Even the highest performers deal with the big “P,” the Mack Daddy of putting things off: PROCRASTINATION. It doesn’t matter where you live, how old you are, what your job is or how you were raised, there are simply things we don’t want to do. Sometimes we put off the smallest of tasks, like putting away the linens sitting at the top of the stairs for three weeks, to large projects like organizing our last 15 years of photos.
Big or small, why can’t we take action on tasks? Although you might associate procrastination with a sign of laziness, that’s not the problem at all. What it is, however, is a way of coping with your emotions. Any task you’re unnecessarily postponing is related to a feeling of overwhelm, confusion, boredom, self-doubt, resentment or insecurity.
The problem with procrastination is that it feels really good at the moment. You’ve put off that dreaded task, which gives you immediate pleasure. You can go back to doing whatever you’re already enjoying like watching TV, scrolling Instagram or even doing the work you love. As a result, we take this negative emotion and turn it into a positive emotion.
The irony is that the longer you procrastinate, the worse it actually feels. The task or project builds up more emotional, mental and sometimes even physical anxiety. It feels heavier each day, each week and each month. So procrastination goes to show how we prioritize short-term pleasure over long-term pleasure. Who can blame us for loving immediate gratification?!
Here are three reasons we put things off followed by three simple strategies to stop them.
Why We Procrastinate
Reason #1: The task is too big. Just thinking about renovating your house, creating your financial future or developing an entire strategic plan is enough to put you in a state of paralysis. It’s no surprise you shut down as soon as you think about where to start. The bigger the task, the more overwhelming it feels to initiate and make movement.
Reason #2: Your task is painfully boring or dreadful, like dealing with an insurance dispute, doing taxes or cleaning out your closet (which for me would be fun because I love decluttering and organizing, but that’s a whole other topic). There’s nothing about the task that remotely resembles enjoyment or interest. The option to prolong becomes very appealing. The bad news is that by procrastinating this task, you’ll build it up to be even more painful than it was originally.
Reason #3: You have a fear of failure. You might have thoughts like,
“I never finish what I start.”
“What if I don’t do it right?”
“It’s impossible to get through this.”
“I’ll look like a loser if I start but don’t complete.”
“What if I spend all this time and energy, and it’s terrible?”
You see defeat written all over it, so you continue to postpone decisions or actions. In most cases, however, this fear is completely irrational. You’re fully capable of success (I mean think about everything you manage and every one you take care of!), but exaggerating consequences in your head prevents you from moving forward.
How to Stop Procrastinating
Strategy #1: Break It Down.
Now that you have a better grasp on why you unnecessarily put things off, let’s move on to a few ways to make headway on these procrastination drivers. This first strategy is age-old advice, but it works and can always use reinforcement. It’s a three-word phrase that I love: Break. It. Down.
That means to identify one small next step of your task or project so you actually take an action. Let’s say for the last six months you’ve put off creating a training document for your team. Naturally, you’re overwhelmed by this monstrosity, so it’s no wonder you find other priorities and projects to fill your time.
Here’s what you do.
Step #1: Grab a piece of paper or open a document and write down every task to complete the project — everything from picking a format, to proofreading, to sending it out to the printer. Don’t stop until you’ve brainstormed every last step.
Step #2: Pick the very first action you need to take, which in this case, may be creating the outline. That is all you put your attention towards. Let go of the end result and put your focus on this next step only. When that’s complete, focus on the next immediate action, such as collecting old training manuals, followed by talking to your team about your vision.
The “Break It Down” strategy works with boring tasks, too. If you’re dreading organizing your garage, take one next action like clearing donation items from one corner. Continue to break down your tasks and do another decluttering exercise the next day.
Strategy #2: Make your environment more appealing.
- Put on music you love, the kind that makes you want to dance or puts a smile on your face. It makes everything more pleasurable.
- Light a candle of an aroma you love.
- Change your physical state and do the task outside of your regular environment, if possible. Go to a coffee shop or sit on your porch or deck.
- Make a phone call to someone you’ve been procrastinating calling while doing your task (if it’s a low brain activity like folding laundry or filing papers).
Strategy #3: Set a short time limit.
Set a timer for 20 minutes. You’re an adult and can do 20 minutes, y’all. Caution: Do not use your watch, wall or laptop clock. Set a timer on your phone that signals when you’ve reached your goal. Psychologically, working against an alarm will help you get going as well as keep you on task.
I find a timer super effective to move on small tasks I’m procrastinating, like hanging a frame on the wall, clearing my desktop or calling the dentist. Knowing it will only be 20 minutes and not a minute longer makes it easier to digest and to start taking action.
Experiencing small progress and success is often the inspiration you need to take another action. Remember, procrastination is a way of coping with a negative emotion associated with a task. So use the strategies above to shift your feelings from dread and overwhelm to tolerable — and maybe even enjoyable! It can make the difference between procrastinating and taking action right now.
What postponed task will you move forward on today?
When you’re ready to stop procrastinating, get Mridu’s free resource, “How To Finally Stop Procrastinating,” right HERE.
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