Understanding Procrastination

Judy Hardiman Learning Leave a Comment

Procrastination is not new.  It has been around for centuries and while everyone procrastinates from time to time, not everyone is a chronic procrastinator.  For the situational procrastinator, delaying action until tomorrow may not hurt you; however, if you are a chronic procrastinator, you may be setting yourself up to fail on a regular basis and this type of behaviour can harm you physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Although we tend to see procrastination as a negative, it is really an action - it is the action of delaying or postponing something.  It seems, when you are procrastinating, you are in fact taking an action; however, it takes you in the opposite direction of your goal.

Procrastination is really about avoiding pain or discomfort.  Perhaps we are shy and we have been approached to give a speech or we would like to try something new but somewhere along the line we begin to feel overwhelmed.

There are many reasons why people push things off until tomorrow but there are solutions once you understand the reason or reasons behind the procrastination.  Here are a few examples:

  • Skill deficits are one of the most basic reasons for procrastination. If you lack the skills to complete certain tasks, it is natural to avoid doing them.
  • Lack of interest
  • Lack of motivation
  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of success
  • Rebellion and Resistance
  • Thrill-seeking - waiting until the last minute for that euphoric rush
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Too difficult, Too easy, Too boring
  • The project or goal is too overwhelming
  • Tired and need a break
  • Perfectionism
  • Lack of confidence
  • Not knowing where or how to start

Procrastinating, on a regular basis, holds you and possibly others back. You may lose precious time that you cannot get back and it may even damage your reputation.  People will quickly learn that they cannot count on you to deliver on time or at all.

If you work alone, procrastinating may lead to missed opportunities and prevent you from meeting your goals.  It can also have a negative impact on your self-esteem.

The next time you find yourself procrastinating, take a good look at what you are doing and think about how you are feeling.  Ask yourself what you are afraid of and look at it honestly.  This could be the first step towards changing this behaviour.

Here are a few solutions that you may find helpful:

1) Try breaking your assignment or project into little steps to get you started.  Sometimes the size and scope of a project can seem a bit daunting.

Author Anne Lamott, who wrote the book entitled “Bird by Bird”, shares a few strategies in her book that she uses whenever she has difficulty sitting down to write.  These tricks and thoughts have made a real difference for her.  One strategy that Anne uses, is to think about the one-inch picture frame that she has sitting on her desk.  This small picture frame reminds her that all she has to do, right now, is write one paragraph - just one paragraph describing a scene that she imagines in the frame.  It may be about the character or the expression on the character's face.

This small act can be the simple start you need to move you forward.

After reading the chapter “Short Assignments” in her book, I decided to use the one-inch picture frame idea when I am writing and this technique has been extremely helpful.

2) If perfectionism is the cause of your delay, consider giving yourself permission to do it badly.  Set a goal to simply show up and get started.  Forget about perfectionism and fear.  Take the pressure off as this can be very freeing.   

There is an excellent book out there written by Scott Adams entitled “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big”.  In his book, Scott shares the strategies that have allowed him to actually invite failure into his life and embrace it.  By doing this, Scott was able to find success.

There is also a wonderful commencement speak given by the author Neil Gaiman at the Philadelphia’s University of the Arts in May of 2012.  Neil's inspirational speech is entitled “Make Good Art”.  In his address, Neil talks about the importance of making mistakes - “Make New Mistakes.  Make glorious, amazing mistakes.  Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before.”

As you can see from the examples above, there is no shame in doing things imperfectly.  This is how we learn and grow.

3) Set fewer goals if you are feeling overwhelmed.  Ask yourself if you have taken on too many projects.

4) If you lack interest, motivation or are simply bored with the assignment or task, try doing it first and get it out of the way.  Set up a reward at the end of its completion which will give you something to look forward to at the end.  Sometimes, we are not in a position to turn down a task or assignment.  

5) Try turning negative thinking around into a positive thought.  Perhaps there are some positive things to gain from the experience.  Try to focus on those things.  This kind of thinking may give you the energy and motivation you need to move forward and complete the work.

6) Try changing your environment.  Perhaps the space you are currently working in is having a negative impact on your work.  Consider adding a few props into your workspace that inspire you or make you laugh.

My work space is set up with a variety of props and quotes that help me feel more creative and they also make it a fun place to work.  For example, on my desk I have a framed photo of baby Groot from the movie “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2”.  To me, this image represents “rebirth” - starting something new.  I also have a small Minion character (Firefighter Bee Do) sitting on my desk to remind me to have fun and be a little mischievous from time to time.  When I am painting, I have a particular playlist that I use to help set the mood.  I try to create an environment where I feel relaxed and free to be myself.

7) Try hanging out with people who inspire you to take action.

8) Tell someone else about your goal and make a commitment to them about what you will accomplish that day, week or month.

9) Define your goal and break it down into smaller more manageable goals.  Give yourself some deadlines based on what you feel you can realistically accomplish.  Having a detailed plan will help you reach your goal one small step at a time.

10) Discover your WHY.  Why do you want to accomplish this particular task or reach this goal?  This understanding will give you the drive you need to move forward and will be helpful whenever you experience challenges or setbacks along the way.  Knowing your why, can make all the difference in the world.

These are just a few ideas for you to consider.  If you would like to find additional solutions, try asking your friends for suggestions and be sure to search the internet where you will find numerous articles and videos on the subject.

Procrastination does not have to hold you back.  You just have to make a different choice.

Are you a situational or chronic procrastinator?  What strategies have you used in the past to overcome procrastination?

Judy Hardiman

"Success is not obtained overnight. It comes in installments; you get a little bit today, a little bit tomorrow until the whole package is given out. The day you procrastinate, you lost that day’s success."Israelmore Ayivor

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