Procrastination: The action of delaying or postponing something – AKA: the stuff we love to put off.
There are things we would all like to defer and sometimes the strict 3D regime of Do it, Delegate it, or Ditch it just doesn’t cut it! But procrastination can mean always having something from that to-do list hanging over us.
Worse than that, Procrastination limits productivity and creativity. It can be paralysing, stopping you doing other ‘easier’ tasks, and it can damage your confidence and self-esteem.
Procrastination can invoke a range of emotions including feeling unsettled, frustrated, guilty and being trapped… I delayed in leaving a large corporate company and starting my own business and ended up stayed too long in a job that didn’t make me happy. Though the security and pay helped me defer taking that step the job satisfaction I now have leaves me kicking myself for not acting sooner.
Often a cause of procrastination is overthinking, dwelling on all the possible outcomes, positive and negative, that may result from taking action. Women who think too much author Dr Susan Nolen-Hoeksema describes overthinking as “When you go over and over your negative thoughts and feelings examining them, questioning them, needing them like dough? … When we are caught in overthinking these questions just lead to more questions – what I call the yeast effect. Just as yeasty bread dough will double in size after its been kneaded, our negative thoughts expand, grow and begin to take up all the space around them in our minds.” She goes on to explain “Overthinking interferes with good problem solving by making you think more negatively about the problem and sapping your confidence in any solution you come up with.”
To combat overthinking put your mind to visualising how much better you will feel once you have achieved your goal; Picture it, use that as motivation. When I’m not procrastinating, I feel in control, productive and happy that things are progressing.
So, what can you do so get unstuck? Something you could try is free flow writing exercise. Free-flow writing is a tool that can help understanding and self-awareness of your unconscious thoughts.
- It is for your eyes only
- Don’t worry about spelling, grammar, or how legible your handwriting is
- Write for the full time, just let the words flow
Set yourself a timer and then write, continuously, without stopping, for 2 minutes. Write on the topic of ‘Why am I putting off doing X?’ Then read back over what you have written, have you captured anything surprising?
Tim Urban, writer and blogger behind Wait But Why.com in his TED talk ‘Inside the mind of a master procrastinator’, says that driving our brain we have a Decision Maker. However, Distracting us from the hard tasks we should be doing Procrastinators also have an Instant Gratification Monkey. This is the part of us that would rather watch cat videos on Facebook than knuckle down to a more involved, but probably also more rewarding work.
Finally, Tim says, as a deadline nears, kicking us into action we have the Panic Monster. He wakes up when a deadline starts to loom and drives us to get the work done, often making us work late into the night so we don’t fail. This is not a great way to work but with a deadline we usually find a way to get the job done. However, if there is no deadline the Panic Monster stays sleeping and we could procrastinate indefinitely
Here are some tips to help you stop procrastinating
Identify the problem
Name it, know the beast and don’t ignore it. Carry out some research to understand more about the task, knowledge is power.
Why are you procrastinating?
What is stopping you from acting? Are you unsure of the way forward, do you think you’ll get a bad reception, do you think you’ll not be any good at it? Understand why it is something you are reluctant to do?
Break it into manageable chunks that you can take one at a time rather than having to tackle the whole task as one. What can you do today, tomorrow, next week, next month to get you there?
In his book ‘Eat that frog ‘, Brian Tracy says, “There just isn’t enough time for everything on our ‘To Do’ list – and there never will be. Successful people don’t try to do everything. They learn to focus on the most important tasks and make sure they get done.”
Mark Twain once said that “if the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing that that is probably the worst thing that is going to happen to you all day long. “
Stop finding other things to do
Go out somewhere where you can’t be distracted by email, social media, colleagues or family, housework… go for a walk, think it through away from the desk.
Allow yourself to think
Turn off the phone/ e-mail etc. go off-grid to allow you time to concentrate. Set aside time, to think about the task and what needs to be done, use a timer to stop time running away with you.
Make a plan
Prioritise what to do and commit to taking action today, tomorrow, next week… Make a plan of action and stick to it.
Have a vision
know your goals and keep focused on moving toward the end goal.
Incentivise with a treat… allow yourself a cup of tea and a biscuit after you have completed a task and not before. If you like, make a sticker reward chart!
Even just an ear to listen, talking through the task can make it less daunting. Ideally outsource to someone who can do what you can’t do, don’t have time to do, or just don’t want to do. If you need a hand…. get a VA.
When is procrastination not procrastination? When it’s a gut feeling that you should be listening to! If you realise there is a reason not to do whatever it is, then make that an informed decision. Are you putting it off because it’s not really important? You don’t have time for everything – Let it go. Decide it’s not right to push forward and stop beating yourself up for procrastinating.
When you are procrastinating, the solution is to take back control. Know what needs to be done and understand why you are putting it off. Get help from others for the things you find hard to do. Once it is complete you’ll be free to focus on the things you do love to do.