Procrastination. We all do it. I guarantee you that there are people who are reading this article as a means of putting something else off.
But you figure you’ve got plenty of time and besides you work way better under pressure anyway. These are both excuses we give ourselves to justify putting things off.
In fact, we give ourselves a million reasons why it’s ok to put off a task, but when it comes down to it we’re all pretty much doing it for the same reason – to avoid discomfort of some kind. Maybe it’s fear of the unknown or failure or success. Maybe it’s because you’re focusing on HOW LONG that paper is going to take to write, or how uncomfortable it feels to workout. Maybe you feel helpless in the face or your task, or maybe you’re convinced there’s no jobs out there anyway – so why bother working on your resume?
All of these things cause us to feel uncomfortable – and that’s something that many of us try to avoid. Enter procrastination.
Now I could cut to the chase and give you a bunch of actions steps on how to get passed your behaviors, but if you can’t figure out the reason behind WHY you’re procrastinating, it’s going to be very hard to put any action steps in place.
In order to figure out what’s going on at a deeper level you’re going to need to get reflective. It’s time to start thinking deeper than “ugh, I don’t wanna’!” and get to a place where you can ask yourself, “BUT WHY?”.
You might even want to put this step off. Looking inside for fears and flaws is in itself uncomfortable, but if you want to STOP putting off the things in life that are going to get you to your great successes, you NEED to do this work.
ACKNOWLEDGE THE PROCRASTINATION
The first step is to acknowledge the behavior. Yes, I get that the dishes need to be done, but if every time you go to sit down to work on your marketing plan you conveniently find something else (ANYTHING else) to occupy yourself with – THAT is procrastination.
It can also manifest in telling yourself you don’t know enough about your subject to begin – no matter how many books you read, courses you take, experts you talk to.
You may have only this feeling or you may also believe that the reason you need all this info is because it needs to be PERFECT the first time. As I have discussed the last two weeks, perfection is unattainable and the pursuit of it is just an attempt to avoid failure. If you procrastinate starting because you feel like you’re not sure you can do it perfectly, so why bother trying – that’s perfectionism wrapped in procrastination.
Regardless of WHAT you’re doing INSTEAD of what you’re actually SUPPOSED to be doing – the most important part here is to acknowledge that you are intentionally procrastinating.
To be clear – if you sat down and intentionally thought about your to dos and prioritized them in order of importance and then got started at the top – you’re not procrastinating on those other tasks. This is good task management. If, however, you sat down and thought about your to dos and then skipped over the important stuff to focus on UNimportant minutiae so that you could AVOID the important stuff – that is procrastination.
UNCOVER THE CAUSE
Now that you KNOW you’re avoiding the task ON PURPOSE, it’s time to examine WHY?
- Are you afraid?
- Are you focusing on the pain or the time it will take instead of the end result?
- Are you doubting your abilities?
- Do you think it needs to be done perfectly?
- Are you out of mental and/or emotional resources to tackle the task?
- Do you think doing the task won’t matter anyway, so why bother?
These are only SOME of the myriad of reasons that one could give themselves for putting something off. Notice that none of these questions are “did you intentionally prioritize the dishes over working on your business?”. That is not a deeper reason AND fundamentally you already KNOW the dishes aren’t more important, that is your excuse. That is the procrastination demon talking.
If you’re struggling to to get a REAL reason just keep asking yourself “why?”. When you get a one word answer – you’re there. Fear, perfectionism, helplessness, exhaustion – these are all meaningful answers. If you find your word is laziness I implore you to keep digging. I find that people using laziness as another excuse for procrastinating. Most people that are deemed lazy aren’t avoiding the work simply because it takes too much energy – there’s usually a deeper cause behind the avoidance.
DISPUTE THE CAUSE
Now that you know WHY you’re avoiding, it’s time to face up to it. Address the reason head on. If you’re afraid of failure consider what’s the worst that could happen if you don’t get this job that you’ve put a bid on? Does someone die? Does your world end? The answer to these is likely no – and that should put the task into perspective a bit.
This may not take ALL the fear away, but I’ve found that the people who are successful still have fear – they merely push past it to accomplish their goals. Additionally it can help to reflect on a similar time in your past when you were successful. Remembering those moments can help bolster your resolve to get past this particular fear.
The same procedure can go for any reason that you uncover. Address the cause and then dispute all the lame reasons it gives you to avoid the task. And if you’re struggling to dispute the reasons consider who you can reach out to for help. Are there friends, coaches, therapists, organizations that help people who are in your particular dilemma? Even if you’re not directly attacking the task at hand, at least you are now in action by asking for help. And action is the killer of procrastination.
Now it’s time to get to work.
Now you recognize that you are procrastinating and you know why. You have realized that all the excuses that you give yourself about why you wait are bogus and that now is the time to get to work.
Now you need to do everything you can not to give yourself another reason to stop. Not another task or distraction.
To do this:
- Set your priorities
- Be realistic about what you can accomplish (no perfectionism running the show!)
- Limit your interruptions (turn off notifications, silence your phone, don’t even open social media websites)
- BEGIN – this is the hardest part. Even if you have to tell yourself that you will ONLY work 5 minutes and then you can stop. AT least begin. It’s likely that once you get started you will get on a roll and you’ll accomplish far more than you even thought you could.
WHAT IF YOU REALLY DON’T KNOW WHY?
What if you looked inside for ages and you just couldn’t figure it out. You aren’t particularly scared, you don’t feel like anything is the matter, and you’re not a totally lazy person. Then what? Well either you are really putting a blindspot on your problem (if you think this is you – let’s talk) OR your reason is HABITS.
Maybe you’ve done all the inside work necessary to overcome all that was stopping you and YET you STILL continue to put things off. No good reason, just don’t get ‘er done. That is a habit.
Procrastination can be a mental habit that you have and you’re going to have to work hard to overcome it. I covered habits in 2 earlier posts which are here and here. But the short version is that you have to:
- Notice that you have the habit
- Stop and think about habit
- What is this habit giving you as a reward?
- How might you go about getting the same reward but with a new habit?
- Replace your old routine of procrastination with a new habit of acting and then give yourself the same reward at the end.
If, for example, every time it’s time to sit down and pay the bills you Netflix and chill instead. What you need to do is GO PAY THE BILLS then Netflix and chill. Same reward, different action. It will take a lot of will power and thought to make this change, but it will pay off. And you will create a new habit of action instead of procrastination. The more you work on the new habit the easier it will be.
If you’re still struggling with procrastination and you just can’t get passed it, feel free to contact me. I coach clients through this all the time. You can overcome it.