Do you choose more enjoyable tasks over high-priority ones?
What are some examples of routine activities or things you find yourself putting off?
Why do or other sometimes delay starting or finishing task that we know are important, have to be done, good for us or are not going away? (Visiting the dentist every six months?)
Overcoming the habit of delaying important tasks
It’s Friday afternoon and the clock is ticking. You’re working furiously to complete a task before the five o’clock deadline, while silently cursing yourself for not starting it sooner.
How did this happen? What went wrong? Why did you lose your focus?
Well, there were the hours that you spent re-reading emails and checking social media, the excessive “preparation,” the coffee breaks, and the time spent on other tasks that you could have safely left for next week.
Sounds familiar? If so, you’re not alone!
Procrastination is a trap that many of us fall into. In fact, according to researcher and speaker Piers Steel, 95 percent of us procrastinate to some degree. While it may be comforting to know that you’re not alone, it can be sobering to realise just how much it can hold you back.
Procrastination is the avoidance of doing a task that needs to be accomplished. Sometimes, procrastination takes place until the “last minute” before a deadline. Procrastination can take hold on any aspect of life—putting off cleaning the stove, repairing a leaky roof, seeing a doctor or dentist, submitting a job report or academic assignment or broaching a stressful issue with a partner. Procrastination can lead to feelings of guilt, inadequacy, depression and self-doubt.
Why do we procrastinate?
In the opinion experts, one of the most common causes of procrastination is a deep-rooted fear of failure. If you fear the consequences of failing, then a logical extension of this is a disinclination to take action. Procrastination is comforting when you fear failure.
However, this is a little simplistic. In reality in might that we just do not like the task we regularly try to put off. It might also be avoiding conflict (difficult conversations), lack of knowledge, taking on too much and so on.
What can do about it?
Procrastination doesn’t need to rule your life. With the right knowledge, you will be able to train yourself to beat procrastination, and find your inner focus and motivation. But in order to know HOW to stop procrastination from affecting your life, you need to understand the WHY. Here are the four most common causes of procrastination:
1. A Fear of Failure
If you fear the consequences of failing, then a logical extension of this is a disinclination to take action. This is because you are guaranteed not to fail if you don’t attempt something.
Procrastination may be comforting when you fear failure (“let’s call another meeting or do more research!”) It serves as a protection mechanism, shielding you from the possibility of real failure – as opposed to the more subjective failure that accompanies not attempting something in the first place.
Cure: Understand and accept that failure is not fatal. Most mistakes can be fixed, and you will get a second chance to right any wrongs. Obviously don’t go into a task with a mindset of failure … but realize that mistakes do happen. Tell yourself putting off starting or finishing something is a form of failure!
2. Excessive Perfectionism
Another common cause of procrastination is excessive perfectionism. If you are a self-confessed perfectionist, then you might find it difficult to take action unless you know you can do a job with which you will be totally satisfied.
This becomes a problem when you have to try something new, or different to what you are used to. Because of an ingrained perfectionist mindset, you will either consciously or subconsciously worry about being able to reach an end-state that will be to your liking.
It’s a great thing to be proud of the work that you do, and to want to do your best. However, when your mental picture of something you want to complete is actually beyond what you can reasonably expect to do, then you have a problem. Basically, you know that you won’t be able to do as well as you want … so it’s easier to do nothing at all.
This excessive perfectionism causes procrastination by encouraging you to put off attempting a task until you think you can do it perfectly. In many ways, this is similar to the “fear of failure” concept I outlined above; except that instead of believing you cannot succeed at all, you worry that you cannot meet your own high standards.
Cure: Aim to do your best, and be happy with the output. Accept that there is no such thing as a perfect job (especially if someone else will be critiquing your work – their idea of perfection will differ from yours). Good quality, error-free, on-time, move on!
3. Low Energy Levels
Another frequent reason for procrastination is experiencing low energy levels. If you are lacking energy, then it stands to reason that you will not feel like doing much at all.
This is a common cause for those of us with relatively unhealthy lifestyles. Whether you get insufficient sleep to “recharge your batteries”, or your diet causes you to feel sluggish and tired, lifestyle factors can play a huge factor in how inclined you are to get up off the couch and take action.
You should be able to easily identify this problem in your life: If you want to be active and productive, but simply lack the physical energy to do so (i.e. the mind is willing but the flesh isn’t) then you are probably suffering from low energy levels.
Cure: Work on developing a healthier lifestyle. Experiment with sleep, diet, and exercise to find a balance that works for you. There is a wealth of useful information online about making positive lifestyle choices – and you’ve probably already got a fairly decent idea already of what changes you could make.
If you cannot get any positive results (in terms of raising your energy levels), then consider consulting a healthcare professional in case there are underlying causes of low energy that require comprehensive medical treatment.
4. A Lack of Focus
A lack of focus in life is another frequent cause of procrastination. Although some people like to claim that “the person who does not know where they are going always travels further”, this idiom does not mesh well with those of us who are predisposed to procrastination.
You probably have a lack of focus if you frequently feel directionless, or that you do not really have a purpose in life. If you do not have any goals set, then it is almost certain that you will be lacking in focus – as you have no target to work towards. You may simply feel as if you are just drifting through life.
This lack of focus causes procrastination by preventing you from homing-in on an “end point”. Instead, you will wind up expending all your energy in the here and now, with nothing to guide you towards productivity.
Setting a deadline and breaking a larger task into a series or linked steps is a good solution. The other is to set a regular time of the day or week aside for the task or activity until it becomes a habit.
Cure: Set yourself some inspirational-yet-attainable goals. It’s important to set the bar high enough to encourage you to take action, but not so high that you are likely to fail (which isn’t good for your motivation and drive).
A good goal encourages you to take action, because you do not want to disappoint yourself by failing to achieve what you set out to do.
You should now have a solid understanding of the primary causes of procrastination. What is crucial at this stage is to find the causes that speak most clearly to you. Once you understand why you are procrastinating, you can take steps to overcome the problem and experience a much more fulfilling life.
Strategies for minimising procrastination
Procrastination is the tendency to put off starting or finishing tasks.
- Just do it, repeat the mantra “DO IT NOW!”
- If a job is too big chop it into manageable chunks – salami slice – either by time or tasks.
- Go public, tell people you have done or going to do something.
- Be careful not to take on too much in unrealistic timescales.
- Make appointments with yourself, and use a reminder system so you don’t forget.
- Schedule nasty jobs for specific times and reward yourself on completion.
- Do the worst first: ‘If you have to eat a frog don’t look at it too long. If you have to eat two frogs, eat the big one first’. (Mark Twain)
- Ask yourself all the time, ‘Is what I am doing at this minute moving me towards my objectives?’ If not, don’t do it.
- If you have a lot of unplanned interruptions, plan for the average or the maximum number.
- Select your prime time, that during which you operate best. Some of us are morning people, some afternoon; plan for your best time so that you get your high yield jobs done then.
- Remember that time is a non-renewable resource.
- Plan ‘If only’ days – ‘If only I had the time to…’
- After prioritisation aim only to pick a piece of paper up if you mean to finish working with it then. Don’t be a paper shuffler or email twizzler.
- When in doubt, throw it out. Emails, business cards, old gadgets, books, clothes, paperwork, furniture. If you have not used something or needed it in 12 months, you probably never will.
- Have on your desk, only the item(s) you are dealing with.
- Remind yourself that emails are not for chatting or dialogue – pick up the phone `more often – especially to clients!
Also be aware of pre-crastination (the opposite of procrastination in some ways) is doing things as they occur or as you think of them, that do not need to be done now or, in some cases, at all.