The dictionary defines this as something we delay or postpone that should be done. Sound familiar?
We’ve all been down that road at one time or another, where there’s something that needs to be done but we just keep putting it off. We’re perfectly aware of it. We’re expecting to do it at some point. There it is on our “to-do” list, staring us in the face. But for whatever reason, we push it to the back burner and tell ourselves we’ll get to it eventually.
So what’s really going on here? Why can’t we just do it and put it behind us? How can we end this pattern of procrastination once and for all?
What’s Up With Procrastination?
“Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task.”
This was written by author and physician, William James.
So why is it that some things seem so hard to finish? And in fact, hard to begin? And tiring to complete? There can be a lot of reasons why people procrastinate in getting something done. Ali Schiller and Marissa Boisvert, Co-owners of “Accountability Works”, suggest there are four types of procrastination. The Performer, The Self-deprecator, The Over-booker and The Novelty Seeker.
The Performer might be a person who claims they work well under pressure, so they wait till the last minute. Although they may get it done, staying “under pressure” is not much of a sustainable strategy. The stress of this habit may eventually take a toll on one’s health. As well as keeping everyone else in suspense as to whether or not you’ll actually achieve your goal, especially if it’s a time sensitive project.
The Self-deprecator feels guilty about not doing it, and creates low self esteem, which can be a cyclical situation, where the worse you feel, the less you get done. Then the less you get done, the worse you feel. This person may just need to take a break and think about some self care. Then try to look again at their tasks with a fresh, and well-rested, perspective.
The Over-booker is so busy they can’t get to anything. Oftentimes they have so many irons in the fire, that they can’t decide which one is the priority. By creating chaos they can hide from really having to face anything. They might need to look at the bigger picture and ask themselves what it is that they’re really trying to avoid.
Lastly, The Novelty Seeker has somewhat of a “shiny object syndrome.” They have a hard time completing anything because they are constantly distracted by another idea. They may have great ideas worth looking into, but a better strategy for them might be to write the new thought down on another list and get back to it after the current task is finished.
Procrastination can have many forms and numerous reasons. But the bottom line is that things just aren’t getting done. The act of procrastination itself can bring some degree of gratification due to the fact that you are temporarily relieved of doing the thing you need to do. But it’s short lived. The task is still out there, calling your name and awaiting your attention. English Actor, Christopher Parker once quipped,
“Procrastination is like a credit card. It’s a lot of fun until you get the bill.”
What Have We Tried?
How many times have we told ourselves we’re going to get something done only to watch another day slip by without having made any progress toward our goal of completing the task? We may have tried forcing ourselves to do it using bribes, treats or rewards. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. If the reward is great enough, it may be sufficient.
Sometimes the task might seem overwhelming. By breaking it down in small steps, we might be able to tackle the job one step at a time and make it more manageable and less intimidating.
Some people have tried setting a time limit. Either setting a timer for a specific amount of work time each day, or setting a goal for when you want to finish the task can help you have a definite end to when you want to be done. If you can see the light at the end of the tunnel, the job itself might not seem so difficult or time consuming.
By removing distractions and focusing on the job at hand, you will most likely get more done than if you are continually interrupted. Turn off your phone, let people know you are going to be working on your project and settle in for some quality work time.
And remember to forgive yourself if you fall short. Don’t identify with what you didn’t get done, but make a committed decision to try again at the next scheduled time. Even if you don’t get as much done as you wanted to, be sure to spend that time working toward the goal.
American Aerospace Engineer, Gene Kranz, coined the phrase, “Failure is not an option.” Although challenges and disruptions are often a part of any project, remind yourself that the ultimate goal is success and completion. Realize that progress is better than perfection.
Action Destroys Procrastination!
So what’s preventing you from starting? Recognize the fear or obstacle holding you back.
“You can’t be that kid standing at the top of the waterslide, overthinking it. You have to go down the chute.”
This was said by American comedian and producer, Tina Fey.
Once you take action, procrastination ceases to be. Once you are in motion you have taken a major step. German writer, Heinrich Boll wrote,
“If you want to do something, get up and actually do it!”
But how do we get going? How do we actually do it? When anything and everything seems more appealing than doing the task you need to do, where do you start? Motivation is the force that drives action. If you get motivated to do something, then you will be more likely to do it.
But how do you get motivated? Stimulus is the force of motivation. It is the reason why we become motivated. For example, if you see a spider crawling across the ceiling, that could be a stimulus that motivates you to jump up, grab your cleaning supplies and dust all the cobwebs in the room to eliminate the spiders! Or if your boss calls and asks how the project is coming along (stimulus) and you want to get it done so as to avoid another phone call (motivation) then you get out the materials you need and start working (action).
The difference between a stimulus and motivation is that stimulation always comes from something else. The spider. Your boss calling. It’s something that triggers your reaction and brings your awareness to the need to act. Whereas motivation comes from within. It’s the point where you decide to get going and do it.
Find what motivates you. Is it a reward? Is it fear of not getting it done and having to deal with a negative consequence? Or is it an opportunity to build a habit that creates self esteem and responsibility?
Whatever the stimulus is, it will create the motivation for you to proceed.
Stimulus = Motivation = Action!
Self-discipline is the bonus factor of defeating procrastination. American writer, artist, and philosopher, Elbert Hubbard wrote,
“Self discipline is the ability to make yourself do what you should do, when you should do it, whether you feel like it or not.”
Every time you find the motivation to act, it becomes easier and you begin to develop a habit of action. Motivational speaker Les Brown stated,
“The fact is, discipline is only punishment when imposed on you by someone else. When you discipline yourself, it’s not punishment, but empowerment.”
If you want to defeat and destroy procrastination, start where you are and make steps toward a habit of personal accountability, responsibility and empowerment. Not having things hanging out on your to-do list will be less stressful and give you a clear focus to think about other things.
Procrastination can make you feel stuck, as if you are immobilized to do anything else. By doing your tasks without delay, you may feel freer, lighter and more energized.
English Philosopher and Statesman, Sir Francis Bacon reminds us,
“Begin doing what you want to do now. We are not living in eternity. We have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand and melting like a snowflake.”