Have you ever sat down to your laptop and found yourself staring into a blank space, then glancing to your to-do list which ends up being your to do later list?
You are absolutely not alone!
There have been many times I have sat down to get to work and frozen from starting, feeling completely overwhelmed with the thought of working a task and not knowing what to start… Well that’s not entirely true, I knew exactly what I needed to do, and where to start, I just postponed it’s start…
I’ve built a number of strategies into my life to release me from the paralysis of Procrastination and knowing how it can have an impact, emotionally and physically, I’m sharing them with you.
First thing’s first. You need to understand what Procrastination is.
You are not a procrastinator.
You have a habit of procrastinating.
The definition of Procrastination with Cambridge Dictionary is;
The act of delaying something that must be done, often because it is unpleasant or boring.
What this means is, you have put a label on yourself as a ‘Procrastinator’ when in fact, Procrastination is a habit. So, You are not a procrastinator and habits can be changed!
Rebecca, why should I listen to you? How can you help me?
I have had a very strong procrastination habit.
I broke the habit.
So, since it was a BIG problem for me, and I solved it, and I am now going to start sharing my learnings, methods and ideas with you, through the blog, which, I took time to study in detail, purely to help myself out of the horrible feelings I was facing when procrastinating.
I also have to be very clear and tell you that you are not lazy, you are not useless. If you are currently frequently asking yourself questions such as: “Why am I lazy?”, “Why am I useless at focussing?”, “Why am I so disorganised”.
You are a human and you’re very capable to overcome procrastination but first, you must understand it. Lazy people don’t care that they’re not doing something but those who procrastinate know they need to do something or a series of things (I.E the to-do list!) but get stuck and see a block which then subsequently makes them actively choose to go do something else instead.
What is Procrastination?
The definition of Procrastination with Cambridge Dictionary is;
The act of delaying something that must be done, often because it is unpleasant or boring.
What does this all mean in simple language? Well, you have a task to do, a project to start, a course to start creating, a book to start writing and publishing. You have every intention of doing a task but you sit down to start and you freeze. You hit a block. You’re stuck.
You choose to browse emails, look at YouTube videos, read articles online, or do something else which distracts you from the actual task at hand or getting started. Before you know it, hours have gone past and you haven’t accomplished anything meaningful or that you need to do and you still have a bunch of tasks to complete, and worse, some of those tasks have imminent deadlines – which haven’t changed since you have been putting the task off.
We all would have faced procrastination at some time in our lives. Every one of us. We delay, hesitate, avoid things that will ultimately cause us some form of pain. It’s a safety mechanism to keep us from the pain. As I mentioned before, I have procrastinated but I found a way to overcome it and I now know how to produce.
Procrastination is the habitual avoidance of doing a task that needs to be accomplished by a certain deadline, putting off a task or job until tomorrow, the next day, or ‘someday’, which should and could be done today, so if you are putting off a task due to a genuinely new, higher priority task, you are not necessarily procrastinating.
If you are, however putting things off knowingly, this is likely to be procrastination and putting things off intentionally, albeit a human and natural reaction in procrastination, this can cause serious health problems not to mention severely delay or even stop you from reaching your business and life dreams.
It’s not about the actual task you’ve got to do, it’s the anxiety and beliefs attached to starting or completing any task. When a certain task or action gives us anxiety in any way we procrastinate to relieve it. We do this for instant gratification.
Neil Fiore ph.D, is a licensed psychologist, trainer, keynote speaker and the author of six books, including the best-seller, The Now Habit (which I highly recommend you read) explains: “one main reason why we procrastinate: It rewards us with temporary relief from stress.”
But it also saves us from the fear of failure and other fears.
Procrastination is a form of self-defense. It is a way to protect yourself. In the form of being a perfectionist, Neil Fiore also describes the pernicious cycle, in his book, “The Now Habit”;
Perfectionistic or overwhelming demands lead to → fear of failure → PROCRASTINATION → self-criticism → anxiety and depression → loss of confidence → greater fear of failure which leads to → a stronger need to use PROCRASTINATION as a temporary escape.
Look at all of those negative events against us, self-criticism, anxiety, depression, loss of confidence, and great fear and failure. Let’s overcome this, let’s make the pain of the consequence of you not doing something so much stronger than the pain of you actually doing it.
How do I know if I am procrastinating?
You will likely be putting tasks or work you know you have to do, off until ‘tomorrow’, the next day, or ‘someday’. You dread starting the work you need to do and have difficulty getting started.
You may also distract yourself intentionally, as mentioned beforehand. You know you need to be doing a task but instead, you surf the Internet, Facebook, YouTube and find other things to do, shopping online, browsing YouTube or Netflix back to back.
You do this to reach instant gratification.
