Learning how to overcome procrastination is perhaps one of the most important gifts you can give yourself.
Imagine that the deadline for the task is tomorrow. It is 10pm, the coffee is poured and you sit down to finally get started on the task. You’ve known about it for the last 3 weeks, but only now getting down to doing it. Now is your time to research, organize the information and present it in a way that will be acceptable to the boss or intended audience. At the same time, you do what you normally do. You beat yourself up for waiting to the last minute to start. With that little voice in your head telling you how you suck at doing this task anyway and it is probably not going to end well.
Procrastination leads to broken promises, anger, stress, unfulfilled expectations, low self-esteem and a whole host of other disempowering negative feelings. People procrastinate for different reasons and on different things.
If procrastination does not serve you, how is it that over 90% of people procrastinate? Procrastination comes in various forms and sizes and has different roots.
If you are a situational procrastinator, then you might be diligent in all tasks except one particular one, where you find you procrastinate. A chronic procrastinator tends to procrastinate on all types of things. So it is not specific to one specific type of things.
Often time’s procrastinators lead almost a double life. Acting happy and productive while truly feeling boxed and pressured. Some talk about their heavy workloads and schedules, whilst others talk about how good they are at working under pressure. Often pulling all-nighters not to miss a serious deadline. They may be forced to take drastic actions and maybe even drop some other commitments, just so that they can get done what they have been procrastinating on.
• You woke up late.
• Still running through last night’s argument with your partner.
• You are too tired.
• Feeling overwhelmed or stressed by what needs to be done.
• It’s too hot to be inside and get things done.
• It’s too cold to go outside and get things done.
• The economy is not the best.
• You are distracted by social media, phone calls, email etc.
• Distracted by watching another YouTube video.
• Etc., etc., etc.
There are thousands of “good” reasons why people procrastinate.
What is procrastination?
• It is sometimes labelled as a failure of executive function. Meaning being able to recognize “I know I need to do this,” and then do it. You see procrastinators know they have to do that thing, but they don’t get busy doing it.
• Some psychologist say it is problems related to emotional regulation. Meaning to avoid bad feeling like stress of doing the task. (Which is ironic, because not doing it, often causes more stress in the long run.) Chronic procrastinators often have heightened stress levels.
• Some psychologist say it might be partly genetic. Which is like just giving all your power over to your genetics. Contrary to popular belief, very little is actually down to genetics.
• Procrastination is not always about being scared to do the task. This could be the case for some. Others simply rather want to have the enjoyment of doing something else instead.
• Procrastination is not always about bad time management. Whilst for some people this is the case, it is not necessarily for others.
• Procrastination can be an affliction of ambitious people. Meaning they have the ambition to achieve certain things, but procrastinate for some or other reason. Thus procrastination is not always about being lazy or un-ambitious.
• Some procrastinators have just not learnt how not to procrastinate.
Procrastination makes you work harder
When people procrastinate, they often do it in an effort to avoid an unpleasant or less desirable task they want to avoid doing. They think that if they avoid doing that task, it will be easier to complete the project they are working on. In reality this serves only to make you work harder to accomplish the project you are trying to complete.
Chances are high that you will also produce lower-quality work because you have to work harder and faster on to get the task done in a shorter amount of time.
How to overcome procrastination
• Learn to resist the urge to get absorbed in activities that are not in your to do list. Of course the exception might be emergencies, which could cause or prevent harm to yourself or other people.
• Make a to-do list that you follow each day. Of course you can set aside some time for unexpected things that might pop up. Time management can play a very important role in overcoming procrastination. There are a number of time management tips here.
• Play the 10 by 10 game. See if you can get 10 tasks done by 10 am. That way you get into the flow of doing what needs to be done each day. It also helps to build momentum.
• Set your goal and intention for getting the task done on time.
• Sometimes people think that having that dead line is what motivates them, which is why they do it at the last minute. This often causes even more stress. If this is the case for you, then give yourself mini deadlines for smaller pieces of the overall task.
• Check in with yourself to see what the reason is that you are procrastinating. Is it because you have fears or negative emotions about the task at hand. Or, are you simply avoiding it, because there are more interesting or fun things to do. Based on the answer, you can take appropriate action. If it is about avoiding the task due to negative feelings, then consider where those feelings are coming from. Are they due to your own self-talk or other people’s perceptions? Time Line Therapy® and business coachingcoaching are two excellent ways to overcome both these issues. If you are avoiding the task to do more fun things, then a re-frame might be necessary. Example, if you do the task now, then you will have more quality free time to spend on the fun things afterwards. It might also be necessary to change the internal representation of the task that needs to be done. (Changing the picture, feelings, thoughts etc. you hold in your mind.)
