We’ve all heard about it, many of us are doing it! Procrastination is the habit of delaying an important task, usually by focusing on less urgent, more enjoyable, and easier activities instead. It’s an active process. You choose to do something else instead of the task you know you should be doing.
If you’re a procrastinator, then even when it’s something you want to do, getting started can be a challenge. You distract yourself by making a phone call, checking social media, starting the laundry, making a coffee, working on something different; anything but the thing you need to do.
About 20 percent of people are chronic procrastinators. For them the behaviour cuts across all domains of life.
You may be procrastinating if you:
- Fill your day with low-priority tasks
- Leave an important item on your To-Do list for a long time
- Read emails several times over without making a decision on what to do with them.
- Start a high-priority task and then go off to make a coffee
- Fill your time with unimportant tasks that other people ask you to do, instead of getting on with the important tasks you really need to do
- Wait to be in the right mood, or wait for the right time
- Keep resetting the time or date due when your Outlook calendar pops up the reminder you set
Procrastination can restrict your potential and undermine your career. It can also disrupt teamwork, reduce morale, and lead to insomnia, depression and job loss. So, it’s crucial to take proactive steps to prevent it.
Perfectionists are often procrastinators. They’d rather avoid doing a task that they don’t feel they have the skills to do, rather than do it imperfectly.
HOW TO CHANGE
First you need to recognise you are procrastinating
I’m been heard saying that self-awareness is the catalyst to change. This is your chance to get honest with yourself. Are you really a procrastinator?
If you’re briefly delaying an important task for genuinely good a reason, then you aren’t necessarily procrastinating. However, if you start to put things off indefinitely, or switch focus because you want to avoid doing something, then you probably are.
The second step is to understand WHY you procrastinate
Once you identify the reasons behind your behaviour, you can use appropriate strategies to manage and overcome it.
Procrastinators typically contend that they perform better under pressure, but research shows that is not the case; more often than not that’s their way of justifying putting things off.
Here’s an interesting fact, and probably no surprise. Often the procrastination is not because of the actual task, but the emotions you are feeling around it. Sometimes what you need to get done might seem too hard or big, there is fear or resistance, or there is a decision to be made that is making you feel uncomfortable. We may be afraid we won’t do a good enough job, or here’s the biggie – worry what other people think!
AT THE ROOT OF PROCRASTINATION WE USUALLY FIND UNRESOLVED EMOTIONS
Observe yourself, do you find yourself saying things like:
- This task is going to be unpleasant, so I’m putting it off for as long as I can
- I’d rather do anything than this unpleasant task
- This project is going to be challenging, so I keep on avoiding it
- I really want to accomplish this task, but I’m afraid of how hard and time-consuming it will be
- When I think about doing this task, I feel stuck
- When I think about doing this task, I feel anxious
- When I think about working on this project, I feel overwhelmed
Perhaps you have doubts about your ability and you’re afraid you will fail. You may catch yourself saying something like ‘I don’t want to fail, so I’m not even going to try’.
Or maybe what you are actually afraid of is success! If I complete this project, it could change my life. Maybe that scares you.
So what can you do to change?
Now that you have identified that you do procrastinate, you will find it a lot easier to introduce strategies that reduce your tendency to do it.
In my experience, along with a few of my favourite strategies that follow, you will have the most profound results if you deal with whatever it is that is giving you the emotional response in the first place.
1. Proven technique for releasing emotional blocks
It wouldn’t be a Career Reboot blog without a mention of EFT (tapping), a powerful and profound technique for addressing emotional blocks.
More often than not, the emotional block is related to an old event where you experienced distress and that memory is now buried way beneath the surface of your conscious mind. It doesn’t stop it from triggering you though!
The process of EFT (tapping) helps us safely bring such memories to the surface and release the charge connected to it. The results are often rapid and there is a ripple effect that lasts way beyond the issue.
Clients notice reduced stress and less intensity around emotions and enjoy much calmer day. They always have heightened confidence in themselves and their own abilities, and habits such as procrastination can reduce dramatically.
Here is a link to a brief, yet delightful EFT Tapping video to help you with Procrastination.
2. Take one small step to get the ball rolling
Another major cause of procrastination is poor decision-making. If you can’t decide what to do, you’ll likely put off taking action in case you do the wrong thing.
So our suggestion here is, take one small step and get started.
Even minimal progress toward a goal can help you achieve it. And you don’t have to like doing it – you just need to get started.
If you’re hesitating to get started, this is procrastination. We delay performing an action even though we know our delay may negatively impact ourselves or others.
Occasionally avoiding a task may not be much of a problem, but for some of us, procrastination is a habitual behaviour.
In his 2011 book, “The Procrastination Cure,” Jeffery Combs suggests tackling tasks in 15-minute bursts of activity. Start with quick and small tasks first. These “small wins” will give you a sense of achievement, and will make you feel more positive and less overwhelmed by the larger project or goal that you are working towards.
3. Create an “if-then” plan
The point behind an if-then plan is to fully understand how you often fail and create a plan for what you’ll do when a specific scenario comes up.
Implementation Intention is the fancy term for if-then planning. This concept was created by psychologist Peter Gollwitzer in the mid 90’s. In one experiment, Gollwitzer asked his students to mail in an assignment two days before Christmas. One group was simply given the assignment, while the other was asked to form specific if-then statements: When would they mail it, where they would mail it, and how they would mail it.
The results were that the first group (no specific instructions) had a 32% success rate. The second group (if-then instructions) had a 72% success rate. That’s more than double the percentage, simply by creating a plan.
These automatic contingencies can help many situations. For example:
- If I feel bored when I’m doing this task, then I’ll take a breath, focus my attention and keep working.
- If I want to check my email during the hour, then I’ll turn my phone off, and continue doing my homework.
- If I feel like I need to eat a sugary snack, then I’ll walk for 10 minutes instead.
4. Amend your internal dialog
Your internal dialogue is that voice inside your head which commentates on everything around you. It is the voice that applies your logic and reasoning to situations. It allows you to make decisions about things like how something makes you feel and to form an opinion on something.
If you apply this to procrastination and the part your dialogue plays, when you use the phrases I need to and I have to, you are actually implying that you have no choice in what you do. This can make you feel disempowered and might even result in self-sabotage. By saying, I choose to, you have a feeling of owning a project and that can make you feel more in control of your workload.
Your internal dialogue runs automatically if you let it. If you choose to pay attention to it, you can choose what you say to yourself. So be mindful. We all have choices.
5. Minimize distractions
OK, so nothing new here and no long explanation required.
Turn off your email and social media, and avoid sitting anywhere near a television while you work.
Allocate time in your day to check emails and social media. It works!
6. Do it first thing, every day!
One of the most common strategies talked about for years is to get those tasks that you find least pleasant out of the way early. This will give you the rest of the day to concentrate on work that you find more enjoyable.
If that still feels tough, refer back to step two.
There are many strategies you can implement to help you reduce your tendency to procrastinate.
Of course you can do the most basic strategy of keeping a to do list then prioritise and re-prioritise your to do list. This will keep what needs to be done top of mind.
We are all unique individuals so choose what works for you. Just be sure to take some form of action to ensure you don’t end up becoming the one that is known to miss deadlines and be seen as a time waster. Others will quickly become frustrated with you.
If you think that you are putting something off because you can’t decide what action to take or you find it hard to make decisions, there may be more to it than you realise.
Here is the link again to a brief, yet delightful EFT Tapping video to help you with Procrastination.
You are also more than welcome to take our brief quiz – Are you a Procrastinator?
Choose to make a change.