You rush last minute to get tasks that have a deadline, done. You’re even sometimes late for set appointments. You end up feeling guilty and disappointed that you’ve come to the end of your day with nothing to show for it and you continuously ask yourself why on earth you just wasted that day, there must be ‘something’ wrong with you.
Maybe you are a perfectionist, you just cannot move on until the work is absolutely perfect, but wait, what if the work you completed isn’t right? What if something is wrong with the work you have completed? You must, must, must check back for mistakes. With all of this going on, you feel you’re not in control of your life, You are what you are and you just do what you do.
A couple of other identifiers of procrastination are leaving things on your to-do list for far too long albeit it holds a level of importance or waiting for the ‘right’ time to start.
An example of Procrastination
As an example, imagine you have a really important report to complete for your client.
The deadline is looming, your task reminders keep coming and you are fully aware that you need to do it.
You start it and suddenly feel anxious, you don’t particularly like this task, it’s going to take AGES just look at all those data sets and CRM updates you need to review and analyse!
It’s painful for you to do because it’s one of the boring tasks, it’s time-consuming, it’s not fun, it makes you feel stressed and you just don’t like it.
It’s 9:30 am, the school run is done and you have the whole day ahead, that’s fine, you are just going to check in on an email before you forget to reply then you will crack on with the report.
A number of emails, a few YouTube videos, a scrummy smelling Spaghetti Bolognese, and 2 sparkling bathrooms later it’s now 2:30 pm. It’s time for the school run!!
You suddenly panic, you have not done that report!
If You don’t do it, you’ll be showing yourself up. You go on the school run but it’s OK, you feel you’re going to have plenty of time whilst the children are eating their dinner, you can do it then. Wrong – because now you are in Parent mode, spaghetti bolognaise EVERYWHERE!
OK, when they’re in bed you commit to working, just a couple of hours and you’ll get it done.
You sit down at 8 pm and open your laptop and navigate to the reporting data sets. You suddenly feel the same anxiety as at 9:30 am this morning and you decide to trawl through the days worth of social media posts on Facebook, It’s late right?
It’s suddenly 10 pm and you just need to sleep now, you cannot focus any longer.
One more day won’t hurt, it’s too late in the day now anyway. You’ll do it as soon as you get back from the school run, tomorrow.. 9:30 am sees the whole day in front of it….
The above is looped again and again but… when do you do the report in this example? When it scares the life out of you that you’re about to be shown up or even worse your client will be shown up in front of their clients and peers if you do not submit that report by close of business TODAY as you suddenly come to realise that the deadline didn’t change despite you doing everything to avoid doing the task!
Why does this happen?
Well, the strength of fear of not liking that particular task is now not as strong as the fear of the consequences if you don’t do this task.
Potentially big issues can occur if you keep putting it off, plus, the time has come that the deliverable date is now absolutely final and there are no more extensions or exceptions on the deadline for delivery.
That’s procrastination and has been just one of my own procrastination examples.
If you can resonate with any of the above, you’ve identified that you are procrastinating, but wait… you are a workaholic, you work all the hours you are sent, that’s a good thing right? You show commitment. You’re dedicated to the job!? No, that is also procrastination so this is for you too.
Remember that Procrastination is the intentional or habitual avoidance of doing a task that needs to be accomplished by a certain deadline, putting off a task or job until tomorrow, the next day, or ‘someday’, which should and could be done today.
Why am I procrastinating?
Those who procrastinate think of what’s going on right now and if they feel pain, they need to relieve it instantly. They neither learn from the past nor look further into the future.
There could be many reasons why you are procrastinating and it’s important right now to not feel bad, embarrassed, useless, lazy, a failure, useless or ashamed. Feel proud and a sense of achievement that you’re now aware of and you’ve taken action by reading this post.
I greatly improved my procrastination by first off, realising I was actually doing it, this is a huge, huge step to do because unless you know why you are procrastinating, you cannot do anything about it to fix it.
Some of the reasons;
- You don’t have a clear vision or a purpose
- You are stressed about something, it’s on your mind and you can’t concentrate
- You may feel or actually, may not have the experience or knowledge in how to prioritise your work/tasks
- You might be holding fear. Fear of failing, being inadequate, fearing success.
- You hold anxiety and spend too much time fearing rather than doing
- You don’t know what is required of you
- You are overwhelmed by the task you’ve been assigned or needing to do
- You feel you need to do everything with perfection, if it’s not perfect, you can’t get started
- You hold negative limitations about yourself, “I am not good enough”, “someone is better than me”, “I am not worthy or valuable”. These are called self-limiting beliefs
- You’re bored, you find the task you’re given or need to undertake, boring. You dislike it or find it difficult
- You do not feel that you are competent and able. You hold very little or even no self-worth
- You need instant gratification. You need to complete a task to feel a sense of accomplishment, you’ve sought an immediate result when you do the smaller tasks but lack the motivation to continue when starting the longer and more time-consuming projects.
