I’ve been putting off writing this post to help people with their procrastination problems since my LinkedIn poll on procrastination closed. Of course I have, I’m a procrastinator, just like a whopping 74% of you beautiful people.
I want to start by saying that I can’t wave my magic wand (Hawthorn and Quartz, 4.5 inches if you’re interested) and stop you from procrastinating. What I CAN do, is help you understand why you procrastinate and provide some excellent tips on how to overcome those issues.
First off just read those stats again. 74% of us are procrastinators according to my poll of nearly 1000 people.
So it is important to know you are not alone. This leads me to my first tip…
Forgive Yourself For Procrastinating
There are many reasons why people procrastinate and hating on yourself for it is not going to help. So, take 3 deep breaths as if you are trying to get the air right down to your toes. Then say to yourself, the louder the better, ‘I forgive myself for procrastinating’. Then take off that backpack full of the guilt that you’ve carried around for every task or project you’ve procrastinated over and leave it behind. You’re ready to move on to your new procrastination-free life.
Why Do People Procrastinate?
- Perfectionism – the fear of getting things wrong, setting yourself, or believing others have set, unnattainably high standards can lead to procrastinating.
- Not caring about the task, if it seems unimportant it is hard to get motivated.
- Distraction – this is relvant to many of us. It’s so easy to be distracted with social media, emails and other messages beeping, or popping into our eyeline every few minutes. It is also a particular problem for people with ADHD, a diagnosis which is both commonly missed and increasing.
- Telling yourself that sweet little lie that you work better under pressure; ‘It’s how diamonds are formed!’
- Not knowing enough about what need to be done.
- Being a crisis seeker, waiting until it becomes a drama.
- Needing more instant gratification. In his Ted Talk, Tim Urban talks about the instant gratification monkey. This cheeky chap is, if you are this kind of procrastintor, always steering your ship towards the things that are easy and fun especially when there is work to be done. Please excuse the Dr Seuss-esque moment, I couldn’t help myself.
- Having too much to do and overstretching – some procrastinators have simply got too many plates spinning, which often leaves you with no choice but to put some things off until later. It can also be a one-way ticket to overwhelmsville.
How Can I Stop Procrastinating?
Sometimes procrastinators just accept that is the way we are. We work around it. We beat ourselves up about it. The difficulty is that because there are so many different types of procrastinators the answers we find don’t always remedy our particular issue.
This is why I have collated a range of different tips and methods so that you can find the one that is best for you and your procrastinator type.
The Perfectionist Procrastinator
- Practice making mistakes, take up a hobby that requires you to learn something new and challenging. Preferably in a group setting. Anything from taking a art class or entering a baking competition, to learning how to skateboard or surf. I recently started doing muddy runs which involves me being slower than many/most, being overtaken A LOT walking not running A LOT, falling over A LOT, and getting covered head to toe in mud. My inner perfectionist struggles with all of it but it is all about learning to be OK with imperfection. We learn through mistakes, for the record I am now faster than I was, I fall over less because my balance has improved but I do still get covered in mud.
- Release yourself from the idea that other people want you to be perfect or expect you to be perfect by deliberately being wrong. Wear odd shoes, tell a joke wrong, express a ridiculous idea. You’ll find that people care much less than you think. Therefore, it doesn’t matter as much as you think. Remember that people will care more about whether you are nice than whether you were right.
- Consider your goals and learn to differentiate between achievable goals and those which are actually just causing you undue stress becuase they are so ambitious. This is a difficult one because it’s important to aim high, important to dream big. However, for perfectionists lofty ambitions can become debilitating rather than inspiring. So, edit your dream list, your goal plan or whatever method you use and either alter the lofty dreams into more acheivable ones, break them down into baby steps or remove them altogether until you’ve got more control over your perfectionism.
- Remember my favourite Stephen King quote: ‘You can edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page’.
Procrastinating Because You Don’t Care
- If it is your job that you don’t care about consider changing it. Do you need a new career? It’s never too late to try something new. Are you unmotivated becuase the work environment in uninspiring, or even toxic? Consider hiring a lifecoach or career coach to help you think about whether you are heading in the right direction.
- Are you feeling that you don’t care about a lot of things? Things you used to care about but don’t anymore? It could be a symptom of depression especially if you are feeling low in mood, lacking in energy, have low self esteem and feel hopeless. Depression is a common a treatable illness. Don’t suffer in silence. Get help and advice here.
- If it is because the task just simply doen’t float your boat then don’t overlook a simple reward based motivator. Whether it is planning to do something with friends, a food based treat, or an episode of your favourite show. Keep the reward in mind as you get the job done. I use sticker charts for my daughter but decided I’d do something similar for myself a simple tick chart for everyday I completed my finances spreadsheet and at the end of the week if I had all five I got myself a coffee and a cake. Simple but effective.
- Turn off social media and email alerts. Put your phone on silent. Turn off your pop up alerts.
