I created a bookmark for this title in my blog five months ago. Hmm, maybe I am not the right person to be giving advice on procrastination! The truth is, we all procrastinate. Some more than others. Out of the free "life skills" tools that I have created for people to level up in their lives, the Five Days and Five Ways to Beat Procrastination has definitely been the most popular and most needed tool to date.
There are a variety of theories out there as to why we procrastinate. Here are ten reasons why we procrastinate and a way to fix each one.
Fear of Failure
The truth is, procrastination is riddled with fear. You can call it fear of failure, or even fear of success, but at the root it is fear of change. Your ego will fight at all costs to keep you from evolving, and fear is one of its most powerful tools. I would even venture to say that all of the other reasons listed below for why we procrastinate, fear is always lurking in the background. The fear might show up as a limiting belief such as "You'll never do a good job" or a fear of judgment such as "They will make fun of you". This fear will even cause the stress and anxiety to bubble up, and then you can believe you're not getting anywhere near that task at that point! The importance here is to feel the fear, recognize it as such, and move forward anyway. Being fearless is not the goal. The goal to push past the fear. Replace that limiting belief with a positive affirmation such as "I CAN do this!" or "I will do my best, and no matter what, I will grow from trying".
Waiting Until the Last Minute Because You Work Best Under Pressure
Who doesn't remember working on your paper the night before the due date in school or working on your afternoon presentation that same morning? If that's the way you work best, then more power to you, but for most people, this strategy causes a lot of unnecessary stress and anxiety. You could say that NOT procrastinating is actually a form of self care. Sure, it doesn't look quite as luxurious as soaking in a bubble bath, but if some simple planning could save you from a whole lot of stress, then I'll take it. First of all, there are all the days leading up to the deadline that you are worried about how you will get it done, how it will turn out, and if you will be properly prepared. I propose that instead of worrying, you block some time out each day to make a dent in the task. Maybe you can even schedule a false deadline the day before so that you force yourself to have at least a rough draft ahead of time. For me personally, waiting for the deadline to complete something makes that whole day miserable, and it doesn't allow for any glitches. We all know that life isn't glitch-free. Visualize yourself waking up on the due date being fully prepared instead of having to scramble to get it done. Doesn't that feel better?
You might feel like you're being lazy, although there is most likely some fear lurking behind your laziness. Either way, binge-watching your favorite new Netflix series sure seems more compelling than whatever it is you are putting off. So how can we get ourselves to turn the TV off and get to work? One hack is to plug something in the middle of what we are enjoying doing and what we don't want to do–ideally something that is going to motivate us. Get your body moving. Maybe just do a five to ten minute stretch or exercise routine, meditate, take a walk, make yourself a cup of tea or a healthy snack. It almost feels like a work time ritual, and it will help put you in the right mindset. Also remind yourself that you can come back to your favorite show when you're done, You will enjoy the show more because that undone task won't be nagging at you!
Overwhelm sets in when the task in front of us feels too big or impossible in some way– and it can be paralyzing. You can't imagine making it across the finish line, especially if that finish line feels out of reach, and especially if you haven't started. Getting started is always the hardest part. This can be true no matter what the task is. If it feels impossible, you won't get started. The trick is to break it down into smaller pieces so that it feels possible. This does a couple of things: you will start because that smaller task seems more manageable, AND, once you have completed that first part, you will have gained some momentum to keep going. If your task is to clean the kitchen (ugh!) then don't think of cleaning the kitchen - just wash the dishes, or clean the stove. Do one thing that moves the needle closer to your goal. If your task is to work on your business, you might sit down and get overwhelmed or frustrated because you don't know where to start. Instead, give yourself a specific task to start with that day. You can even schedule all of your days with a specific task: Mondays are for social media content creation, Tuesdays are for client reach outs, Wednesdays are for writing your blog, etc. No matter what the task is, break it down into milestones and specific action steps. That way you won't be worried about the finish line when you begin. You'll just be worried about making it to the first marker, which is way less overwhelming.
I kind of feel like we're screwed in today's tech riddled society where everything is built around instant gratification. We can listen to whatever music or podcast we want, watch whatever show or movie we want at any given time, or even see what our high school friends are doing right now - in real time. How does anybody get anything done these days? I mean that's the real question, isn't it? And forget about it if your work requires you to be on your computer AND on social media. Did I forget to mention kids, other family members, or friends? So yeah, the odds are stacked high against us. In order to plan against distractions, you have to plan FOR them as well. Prioritize the tasks that you need to get done, and plan time for some of the distractions as well. That may mean getting work done during your child's naptime or turning notifications off on your phone when you sit down to work. Create a distraction-free workplace which can mean disconnecting from the Internet if you don't need it or letting the family know that you would like one hour of quiet time for work.
