conversation, discussing long- and short-term goals.
- You’ll be shocked at the clarity you gain after a good conversation. Before you get back to work, spend a few mindful minutes to consider your observations and jot down anything you don’t want to forget.
If you’ve got a clear picture of what’s most important to you, that’s awesome!
If you’re not quite there yet, don’t worry.
The next step can clarify things even further, whether you already have a list of priorities or you’re struggling with a nebulous cloud of to-do list items.
If you’re serious about breaking your procrastination habit, breathing is one of the most powerful tools in your arsenal.
Often, we take one of two paths when we realize we’re procrastinating. We either:
1) feel guilty and force ourselves to be more productive or
2) feel guilty and continue to procrastinate.
Either way, we feel guilty.
But you don’t have to use guilt to fuel your success.
Next time you realize you’re procrastinating, try this:
- Whatever you’re doing, pause for 1-2 minutes.
- Find stillness. Take a comfortable seated or standing position and close your eyes. Bring your attention to your breathing.
- Breathe slowly through your nose. Focus your attention on breathing deeply. Feel your body move as you breathe.
- After 1-2 minutes, blink your eyes open.
- Set a specific intention for what you will do next. You don’t have to change the world. Just pick something you can do that will get you started toward your most important goal.
If you finish breathing and still can’t muster the courage to get to work, consider another meditative activity to get your creative juices flowing. Go for a walk or a short run, practice a short yoga sequence, or do a simple meditation.
For more on breathing, get your free copy of Calm Down: Yogic Breathing for Musicians Cheat Sheet:
If you like to move while you breathe, check out the Musician’s Guide to Yoga.
Once you’ve set your sights on your most important project, act courageously to reach your goals.
Refer back to your list of important projects each morning. Decide what you will do each day to make progress toward your goals. Of course, some days will be more productive than others depending on unrelated deadlines and life-events.
But whatever you’ve decided is most important each day, be brave and do it.
Second-guessing gets you nowhere. So when you discover that self-doubt is derailing your productivity, take a 1-2 minute pause to breathe.
Procrastination Warning Signals
Keep an eye out for these sneaky procrastination habits:
How often do you check your phone for new emails? How about Facebook?
If you spend all day plugged in, it can be extremely difficult to resist distractions.
Cat memes and political tweets are great, but not when you’re focusing your attention an important task. Small distractions can take a big toll on your long-term productivity.
Fortunately, engaging with distractions is only a habit.
And just like any habit, the first step toward changing it is awareness.
Begin by noticing when you feel compelled to engage in a distraction.
Then, consider your motivation to engage in your preferred distraction. Are you procrastinating? Are experiencing FoMO?
Finally, take action to limit the distracting habit. Replace it with a more productive activity, like reading or going for a walk. If you can stomach it, consider deleting any distracting apps from your phone.
For more on distraction management, read this excellent post by Leo Babauta.
When you get busy, do you avoid bigger tasks by sticking to smaller, easier-to-accomplish tasks instead?
Starting your day with a small, manageable task can be a great way to break out of a procrastination cycle. But if you keep sticking to the easy stuff, you’ll never tackle your most exciting projects.
Consider alternating easier tasks with harder tasks. Or try starting with your most intimidating task and working your way down to easier tasks.
Whatever you do, make sure that your focus is on what is most important to you each day.
You’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish when you start facing your most challenging projects head-on.
Have you ever skipped doing something because you didn’t even want to think about it?
The task is too overwhelming. Or you’re just too tired to deal with it today. You could get started tomorrow.
If you find yourself avoiding even thinking about a particular task, take a moment to pause and calm your mind.
Again, give yourself 1-2 minutes to breathe deeply with your eyes closed. Allow your attention to stay with your breath. Whatever thoughts come to your mind, allow them to pass. Let your focus remain on your breath.
When you finish, blink your eyes open and observe your thoughts related to the task you were avoiding. Set your intention to face the challenge with strength and courage.
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