- Try time blocking. Use an app to allocate every minute of your day for specific tasks. Check out this handy guide to the best time blocking apps for 2021.
- If minute by minute time blocking is a little too fastidious for you. Set aside chunks for time for specific activities such as social media. Use your calendar wisely, if not minutely.
- Many people find that the Pomodoro technique works for them. In case you haven’t heard about it I’ll give you a quick summary. The brainchild of Francesco Cirillo, the Pomodoro technique is so called after the tomato shaped kitchen timers. The tomato based time management technique is about working smarter, not harder and involves working for 25 minutes solidly (without distractions) then having a 5 minute break. After 4 of these 30 minute pomodorros you have a longer break of around 30 minutes. Once you have mastered this aspect of the technique you then move on to working out how long specific tasks take – in pomodoros. From there you can plan and set objectives with a better understanding of how long thitaks and projects will take you. This enables you to more effectively diarise your work time ultimately giving you more leisure time as well as improving the standard of your work.
The Works Well Under Pressure Procrastinator
- Well I hate to break it to you but saying you work well under pressure is indeed a sweet little lie for most of us. It wasn’t just an excuse for me to stick in a Fleetwood Mac video. The lie is formed from a mixture of memory bias and cognitive dissonance. The memory bias is your brain choosing to remember the time you did well in a pressured situation. You remember the project that you finished at 7am after working all night but that got you a promotion as opposed to the other 8 other projects that didn’t. Or the essay that you did in one day that you got a A for as opposed to the others that you only scraped a C- in. The cognitive dissonace part is essentially thoughts vs. reality. When the two don’t match your brain tries to keep you happy by tricking you into thinking the reality of what happend was the plan from the start. Ergo the guilt that we feel from procrastinating is eliminated by the brain lying to you.
- If you are not convinced and think you are one of the few who really do work well under pressure. Get a hobby, join a club or book yourself in to a class. Something that is scheduled, paid for, that you won’t be able to miss. Set yourself an amount of work to do before the scheduled activity this will give you a sort of false deadline. Alternatively set your timer and give yourself a target like number of words or amount of reading you need to have done .
Procrastination from Lack of Information
- Tasks or projects can seem overhwemlming if you don’t have enough information. Be confident in asking for more information. Your client or manager would, in all likelihood, rather answer questions or queries now rather than be handed work that is either late, or not what they are looking for.
- Read and re-read your brief, plan or question.
- Research, research, research. Knowledge is your ally. Use reputable sources, scholarly articles and journals are data rich and credible. Personally, I also find that I’m less prone to shoot off down rabbitholes if i’m on Google Scholar, ResearchGate or Microsoft Academic Search.
Drama Kings and Queens and Crisis Creators
- Sometimes people subconciously seek out drama. Leaving projects or tasks too late is one way that people who may have experienced childhood trauma, especially those who have been neglected or who have a parent with mental health issues, create crises. It is a way of keeping themselves distracted enough to not have to think about underlying problems. If this could be a reason behind your procrastinating it could benefit you to talk to someone. Seek out a health professional or counsellor to help you to learn coping mechanisms that can help with these unresolved issues.
Pursuit of Instant Gratification Lead to Procrastination
- Tim Urban says that for many of us the instant gratification monkey is only scared off by the panic monster. If this is true for you then create your own panic monster. Set timers, make a plan you can’t break.
- Provide the instant gratification in other ways. Give yourself rewards after a set period of solid work or after getting a specific amount done.
Procrastinating Because There’s Too Much To Do
- Write every task you have to do down, breaking down bigger ones into smaller chunks then put everything on the list in priority order.
- Watch your language! No, I don’t mean stop swearing. I mean change the way you talk you yourself. Instead of ‘I’ve got too much to do’, ‘I’ll never get it all done’, change these defeatist phrases to affirmations: ‘I can do this’, ‘I have plenty of time to get it done’, ‘I’ve got faith in my ability’, ‘I am cool, calm and in control’. Also, try to change your phrasing from ‘I have to’, ‘I must’ etc to ‘I choose to’. What we tell ourselves is so important when it comes to a change in mindset.
- Priotritise self care – drink penty of water, start your day with exercise and eat nourishing foods. You will function better and work more efficiently, as well as reduce your stress levels.
- Remember that you are free to 1) Say no 2) change your mind. If you are asked to do something else when your work load is already full learn to just say no. Similarly, if you have made a plan but need to prioritise your work, then it is really OK to cancel and change a plan. People are nearly always understanding and if you would only be distracted then would it be quality time anyway?
Considering that nearly three-quarters of us are self-confessed procrastinators it stands to reason that is it possible to be successful and be a procrastinator. This was my personal prompt for the poll that lead to this article. So, don’t let it get you down. But, please do see if you fit into one or indeed a mix of the above procrastinator categories and give the tips a try.
Let me know how you get on…
…if you get around to it 😉