Procrastination is like a credit card: it’s a lot of fun until you get the bill.
– Christopher Parker
Procrastination is not a straightforward concept. Sure, you could be procrastinating out of sheer laziness, but there could also be a number of other reasons. The first step, therefore, is to know yourself. You need to figure out WHY you procrastinate, and how it affects your life. To-do lists and time management systems are essential and effective,but to eliminate procrastination as a habit you need to get to the root cause. You need to understand why you procrastinate. Then, you can practice effective time management and build systems that aid you.
However, a key thing is to change your perspective. If you are looking at deadlines and tasks you need to complete as a burden, then temptation to procrastinate will remain strong. You can use your journal to overcome procrastination habit. Here are three ways to do so:
What do you procrastinate on
Record your behaviour in your journal. Sometimes, we procrastinate on things that bore us, or things that make us uncomfortable. Figure out if you procrastinate about everything, or only about certain things. Are there specific tasks, or projects that you jump on instantly with focus?
Experiment for 48 hours. Create your to-do list – record everything that you do, and then everything that you don’t do.
How often do certain tasks stay on your to-do list? Are there things that have been there for days or weeks? What are these things? If you don’t want to do them why are they even on your list?
If you want to do those tasks (or have to do them) why are you not doing it? Be specific about your reasons and your feelings. Be honest.
Why do you procrastinate
Now that you know what you procrastinate on, it’s time to dig deeper. There could be numerous reasons including:
Poor time management – you may procrastinate because you can’t manage your time effectively. It may be that your perception for the amount of time you need to do certain tasks is skewed.
Overwhelm – this is a paradox. Not procrastinating would reduce the overwhelm, as you would then feel on top of things. However, stress or fear that you may be unable to do everything you need to, often causes you to feel overwhelmed, and procrastinate. It’s a classic ‘shove it under the carpet’ syndrome: if you can’t see it, it’s not there. Of course, it doesn’t work like that. Because when the deadline looms, overwhelmed or not, you have to deliver or face the consequences.
Lack of confidence – this is another reason why people often procrastinate. This could be lack of confidence in yourself, or in a particular skill which you require to complete the task at hand.
Perfectionism – you may procrastinate because you want to complete the task perfectly, and if you can’t do it perfectly, then you may as well not do it at all. Incidentally, sometimes, perfectionism is also related to self-confidence issues. There may be a feeling of inadequacy, that you would never be able to achieve the level of perfection you think you should deliver, and so you procrastinate.
Disorganisation – classic disorganisation is not having a firm idea of what you need to accomplish, or being all over the place. You may hop from task to task never finishing anything. Or you may not even remember what you need to do and when the deadlines are. You have no system to organise yourself.
Unrealistic expectations – Do you have a mile-long to-do list? Or unrealistic goals? Do you have ambitions, but without the foundation of the required time, effort, and skill set?
These are some of the key reasons behind procrastination. Whenever you find yourself procrastinating, journal about it. Be detailed about what you are procrastinating on, but also about your motives. Try to figure out your why. Is it one of the above listed reasons? Or is it something different?
Baby steps to breaking the procrastination patterns
Good news is that you can overcome procrastination – because it is a habit, a bad habit, like many others we humans somehow acquire. The bad news is it is not going to be easy (the utmost danger being of course that you will procrastinate about overcoming your procrastination).
Few ways to do break the procrastination patterns are:
Discover your intrinsic and extrinsic motivations – the things that you are procrastinating on, what is your motivation to do them? It could be that it’s the job that pays money, and if you don’t have the money, you can’t pay your bill. It could be writing 1000 words, which may eventually lead to a novel you want to finish. It could be running 1 mile, which may eventually lead to you becoming a fitter, healthier person that you want to be. What drives you? What really motivates you to do this thing? You may find that the answer is …nothing. In which case, why are you doing it? But if your motivation is strong enough, then you may find that is sufficient to overcome procrastination.
Reward yourself – Rewards work for many people. Depending on the importance and difficulty of your tasks, you can reward yourself with tangible items, or even intangible items such as an hour to read, or watch your favourite show. Others use punishment – such as having to give $5 away if they don’t finish a task by certain time. But that’s too much guilt concept. I think positive reinforcements are better than negative ones, so wherever possible, if you are setting rewards, try to do set positive ones.
Accountability/Partnership – find someone who can hold you accountable, or find a partner. Get a running buddy, or a writing partner. Or if you are working on goals that are not the same as your friend’s, then each of you can still tell each other on a given day, or for a given week, what you are going to accomplish, and then report.
Effective tools and methods – sometimes, you may have all the good intentions, and you try, but things just don’t work. If that is the case, then you may simply not be working at your most efficient. Perhaps tools you use, or your method of working does not serve you. Using popular systems like GTD is all very well, but if it does not work for you, then it is not efficient. Also remember that just because you have been doing something forever, doesn’t mean you have to continue doing it, or even that it is right for you. And just because one method works for someone else, does not mean it is the best thing for you. For some people time based schedule works (i.e. write from 8 to 9 am), but others (myself included) respond better to task based schedule (i.e. write 1000 words today). Experiment with new tools and methods. Continuously keep finding new ways of working until you discover what suits you.
Remember to go easy on yourself in the beginning. You weren’t born a procrastinator. Somewhere along the way, you just picked it up. As you try to overcome this habit, there will be times when you fail. Don’t give up. Don’t hold your past failures against yourself. Treat each day as a new day, and start again.
ACTION YOU CAN TAKE TODAY:
Grab your journal, look at your current to-do list, and write about something you are procrastinating on. Go through each of the three steps above, and be as specific as possible.