I suppose that we procrastinate from time to time, but do you suffer from it more often than you think you should? It is when you do one thing even though you know you should do something else. Excessive perfectionism is another common cause of procrastination – you put off starting a task until you think you can do it perfectly
Is procrastination the same as being lazy?
Procrastination can be confused with laziness, but in reality they are very different. Procrastination is a choice – you choose to do something else instead of what that you know you should be doing. In contrast, laziness points to apathy, inactivity and not doing anything at all.
Why do we do it?
Procrastination usually involves unwillingness to act on an unpleasant, emotionally challenging but very likely more important task, in favor of one that is more enjoyable, easier or takes your mind of the important one.
Procrastinate over a long period of time and we can become demotivated and disillusioned with our work, which can lead to depression and even job loss, in extreme cases. For example, even minor episodes of procrastination can make us feel guilty or even more ‘at sea’. It can lead to reduced productivity and cause us to miss out on achieving our goals.
How can we overcome procrastination?
As with most habits , it is possible to overcome procrastination. Here are some steps to help you to deal with and prevent procrastination.
Step 1: Admit to yourself when you’re procrastinating
If you’re briefly delaying an important task for a genuinely good 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.
You may also be procrastinating if you:
- Fill your day with ‘busy work’ which achieves nothing
- Leave an item on your To-Do list for days, even though it’s highly important
- Constantly re-read emails many times over without making a decision on what to do about them
- Start an important task and then interrupt yourself with something trivial or go off for a cuppa!
- Constantly tell yourself that it’s not the ‘right time’ or you’re not in the ‘right mood’!
Step 2: Work out why you’re procrastinating
You need to understand the reasons why you are procrastinating before you can change your habit. For instance are you:
- Avoiding a particular task because you find it boring or unpleasant?
- Poor at organisation of your work tasks?
- Feeling overwhelmed by a task.
- Having doubts about your ability and are worried about failing?
- Fearing success as much as failure. Thinking that success will lead to being swamped with requests to take on more?
- A perfectionist avoiding doing a task you don’t feel you have the skills to do rather than do it imperfectly.
- Poor at decision-making. If you can’t decide what to do, you put off taking action in case you do the wrong thing.
The first thing to recognise here is that you are not alone – these are very common human reasons. That does not make them right though! Very often we have built these up in our mind to be much greater obstacles than they are in reality.
Step 3: Adopt Anti-Procrastination Strategies
Procrastination is a negative habit – a deeply ingrained pattern of behavior that has developed over a long period. It’s unlikely you will break it overnight. You will only stop them when you first recognise that you have them and then avoid practicing them. Work to apply as many of the strategies below, as possible
- Forgive yourself. Self-forgiveness can help you to feel more positive about yourself and reduce the likelihood of procrastination in the future.
- Focus on doing, not avoiding. Write down the tasks that you need to complete, and estimate a time for doing them.
- Promise yourself a reward when you complete a difficult task on time.
- Tell someone what you intend to do and ask them to follow up with you by a certain time. Peer pressure works!
- Tackle tasks as soon as they arise, rather than letting them build up over another day.
- Minimise distractions . Turn off your email and social media.
- 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.
Step 4: Positive and negative consequences
Another way to move yourself into action is to identify the consequences of avoiding it. For instance, what will happen if you don’t complete the work? What will be the negative consequences?
At the same time, by turning to the positive you can reframe the task by looking at the good reasons for doing it. This increases its value to you and make your work more worthwhile. Just as importantly we often overestimate the unpleasantness of a task. You may find that it’s not as bad as you thought, after all!
Step 5: Get organised!
- Keep a to-do list. This will prevent you from ‘forgetting’ about those unpleasant or overwhelming tasks.
- Prioritise your to-do list. This will enable you to quickly identify the activities that you should focus on, as well as the ones you can ignore.
- Use tools and techniques. If you have a big project or multiple projects on the go and you don’t know where to start, there are many proprietary tools to help you to organise and plan your time effectively.
- Tackle the hardest tasks at your peak times . Are you more efficient in the morning or the afternoon? Identify when you’re most effective, and do the difficult tasks at these times.
- Set deadlines for yourself. Setting yourself specific deadlines for tasks will keep you on track to achieve your goals, and will mean that you have no time for procrastination!
- Use the Salami method! Rather than tackling large projects whole, break them down into more manageable, bite sized chunks. Organise your projects into smaller tasks and focus on starting them, rather than on finishing them.
- Go for the ‘quick wins’. Achieving a smaller part of a large project quickly 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.
- Almost everyone suffers from procrastination at some point. Don’t beat yourself up about it!
- Recognise when you do and be determined to do something about it!
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help
- Work on your attitude
- Try as many of the tips in this article as you can and find the one that works for you