• Check your motivation (your why) for completing the task. Rather move towards what you want, than away from what you don’t want. Example, often time’s people want more money. However their motivation is to “not be poor or not struggle” etc. The focus is on the things that they don’t want. Rather focus on positive reasons why you want more money. Example, going on holidays, being able to afford the house you want, etc. There is probably a distinct difference in the pictures you have in your mind when you move towards having what you want, as opposed to moving away from what you don’t want. You can also focus on the positive consequences of completing the task and let that be a motivator.
• Also check in with your values. Is the thing that you are supposed to do important to you? You don’t necessarily need to like what you are doing, but if it is important enough to do, then it is worth doing well. Example, very few people want to file their taxes, but it is important for them to do so. If your why is big enough, then you will find a way to do it. If it is not, then you will find excuses or reasons why you could not do it.
• The last two points have a lot to do with how the unconscious mind works. It has been proven that we operate around 95% of the time at the unconscious level. Whilst you think you might be conscious of everything you are doing, most of the time these actions are governed by unconscious processes and beliefs etc. So it is important to get rid of negative emotions, limiting decisions and all the things that don’t serve you.
• How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Have the same approach to the task that you were procrastinating on. Break it down in to individual bite size pieces and tackle them individually. An example is somebody who wants to lose 100 pounds in weight. The task seems quite big. However, as you break the task down into smaller pieces, it becomes more manageable. The first step is to see a dietitian. Then a personal trainer to work out an exercise plan. Take the weight in 10 pound increments. As you lose each 10 pounds, celebrate the little victory.
• Celebrate the little victories on the road to completion. This builds on your confidence and will increase your competence. By doing this, it becomes more enjoyable to do the tasks as you give yourself reward for your efforts. Consider what reward you can give yourself for achieving the task.
• Consider some different actions. Evaluate where you are better served to “sub-contract” certain tasks. Example, pay somebody else to mow the lawn or wash the car. Your time is often more valuable than the saving of doing it yourself. Having someone else to get the little jobs done could free up your time, so that you don’t feel so under pressure. Of course, this does not mean you have more time to procrastinate. Simply that some of the pressures are removed so you can have clearer focus on the task you need to get done. You can even get the family involved to make their own dinner for a couple of nights so that you can focus on getting your task done.
• Forget about perfectionism. Note that there is a difference between excellence and perfection. Striving to be really good is excellence; whereas perfection does not exist. Striving for perfection often also causes anxiety, fear, self-doubt and other negative emotions.
Thus go for excellence, but know that to perfect something, one has to start it in the first place. Just as the Wright brothers did not build a perfect plane; it was a start that other people work on to continuously perfect. So don’t let perfectionism become a reason for procrastination.
• Learn to say “No” to your social media, YouTube, friends calling for a chat etc. It is amazing how much time people spend just to check if someone has “Liked” or commented on their Facebook post.
• As Brian Tracy says, “Eat your frog first thing in the morning.” When you have a difficult task to do, or something that you really do not look forward to doing, then do it first. Just like nobody wants to eat a slimy, warty frog; there are times when you have to do something that you really don’t want to. If you ate the frog first thing in the morning, then the rest of the day can only get better. If you put it off until the end of the day, then you will probably find reasons why you should put it off until tomorrow. So the viscous circle of procrastination begins again. So do the thing you are procrastinating on or don’t want to do first. Then you can look forward to doing the things you do want to do.
• It sounds quite obvious, but turn off all distractions. As we saw earlier in the procrastination enemies list, people very often get distracted by unimportant things. When it is time to do a task, then close Facebook, your email and other distractions. Even let your phone go to voicemail, unless it is a specific or important call that you are expecting. Minimizing distractions will help you to stay more focused on the task at hand.
• Start earlier and work later. This is not to say you must be a workaholic. With the growing population, we often get stuck in traffic etc. on our daily commute
• It might even be important to distance yourself from unsupportive or toxic individuals, who are dragging you down.
Often people think procrastinate is about laziness, lack of discipline or commitment, lack of self-control, or some similar character defect. When you call yourself any of these things, it makes the situation even worse by sabotaging your self-confidence and often sets you up for more failure. They say things like, “I’m lazy. I’m undisciplined. I’m a failure. I’m hopeless. I’ve got no self-control. I’ll never win at anything.” People often live up to their “labels.” Example, “I am lazy.” Then they start to behave in a lazy manor to reaffirm the label.
As we have seen, there are ways to overcome procrastination. Beating yourself up is not going to help the situation. If procrastination is a big issue for you, then speak to a coach and get help.
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