This is a fairly long post, but don’t put it off! You don’t want to procrastinate when trying to read about procrastination!
What is procrastination?
We all suffer from procrastination at one time or another. It’s okay, there’s no need to beat yourself up about it. Accept it. Identify when it’s happening. Do something about it. Don’t like cleaning your house? Put it off. Big project looming? Put it off. Been meaning to call that friend of yours who likes to natter for hours on end? Put it off. It may be about something you hate doing or something you really want to do, but just can’t bring yourself to get to it. How does it make you feel? A little irritated at yourself? Totally debilitated? There are many reasons why we procrastinate, and therefore, an array of things you can try.
We may procrastinate because we’ve let things languish for such a time that it’s now totally overwhelming to even think about it. Does this sound familiar? Maybe you’re swiftly hurtling towards a deadline on a project that you’ve known about for weeks. Have you got an exam tomorrow for which you’ve done no revision and now you’ve no idea where to even start?
Obviously, it’s always better to stay on top of the job. Do a little every day, rather than letting it build to to such an extent that it seems impossible. Where possible, snap the job down into smaller chunks. This can work well even if you’re right up against your deadline. You can fit these more manageable tasks into a realistic timeline. You can give them a priority. Are there any of the tasks that could be let go if you really do not have the time or resources to complete them? Once you’ve popped your tasks into your timeline, stick to the timeframe you’ve allocated. You need to make a commitment to getting each and every one done.
If it’s a recurring task, even if you hate doing it, commit to doing it at a specific time each day, or week as necessary. Don’t avoid it, thus allowing it to mount up and up.
Preparation, Preparation, Preparation
Failing to prepare is a great way to encourage procrastination. Maybe the job that’s in front of you requires resources you don’t feel you have. Do you lack certain skills? What information do you need? Is there a tool that would enable you to do the job?
If you lack tools, information or skills, find a way to acquire them. Sign up for a course, research articles on the internet, find a mentor, read books, and most of all, practice. You don’t have to be an expert immediately. Immediate perfection isn’t necessary. You don’t have to be the best. But you have to be able to complete your task. Be patient with yourself and keep going. The more you practice, the better you’ll get. The more in advance of your deadline you can carry out this preparation, the better. Your project might not be due for six months, but what’s stopping you from doing the prep work now? Be honest.
Or find someone who you can delegate to.
With respect to making sure you have all the information you need, get a list of everything you know or have to hand already. You’ll then be able to identify any gaps and, so, structure the research you need to carry out.
Distraction, distraction, distraction
It sounds simple, but just eliminate the distractions! Turn your phone off. Get a babysitter. Make family and friends aware of when you must not be disturbed. Set aside a specific time during the day when you’ll check emails and social media. Do the task you least want to do first. Get it out of the way. If you can’t do it immediately, schedule it in and stick to you committed slot. Prioritise all your tasks (you might need to think through the things you want and need to do to come up with this list) and then use this list to feed your monthly, weekly and daily plans. If the distractions become more important than your work, it may be time to look at why you’re avoiding the work that’s supposed to be important to you.
Time pressure and focusing the mind
If you end up feeling you don’t have enough time, focus can become a real problem for some people.
Chill. Set aside a big enough chunk of time to allow you to get into the work without feeling pressured. You might need a little time to get into the swing of the project, but once you get started, your productivity will pick up. If you don’t get through the kick-off stage, you may never get to the productive stage.
If you’re struggling to even make a start, commit to the entire process, but start with the simpler preparatory work first. Ease your way in. Maybe you need to set up your workspace, prepare tools and equipment, eliminate distractions, organise help from other people. This will gently bring focus and before you know it, you’ll be running with the main body of the work.
If it’s some sort of project, take everything one step at a time. Press the start button and go. Get some ideas down, even if they seem crazy, eclectic or not doable. Create an outline. Don’t worry about beginning at the beginning and working in a linear fashion. Put down whatever comes to you, however disjointed or sketchy. Allow yourself to be as creative as possible. As your ideas flow, it’ll give you direction and open you up to the possible options you have available to you. It might also help close off some of those options that reality would make difficult. As you move through the process, you’ll end up with a series of much more manageable and measurable tasks rather than one overwhelming blob of work.
There’s often a real fear that if we complete something, then it’s ready to be judged. What if it gets rejected? What if someone doesn’t like what we’ve done? The fear of rejection can be a real stumbling block when it comes to getting things done. Heck, I’m feeling it now as I write this blog!
If you consider that your procrastination is a form of self-preservation, you can use that to re-frame your expectations. Rather than expecting rejection, criticism or failure, start visualising the personal satisfaction and sense of accomplishment you’ll get from finishing the work. Extend that to the people who have an interest in your work – your family, colleagues, manager. Imagine them consuming and enjoying your work. Imagine the compliments.
Once you start the work process, enjoy it. Stay focused on what you’re doing, not the outcome. Enjoy the process or journey, and worry about the result and destination when you actually get there. Your task for now is to complete whatever it is you’re working on. Your now task is not the result or digesting other people’s thoughts or criticism, If you’re genuinely hindered by the thoughts of criticism, consider spending some time working on your confidence and esteem.
Some people get really hung up on being perfect. They can’t accept anything less of themselves. An admirable quality, you might argue, but when that perfectionism destroys your productivity and ability to deliver, it can cause problems. You might even believe that if there’s little chance of you hitting that perfect standard, there’s little point in starting. And so in creeps procrastination.
As children, we were born with the innate need to please. This can be exacerbate by overly-demanding authority figures in our lives – many of whom may have been perfectionists themselves.
By definition, perfection is a pretty hard goal to attain, if not impossible. No matter how close to perfection something becomes, the perfection will merely expose further flaws. This constant need to reach perfection can really stifle productivity and creativity. Set reasonable, achievable goals and standards. How good is good enough? Be honest about it. It’s fine to strive to be the best you can be, growing and improving with everything you do, without feeling you have to be the absolute best at everything you turn your hand to. You’re not in a competition with everyone.
You can give yourself permission to be less than the best. This will allow your personal strengths and qualities to thrive and flourish. You’re unique. You have strengths as well as weaknesses. It’s a mix.
What have you constructed as your vision of your future. The thing you’re striving to be? Is is great and glorious? Have yo elevated yourself onto a pedestal which you secretly fear you’ll never attain?
Again, set reasonable standards and goals for yourself. Accept that the first time you do something, it’s probably not going to be on par with some of the greats in your industry. Give yourself space and time to learn and improve. Aim to be the best you can be, and be persistent. The level of absolute greatness is a very thin layer, and there’s plenty of room for good, solid work.
Remember, you have to accept that procrastination happens. It’s a natural evil of an active mind. But, you can overcome it. You just need to be committed to taking action and remaining with it until completion.
Think about why you’re procrastinating. What’s the root cause? Why are you finding starting difficult? That might then lead you towards possible remedies and actions you can undertake. Get help and support. Friends and family can be of great help, as can someone independent like a coach. It’s easier to follow through when you have encouragement and perhaps someone to be accountable to. Your commitment will have meaning and will be less easy to brush off on a whim.
If you get yourself going and you feel you’re really achieving, make sure you recognise that. Punishment is never a great motivator, but reward is.
Just like the tasks that you’re trying to get through can be hindered by procrastination, so too can the actions you’re taking to beat the procrastination itself. What a cruel world! Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t eradicate procrastination from you life at the first go. Acknowledge your achievements and renew your commitment. Most importantly, keep going and don’t get dispirited.
Good luck. Don’t put off letting me know how you get on!