As Humans, we generally love the easy way of doing things. Whether it is something simple, more complex or dealing with a relationship or other aspects of change we need to make, taking the easy way out is often the most attractive method of dealing with challenges. This mindset leads inevitably to procrastination and avoidance of our fears. While it might seem the right thing to do in the moment, we are storing trouble for later. Whether you face issues immediately or later, one thing is certain. You will need to face them eventually. Taking charge early often means we still have some influence over the outcome before circumstance and necessity take over. This is a fact we often know but live in the hope that things will solve themselves and we all do it.
We convince ourselves that filing our tax return or planning that career move can wait until tomorrow or next week or next month. We convince ourselves that the relationship will get better if we give a bit more (despite getting little in return). 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?
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 eats 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 should. 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 steam and give up quickly.
Lazy/No Desire: Yes, that is true, 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 of analysis.
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. You will get around to completing these tasks sooner rather than later because by “seeing” them all the time, you’ll want to cross them off your list. Consider erasing the tasks after completing them so you no longer have to look at them.
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.
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 straight” 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 get on a roll and want to keep going.
What can you delegate? You don’t always need to delegate an entire project. Instead consider delegating a task or role within that project. Ask yourself: “What must be done that only I can do?” These are the tasks you must do. Whatever can be done by someone else, consider delegating. This is a difficult concept for those of you who like control. It’s easy to say: “If I want it done right I better do it myself” Or: “In the time it takes me to train someone I can do it myself”.
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.
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 today only compounds tomorrow’s pressure. To be motivated toward your goal and achieve success requires you to have strong “motive” and move. Decide what you want. What tasks must be done in order for you to accomplish your goals, dreams and aspirations?