It is something that everyone does but we often fail to understand why. Procrastination is at the heart of our existence and even though we know we will have to face what we are avoiding in the end, it doesn’t stop us putting off that task, decision or change. We expect life to be easy so we avoid difficulties and hope they go away. We are often not given the tools we need as children in order to persevere and have resilience. Decision-making is often taken out of our hands. There are various reasons for procrastination but it can be broadly classified in four ways:
- The anxious procrastinator who delays task due to the fear associated with the end result.
- The fun procrastinator who prioritises instant gratification and replaces difficult tasks with easier or fun alternatives.
- The plenty of time procrastinator who either sees the deadline as far into the future and crams in work at the last minute or extends their own deadlines to avoid.
- The perfectionist procrastinator who is never satisfied with what they have done and fears failure.
All of the above have the same end result. Things don’t get done. I have written quite a lot lately about reaching a point where change is possible, moving forward is possible and it just takes that step or choice to make it happen. This is where many people get stuck in the hamster wheel of over analysis and procrastination. The “Manager” protector is usually very strong here. (Manager voices tell us what we should be doing and shame us for not doing it)
We all do it. We convince ourselves that doing what needs to be done or facing that issue can wait until tomorrow or next week or next month or never. We bury our heads in the sand waiting for the right time, knowing that the right time is usually right now. We beat ourselves up because of it knowing that the only person who can change it is us. We become depressed and lose our self-esteem. Sound familiar? Then you are probably a procrastinator.
Webster’s dictionary defines procrastination as a verb, meaning to intentionally put off something that has to be done. Day in and day out we all find ourselves procrastinating to some degree. It could be something as small as finishing a home project or something bigger such as starting a new business. The fact is that we are merely wasting precious time that we can never get back. I am reminded of the story told by Scott Peck in his self-help book “The Road less Travelled” where he asked a stressed financial analyst how she likes to eat cake. ” the frosting first”, she replied. He suggested she eat the cake first and then the frosting. This statement just about sums up the pleasure principle. We put off seemingly uncomfortable or difficult tasks and replace them with more pleasurable ones, hoping the difficulty will go away. To quote Peck again “Life is difficult and it is only by facing these difficulties can we really enjoy life”.
Ask any self-proclaimed procrastinator and they will give you many reasons why they aren’t doing what they could. No matter the response, it will most likely fall within one of these 5 categories.
Fear of Success/Failure – Why on earth would anyone be afraid of success? As strange as it may sound, it’s true. The fear of success and all that comes along with being successful can be overwhelming for some. So, instead of them moving forward with accomplishing their dreams, they put it off and simply put it down as “It’s just not meant to be.” On the other hand, having a fear of failure is just as profound. Failure is a part of life and all successes are defined by failures.
Self Sabotaging Beliefs – Statements like, “He or she is lucky,” “That could never happen for me,” “I don’t have the right connections to do that,” and so on are all examples of self sabotaging beliefs.
No Motivation – Staying motivated is a job all by itself. Without the ability to self motivate or surround yourself with positive, supporting people, you will lose momentum and give up quickly. Making changes and decisions can be a lonely place to be and especially when the consequences will only be felt by the decision maker.
Lazy/No Desire – Not true for everyone but a percentage of people who procrastinate are doing it for this reason. Some people are just lazy and have no desire to do anything except make excuses why their lives aren’t going the way they would like.
Overwhelmed/Loss of Focus– Too many options will cause some people to become overwhelmed and lose focus. They just don’t know where to begin or what to choose. They go back and forth analysing the pros and cons of all choices but never make a decision. This is commonly known as the paralysis analysis. They are also the sort who will make this worse by asking a thousand people what they should do, gaining a thousand different opinions and therefore adding to the confusion.
There are, however, simple methods available to avoid this crippling condition ruining your personal and professional life and ruin it it will, if it is allowed to become a habit. Do you really want to be seen as someone who is unreliable, always missing deadlines and never keeping promises? Do you want that mad rush that comes with having to get things done at the last moment? You could find your business network and social circle dwindling quite fast. Customers and friends won’t put up with this behaviour for too long.
Below are eight simple tips for overcoming procrastination before it overwhelms you.
The 80/20 rule or Pareto Principle. 20% of activities on your to-do list will produce 80% of your most desired results. What do you want to accomplish? What are those activities you must do? The ability to determine those tasks and then complete them on time can have more impact on achieving your goals than anything else.
Write down those tasks and specific time frames for when you will work on them. Write them in a place where you will constantly see them to be reminded. This way you’re constantly reminded of what you are to do and when. This is really about self-discipline and allowing ourselves to do that difficult task rather than something easier or nothing.
Plan a reward ahead of time. Make sure you give yourself some type of reward when finished. It can be as small as penciling in time to work on the things you enjoy. This is the principle of delayed gratification in contrast to instant gratification that we all like to escape to. Do the thing you like least first. Research points to the fact that the longer you put off something, the harder it is to get motivated. It becomes easier to experience procrastination.
Break it down into small steps. To avoid overwhelm, avoid saying, “I’m going to sit down and work on this for the next six hours.” Instead say to yourself, “I’m going to work on this first thing in the morning from 8:00 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. If then I want to stop I can. ” When you tell yourself you will “only” work on something for X number of minutes, it makes it more palatable. And what usually happens is you might become enthused and want to keep going.
The power of focus. You can be putting tremendous energy into something, but is it the right thing? Many people expend huge amounts of energy and creativity trying not to do something. Refine your focus and prioritise those issues that are important in that moment.
Consequences. Take into account what will happen if you don’t complete those 20% of tasks that produce 80% of your desired results. There is often pain in thinking about a task we don’t want to do, but by procrastinating the pain only increases. You’re not having fun on the enjoyable tasks because in the back of your mind you’re thinking about what you must do and “should” do.
Keep in mind that everything you procrastinate on today only compounds tomorrow’s pressure. To be motivated toward your goal and achieve success requires you to have strong “motive”. Decide what you want. What tasks must be done in order for you to accomplish your goals, dreams and aspirations?