Procrastination – Why We Do It and How to Stop It
Procrastination, also known as the ‘art of putting things off’ has been spoken about for centuries. You might recognise it as that voice in your head that tells you that whatever happens to be on your to do list can wait until tomorrow. Things like revision, housework, going to the gym, niggling tasks that you know you should just do…these are all activities that can sometimes get pushed to the tomorrow pile.
If the goal is more abstract and has no set deadline it can be “easier” to put these tasks off because there will be no immediate consequences or punishment if you don’t do these things. Goals or dreams of somewhere you’d like to visit, a hobby you’d like to start or even meeting up with an old friend can over time, turn into regrets of “I wish I’d just booked a ticket and gone!”
One of the worst things about procrastination is the feelings of stress, anxiety and frustration that it can bring. If procrastination is so uncomfortable and doesn’t really serve a purpose other than delaying the task that you’ll do eventually, why do we continue to do it?
Procrastination can come from you being scared of failing, if you’re not sure how or where to begin, if you don’t think you’ll ever finish the task, if it’s not the right time, if you won’t be able to do it perfectly… Sound familiar? I am definitely guilty of having these thoughts and I am always on the look out for hints and tips on how to avoid procrastination.So I rounded up some of my favourites below:
- There is no “perfect” time – this is something that really used to slow me down with getting work done, the idea that to get any “good” work done that I needed a commitment free day or week to sit down and write. Well, last time I checked completely free time doesn’t really happen and when I realised that I needed to snatch time to work on my goals where I can I stopped sulking about not being able to work unless all of the chores were done, I’d had a cup of coffee and caught up on emails. Plus, getting something productive done when you only had a short amount of time can help you to feel good about yourself so it’s a win-win.
- Start small – by small I mean really small. When I need to work in the evenings the task I put off the most is turning my laptop on and opening Word. It sounds ridiculous to even write that down but it’s true! As long as my laptop is in it’s case I can pretend that I have nothing to do and just ignore it. But I know that as soon as I put the effort in to actually start then I will be fine because I’ve started so I may as well carry on. Starting super small was a tip in a book called “The Procrastination Equation” by Dr Piers Steel and he talked about starting a “success spiral” where if you get one thing done it will spur you on to keep going and get more done. This book was a godsend during my masters. I would really recommend it!
- Reward yourself – it’s not easy to do these tasks that we put off, that’s kind of why we put them off. So I have little things in place to remind me that it’s good that I’m getting things done. One of my favourite tips that I read somewhere was to change your laptop password to a positive mantra or compliment. I changed my password to “youarefab” so that when I actually turn my laptop on it makes me laugh at myself and means I start work with a smile on my face.
- If it takes less than five minutes do it now – Getting those niggling tasks like sending an email, paying a bill over the phone, booking an appointment etc, done straight away means you keep your mind clear to focus on bigger tasks. Just think, if you sort it out now it’s one less thing to worry about.
- Tell someone what you’re doing – this goes back to things not getting done when there is no deadline. If this is the case make your own deadline! Tell your boss, your friends, your family what you’re doing and when you’d like to do it by and make yourself accountable. If you feel comfortable ask people to check on your progress to keep you on track.
Finally, remember everyone sometimes puts things off the trick is to not let it become a habit and to be kind to yourself if you do slip up. The worst thing for getting things done is listening to thoughts that there’s no point in starting because you’ve put something off for too long. It’s never too late to make a start. Start small and the rest will follow.