You leave Christmas shopping until Christmas eve, delay folding the laundry, file your tax returns on the last day, forget the milk on the way home from work and now you have to drive again . . . if only you’d done it on time. Let’s admit it, we’ve all been there.
It causes you anxiety and frustration. You know you should be doing things on time but you keep delaying. It’s like sweet poison you can’t resist.
Procrastination is a common problem faced by a whopping 20% of the world’s population.
Wikipedia defines procrastination as the act of replacing more urgent tasks with less urgent, or doing something from which one derives enjoyment, and thus putting off impending tasks to a later time.
Interesting – although I don’t agree with it entirely.
I define procrastination as an act of avoiding doing something which is scheduled but not looked forward to.
The reasons behind procrastinating could be many. For starters, it could be a hard task, a genuinely difficult one. That pending assignment from last week which will take a lot of research and effort on your part to finish off, yes that’s a hard one.
Or, it could be one of those boring task, like reading a long, textual manual that goes on and on.
And then there’s my favourite: procrastination satisfies one of your innate, core needs.
Let’s Have the Flip Version Done and Dusted First
Did you think the reason you procrastinate is because you’re not smart, responsible, creative, brilliant, incapable or simply that you don’t care about your productivity? You couldn’t be further from truth.
I know, it’s easy to blame ourselves when things get tough. After all, it seems like a conscious decision to delay things by choice.
But before you dismiss the whole thing as inevitable, consider this: there could be other factors unbeknownst to you that are in play here. We’ll look at what these could be in a bit, but for now, you must give the hidden agenda a chance to show up. For that, you should let yourself off the hook and throw your “I am pathetic” version out the window
Great, now let’s keep going.
Why Do We Procrastinate & How to Stop
1. Your interests have changed
So you’re procrastinating working on this project and you know you should have finished it by now. You are trying but you can’t drive yourself to start working on it. Could it be that your real interest lies elsewhere and deep within, you no longer want to finish this project?
To answer that question, notice what activities you prefer doing in place of this project. What are you doing instead? Is it one type of activity that you keep choosing over the pending one? Investigate to unveil something that could supposedly be your new interest.
Some years ago when I was working as a software engineer, I used to procrastinate working on my projects and use any free time reading personal development blogs and books at work. I took notice of this and re-evaluated my choices in life. Needless to say, I eventually quit my job in pursuit of better-aligned interests of my life because I was sick of finding PD resources to delay the dreaded tasks!
2. You want to be safe
This one’s interesting. If you’re procrastinating, it could well mean that your core need for certainty is not being satisfied elsewhere and you are using procrastination as a channel for safety in your life. By delaying it, you are getting your sense of safety/sameness/stability in your life because it stops you from stepping into the unknown.
Ask yourself: Can I replace this channel with another one? Certainty can be built by creating rituals in life. Set rituals like “every Thursday morning, I go for a one-hour run at 6 am”.
By following this ritual, you train your subconscious mind to expect certainty (it happens every Thursday without fail) in a healthy manner. And as you satisfy the need for certainty through new rituals, you will drop off procrastinating automatically.
3. You’re fulfilling someone else’s agenda
If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much. ~ Jim Rohn
If you are out of tune with your own agenda, you will automatically fall in tune with others’ agendas. And chances are you don’t care about other people’s deadlines at all. You’re studying for that degree because you were told to by your parents, or you’re working at this job because you need money to feed yourself. Such external agendas often lead to passive aggressive behavior which materializes in the form of procrastination.
Apart from that, there’s no passion or purpose left in it. It arises from basic necessity only.
To turn the situation around, ask yourself: What am I getting by doing this task? IF I don’t do it, what’s at stake? You’ll pinpoint exactly why this task is important and become aware of the underlying reasons of your procrastination.
Once you are aware, ask: How can I replace other people’s agendas that are ruling my life with personal ones? You may find that you need to change your job or career, find a new interest that you really care about and create a life plan by being the driver of your own bus.
4. You’re motivated by pain
Personally, I love the adrenaline rush I get when there’s a deadline looming and now I am required to turn my attention on this presentation that’s turned into a beast. It’s due in a few hours and it’s teasing me to come hither and get it! There’s a challenge in this. There’s drive, there’s adventure. What’s going to happen? Who will win? How will things turn out when I present in front of people tomorrow? The rush is simply undeniable.
So if you’re a thrill-seeker like me, you are driven by the pain of delaying things until last minute and possibly missing the deadline (Full disclosure: yes, I’ve missed some in the past!). You like to wait until the pain develops enough to get you off your butt and get moving.
But beware; this could turn into a stress-generating machine. Yes, it’s exciting to finish the race when all hell breaks loose, but you are inducing a lot of stress in your life in return for the “high”. So be cautious and create a plan where you can keep some tasks waiting and others that cannot wait.
5. You aren’t eating the elephant bite by bite
So you’re looking at this really challenging project and you don’t know how to get it done. You’re imagining all the scenarios where you fail attempting it. There is no possible way you can finish it, let alone finish it on time.
The problem is overwhelm. When you are overwhelmed, you are stuck. You don’t know what the next step is because it seems so pretty darn big. You’re too focused on the end result – the final product or expected outcome. Instead, focus on the next, best, immediate step and then take it from there.
Think of the challenge mountain-climbers face. How do they approach it? They never think of climbing the whole thing in one big step. Rather, their focus is on making it to the basecamp – not the top of the mountain, not the last leg of journey, just the next basecamp. Of course, their vision is the top, but their focus is the next stop.
Or, if you prefer elephants, remember, when served one, eat it one bite at a time.
Most of us procrastinate on a daily basis on simple tasks like folding the laundry or organizing our desks. While these mundane chores may not fit in the reasons above directly, it still is worth your while to review them and see how they apply in your life.
If left unchecked, procrastination will not only kill your productivity but also emerge as stress and have an adverse effect on your health. It also hampers team work and consumes a lot of energy that goes into thinking and not doing.
So take charge, and become aware of the behind-the-scenes of your procrastinating habits. You will be thankful you did that.
How do you define procrastination in your life? How do you overcome it? Share with us in the comments!
Image by visualpanic.
You might also like: How to Beat Procrastination Permanently + Get the Results You Want.