Procrastination, deferring or avoiding taking action or doing a task, affects everyone to some degree or another. It can be a hard habit to break. You may recognise the feeling that you are drifting away from the task at hand or constantly looking at your inbox wanting an email to come in to give you a legitimate excuse, the moving of tasks from one to-do list to another, the feeling of knowing you should be doing something but you just don’t do it. This may lead to missed deadlines here and there or letting someone down every now and again, but chronic procrastination can be like a disease and can really hinder your progress.
Forget everything you have ever been told about laziness, lack of motivation, poor time management, lack of application and short attention span, these may all have a role to play but procrastination is more about how we think and how we approach things.
So how do you tackle it?
Firstly, recognise and admit that you are procrastinating and putting things off.
Then understand the reasons behind your action or inaction, as each cause will require a different approach to tackle it.
Is the task:
Too boring or too difficult?
To be motivating a task needs to be challenging enough to stimulate your interest but not so difficult that it’s demoralising. If there’s too little challenge to the task it is easy to feel unmotivated to start. If there’s too much challenge, it can be difficult to know where to start.
Too time consuming?
Are you putting it off as it requires large blocks of time and the next time you have such blocks of time are at the weekend or not until next week? So, in away there’s no point in starting. Perhaps ask yourself… Does it really have to all be done in a big block? Exactly how long will it take you? Often, we overestimate how long things will take. Instead, break the task into different components or chunks that require less time. This will always be possible, no matter what you might first think. It may not be quite as efficient to do it this way but it’s still better than not doing it at all.
Too big a job?
Break the task into small manageable chunks, identifying an end for each section. Concentrate on one part at a time and remember to reward yourself at the end of each part.
Lack of knowledge or skills?
What do you need to put in place? What do you need to do to take action? Do you need to ask for help?
I hate doing it!
Does anyone really enjoy filling out a tax return form? Probably not, but for some it’s far too easy to make some tasks bigger than they actually are. This feeling is then reinforced every time you walk past that pile of papers, or move the same task from one list to the next. Instead focus on the finished outcome and what it will bring you, see the task as a means to an end that you really want. The feeling of relief when the tax return is done for another year.
Is a fear of getting it wrong or making a mistake holding you back from taking action in the first place? Worried that if it’s not done properly, it can’t be done at all? Unfortunately life isn’t perfect, recognise when you are using words such as ‘should’, ‘ought’, ‘must’, ask yourself what standards are acceptable and then take action, give yourself a break, go for 85% rather than 100% – find a level you are comfortable with.
Look at the people you spend time with
Are they action takers and doers or more than happy to put things off until tomorrow? We adapt our behaviour to fit in with the people around us. Mix with action takers, feed off their energy and you’re more likely to kick yourself into action.
Procrastination is reinforcing, every time you delay, it reinforces your negative attitude towards the task, every time you put off doing something you dislike you strengthen the habit of not doing, you practice avoidance instead of participation, you avoid acquiring the training and skills you need and in turn hinder your own personal growth.
The solution…Eat a frog a day
Inspired by the book by Brian Tracey ‘Eat the Frog, one great technique to develop the ‘just do it’ attitude is to eat a frog a day!
Turn your task/to-do list into frogs and make a plan every day to eat one.
Don’t get distracted by the brightly coloured fun looking frogs (aka the easy tasks, the quick wins) but choose the ugliest, most revolting and smelly frog (aka the ‘difficult’ ones, the ones you have been putting off. Is it a conversation with your boss, or phoning a difficult client or filling in that tax return?).
Pick one, close your eyes and gulp it down, you don’t have to think about it, don’t have to chew it over, but instead grab it by its back legs and get it off your list.
Once you’ve done it, note down how you feel, so you can remind yourself of the benefits of taking action. Then don’t forget to reward yourself, choose a reward that fits the challenge and makes doing it worthwhile.
So, what are you waiting for…?