"I just don’t have time to do it justice".
"It’s not really a priority".
"If I just leave it and leave it, it will eventually go away".
Does this sound like you? Indulging in habitual procrastination is a sure-fire way to minimise productivity and maximise stress. In fact, it’s probably the most common of all time management problems. Of course, some element of postponement is inevitable; there are certain aspects of life we simply can’t control. But many of us make constant excuses, waste hours on menial tasks and ultimately delay the bigger, more important items on our ‘To Do’ list, hoping that they’ll eventually just disappear.
The irony is that the stress of not tackling a particularly pressing task is normally far greater than simply getting on with it; we waste energy and time fretting about things we have not done, when with a little more focus and determination, they could be gone for good.
But if it were that easy, why does anyone ever procrastinate? Well, in fact, procrastination could have become a deeply ingrained habit that we have invested a lifetime nurturing and developing. Take a look at following list and see if you can identify why you have become a first-class procrastinator.
Reasons for procrastination
- Fear of not being good enough, making a mistake or downright failure
- Lack of a clear strategy
- Uncertainty over how a task will turn out
- Perfectionism – you won’t start a job unless it can be seen through to perfect completion
It’s also important to pin-point what your procrastination patterns are. Do you grab at any tiny excuse not to do the work at hand by constantly checking email, making endless cups of coffee or tagging and untagging yourself in a plethora of photos on Facebook? The problem is the more we indulge our tendency towards procrastination, the worse it becomes and tasks that should seem fairly simple become insurmountable in our minds.
Are you a procrastination addict?
The first step is admitting you’ve got a problem. Spend time addressing the whys and hows of your procrastination problem (as discussed above) and you will find it easier to put a strategy in place to overcome it.
Here are some ideas of how you might deal with procrastination on a daily basis.
What advantages does procrastinating have?
Ask yourself the question What do I truly get from procrastinating? Is there any pleasure involved? If you are honest, you will answer ‘no’ every time.
To flip the question on its head, also ask ‘How will I feel if I complete the jobs I’m avoiding?’ Take a moment out of your day to bask in the feeling of satisfaction you’ll get knowing you’ve ticked off all the items on your ‘to do’ list at the end of the day.
Redress the Balance
Carrying out the tasks you are avoiding may be a painful prospect, but the consequences of not doing them at all is likely to cause a greater amount of pain in the long run. The difficulty is that you categorise the pain of doing the job as a being a big hit, and the prospect of this only becomes more daunting the longer you delay. But the pain of not carrying out the task is likely to manifest as a constant low-level irritation. Redressing the balance between the two, so that the low-level irritation outweighs the big hit, is essential if you are to overcome it. To do this:
- Keep in mind the consequences of procrastination – you lose control over your own life
- Introduce small penalties for lack of action
- Make bold promises that you will be held accountable for
- Make mental notes every time you complete a task you have been avoiding – was it really as bad as your had expected? Or was it in fact fairly pain-free? Use this as a frame of reference to deal with the panic or anxiety of seeing future tasks through to their end.
Habits become habits because you do them over and over. Schedule specific times in your diary each week for the repeated tasks you resist and would rather went away for good. By ritualizing routine and mundane jobs, they will become second-nature; embedded routines that will require hardly any mental energy.
The ‘to do’ list commitment
Make sure that anything that makes the final edit of your ‘to do’ list is worth doing. Don’t fill it with flimsy, vague intentions. It only deserves a place on that list if it is essential; if this is the case, make a firm commitment to completing it and do it. Keep the list short and sweet and take time at the end of every day and week to review it, noting what you have achieved.
Also, make sure you prioritize the tasks you are dreading the most. Put them at the top of the ‘to do’ list and deal with them first thing in the morning. You will feel great relief and a sense of achievement as your day gets easier because you’ve left the easy tasks until later on, having already conquered the challenges.
Small, bite-sized pieces
Divide large and complicated tasks into small, achievable chunks. This way you will feel that you are getting somewhere, even if it takes a long time to see the entire project through.
Recess and reward
If you get bored easily, tackle the tedium by allowing yourself regular breaks as rewards for completing a certain portion of a task. These should be at pre-determined times, but keep disciplined so that your breaks don’t become a welcome distraction from the job at hand.
Give yourself immediate positive recognition for the successful completion of a task. You don’t need to reward yourself with a three hour break for every little thing, a mental pat on the back or a positive diary entry will do.
Give yourself a break
Recognise that you don’t always need perfection. If you can achieve a task with the tools you have at your disposal, do it.
If deadlines aren’t externally imposed, it is vital to set them for yourself.
Procrastination Check List
- Which tasks do I regularly avoid?
- Why is this?
- What strategies can I put in place to overcome this?