Poor Time Management
This can show up in a couple of different ways. One is that you don't have a good sense for how long the task, or each section of the task, will take. You might unrealistically (or optimistically) think "I'll get it done in one hour". Well, an hour later you've barely scratched the surface, and now you're stressed out as you realize that you might not finish in time. The second way poor time management could show up is that there really is no specific plan other than "I'll get it done". You haven't blocked out any time or even figured out how much time you need to complete it.
The trick here is to make sure you physically block time out in your calendar for completing the task, and be realistic. If you have a history of not allowing yourself enough time, then double the amount of time that you schedule. Break it down into pieces as well. Instead of thinking you can get it all done in one sitting, give yourself two or three sessions working towards the completion of that project.
Being a Perfectionist
Perfectionism is a form of fear as well; fear of it NOT being perfect. Fear of making mistakes, messing up, and fear of judgment for not being perfect. So again, fear, and if you're afraid that it might not turn out perfectly, well, then, you might as well not start at all, right?
One of my very favorite new slogans, since I started my own business, is messy action. You must take and embrace messy action, especially when getting started at something new; otherwise nothing will ever happen.
Tip #1: Don't ever wait for X to do Y, when it is really Z you're after.
Let's start plugging some examples in to make this easier.
Don't ever wait for the perfect photos to post your message when it's really visibility you're after. It doesn't have to be perfect, it just has to be visible.
Don't ever wait to lose weight to date when it's really the connection you're after. Make a connection now! Ok, so it might not be your future spouse on the first try, but also it might!
So in the beginning, messy action - ok, so it doesn't HAVE to be messy, but it DOES have to be ACTION! Get it out there. Put yourself and/or your work out there. Challenge yourself to one messy action task a day or a week - whatever is possible for you.
Maybe the task just sucks. Maybe the task is cleaning the toilet, or doing your taxes. We can all understand why you are putting it off.
Here are a couple of reasons why you should stop putting it off and get it done sooner rather than later.
Use visualization for this one. Imagine how you will feel once your taxes are done. Maybe you will have a refund - how will you spend it? How will it feel spending that money, whether it is on a fun vacation or paying some bills? How about having a clean house - how will that feel? How will it feel to know that guests can pop in anytime and you will be comfortable with them seeing your home? Not to mention how it will feel to walk into a clean kitchen, and a clean bathroom. Visualizing how you will feel once the task is done can be a great motivator.
Depression can lead to people dreading activities that they normally enjoy. Especially if the depression comes in waves, it is hard to plan things when you don't know how you will be feeling that day, and depression can be paralyzing. You know what you have to do, or what you should do, but you can't seem to make yourself do it.
It can be an evil cycle as well. You may be putting something off because you can't deal with it, but the stress of having that task STILL looming over you will cause you to spiral into a deeper depression. The obvious response is, "Then just take care of it!" But that simply isn't always possible when you are in a depressed state.
One thing to try if you find that your depression is leading to procrastination is behavioral activation. Behavioral activation is a powerful CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) tool. It speaks to the link between behavior and feelings and how one can affect the other. It requires you to become aware of triggers or shifts in mood. Once you become aware of the shift, you plug in certain activities that you know tend to be mood boosters for you. It can be anything–exercise, a walk in nature, playing music you love, dancing, calling a friend, etc. The chosen behavior will elevate your mood and allow you to move on to other activities.
You might be putting off doing something because you doubt your abilities to complete the task. Sounds like fear of failure, now doesn't it! If you find that this is your pattern, that your inner dialogue is telling you that you aren't good at things, then I suggest you tackle that before you tackle the task at hand.
If you get caught in the pattern of self-doubt, then you are less prone to try new things or tackle new tasks. The irony is that doing new things is exactly what will give you the confidence to do more things. So how can you get a kickstart? It's actually pretty simple–so simple, in fact, that most people brush right past it.
All you need to do is replace the negative statements that you say to yourself with positive ones. Every single time you say something negative to yourself, stop yourself and replace it with its positive counterpart. "I can't do this" becomes "I can do this". "I don't know how" becomes "I will figure out how," and so on. If you do that consistently, over time, you will find that you no longer believe those old limiting beliefs. Now maybe you can get some stuff done already!
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