Understanding what procrastination is and using the methods I will be introducing to you, over the next few posts, will help you to overcome it, but first, you must identify the reasons.
An important note: Procrastination can also be a sign of underlying conditions for some people, if they suffer from chronic procrastination or they find it truly paralysing to move forward, It would be wise for them to speak to a trained professional.
For me, I stopped telling myself limiting beliefs like I wasn’t cut out for this, I’m not good enough, what’s the point when there are people who are clearly better than I. I was terrible at getting myself together and get going on important tasks, mainly because they made me dread the time it would take or it wasn’t a particularly interesting task or I was completely worried sick that I was going to fail and I was fully aware that I was doing it. I was not in a good place when I was telling myself these things.
I would find myself getting up and saying “Yes! I am doing to get that task done today”, I’d then read my emails from my phone and I’d sit down in front of my laptop to get going but, what am I to focus on? What priority does this task have? Enter OVERWHELM!
I would suddenly sink, tell myself I should be doing that task but then I got stuck and so got underway with another, smaller, less time consuming and enjoyable task or browsed on the internet reading articles that I will never remember or use again, because I was just passively reading.
By the time I knew it, it was 2:45 PM and I needed to leave for the School run. I may have felt productive, having ticked off a bunch of tasks but what happened?
I didn’t do the important task today and I’d tell myself I can do that tomorrow. The next day, I started the process all over again by getting up and saying “Yes! I am doing to get that task done today” and ending the day with “I can do that tomorrow”. It is not a fun place to be.
Often, I would get home from the school run, panic that I haven’t done the tasks I needed to do, and began rushing to get them done but not being able to complete them because my children and home life were now needing my full attention.
Before I knew it I would stop adding things to a to-do list because it was so darn overwhelming and then they’d be completely forgotten. You may resonate with this.
On occasions, I had also taken on a project or task which I am completely worried about failing. What if I don’t do it right? What if the end result my client envisaged is not reached. I’ll fail! They’ll think I’m not good enough! Stuck, with a brick wall in front of me, I can’t move on.
The deadline looms, status updates are requested from me and I then fear failing to deliver on the task, oh my goodness, I haven’t done what I was asked to do, I haven’t started! The deadline is now right upon me, I cannot deal with the embarrassment or shame of not completing that task. The brick wall is removed and I can move on. Why? Because the pain of the consequence was far greater than the actual task.
Stephen Pressfield is the author of a fantastic read titled, “The art of War” and he quotes;
“Procrastination is the most common manifestation of Resistance because it’s the easiest to rationalize. We don’t tell ourselves, “I’m never going to write my symphony. ” Instead we say, “I am going to write my symphony; I’m just going to start tomorrow.”
He goes on to say;
“The most pernicious aspect of procrastination is that it can become a habit. We don’t just put off our lives today; we put them off till our deathbed. Never forget: This very moment, we can change our lives. There never was a moment, and never will be, when we are without the power to alter our destiny. This second, we can turn the tables on Resistance. This second, we can sit down and do our work.”
In the War of Art, Steven talks about resistance;
“Resistance cannot be seen, touched, heard, or smelled. But it can be felt. We experience it as an energy field radiating from a work-in-potential. It’s a repelling force. It’s negative. Its aim is to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work.”
“Resistance by definition is self-sabotage”
You will look at your to do list with every intention of getting the tasks done, you know you should be doing that important task but your mind tells you it’s too hard, it’s going to take too long, you don’t enjoy it. The reason for this is you’re fearing. Fear is taking hold and we start to think that we will fail or we’re not good enough or worthy enough.
So, if you are fully aware that you should be doing a certain task either a one off or on a regular basis (maybe it’s even been glaring you in the face for days) but continue to ignore it and listen to your internal dialogue, and execute the other easier, less time consuming, more enjoyable tasks so you can gain instant gratification, the consequences that you are likely to face or are indeed currently facing, could be very serious.
- The first consequence is the loss of your precious time. You must live in the here and now. You cannot change back the hands on the clock. Time is your most precious asset and you must use it wisely.
- Opportunities will stop knocking on your door. You only get one chance with opportunities, very rarely do they come around again. When opportunity knocks you want to be in a position to open that door!
- You run the risk of ruining your reputation and subsequently, your career. Missing deadlines, missing targets and agreements will all be damaging your reputation. You may find yourself not being recommended by your clients, promoted by your Manager or winning any new work or even losing your clients or your job.
- You will become stressed and anxiety will kick in and this can be damaging for our Mental Health. Worst still, you may stop exercising, cancel health appointments or not taking time to yourself.
Review this post and really take in what procrastination is all about.
As Steven Pressfield also said; “Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.”
Remember: You are NOT a Procrastinator. You have a habit of Procrastinating.