The big ‘P’
It happens to all of us to some extent… we succumb to the charms and dangers of procrastination. We defer doing those things that we know we must do yet for some reason don’t want to do. The reason may be easier or harder to understand. It may be that we dislike the activity, or are afraid of failing, or simply don’t know how to approach it. Or there may be deeper reasons dormant in our subconscious or buried in our unconscious mind. Whatever the reason, it is often these very things which push us outside our comfort zone. They help us to grow. Procrastination has an impact not only on our immediate achievements but also on our longer term development. It can be a key driver of complacency and gradual obsolescence.
Procrastination can become a time-bomb, creating the illusion we can sit comfortably in our rocking chair without becoming obsolete.
Before I share my insights on how to reduce procrastination, I must digress on the word itself. Have you noticed how difficult it is to pronounce, as if your brain wishes to postpone saying it? I get stuck on the second ‘r’, then have to think hard whether to add a third ‘r’ after the ‘t’. Anyway, fear not – if you can defer saying the word you can surely defer deferring the task at hand!
Why do we procrastinate?
Procrastination is the consequence of an imbalance between our self-discipline/motivation and any real or perceived obstacles to achieving what we want.
There is extensive research on why we procrastinate, in fact there is even a really interesting website dedicated to solving procrastination. I will focus on one aspect that to me appears crucial. Human beings have an innate desire to have what we want when we want it, which is usually right now. While this instant gratification has its place in life, it sometimes leads us into making decisions that aren’t helpful in the longer term. For me at least, not feeling instant gratification plays a major role in procrastination. Finding ways to break down goals into small chunks that provide some kind of short term gratification is important.
Here are a few tangible things I do to keep myself motivated and eliminate hindrances to focusing:
- Create a tactical ‘to do’ list. While I generally steer away from the tyranny of longer-term ‘to do’ lists, I fully embrace making a list today of what I will do tomorrow. Let me explain… A ‘to do’ list that has endless bullet points of things I should do into the future stresses me out. On the other hand, making a list of achievable tasks for the next day focuses my mind. The next day, I simply get up and get started. And because the tasks are achievable in a day’s timeframe, I get that shot of instant gratification.
- Choose your time and mood. Each of us has a natural rhythm which dictates when we are at our peak. So just follow the rhythm, for example don’t try to start something important in the morning if you are an ‘afternoon person’. And if you find it difficult to relax to stay on task, try out some simple meditation or controlled breathing techniques to focus your mind.
- Persist, reward yourself, accept the outcome. Tell yourself you will spend a certain amount of time on the task, set a reward for completing it, and don’t stop before time is up. Even if you find yourself doodling or looking longingly out the window, force yourself to focus for the allotted time. If you achieve what you set out to do, savour the reward. Equally importantly though, accept if you don’t achieve your goal. Be compassionate, pat yourself on the back for investing your time in something you’d been procrastinating, and then set time aside for the next attempt.
- Sit down and start. This may sound obvious, but often the simple discipline of starting gets you halfway done before you realize it.
The more you know…
I find that quite often my fear of failure or my inability to start is linked to not knowing enough about the matter at hand. I invest 30 minutes researching on the Internet, jot down some notes, and then reassess how I feel about the task. Gradually, with more information, I feel more at ease to address it.
I also find that simply speaking to someone else about the task I am procrastinating helps me get started on it. The other person may of course have relevant information on the task, but more often than not it is simply the implied social commitment that helps me.
Conscious living – a longer-term recipe
I believe self-awareness plays an important part in determining how you deal with procrastination. Self-awareness will highlight early on the development of thoughts or emotions that will eventually trigger deferring something. It also helps you have more insight into why you are deferring a certain activity, and perhaps even how you can address the desire to defer.
In my experience, the more self-aware you are,
the less you tend to procrastinate.
A lot of my work as a life coach deals precisely with raising my clients’ level of awareness, including about procrastination. Self-awareness leads to conscious living, which focuses your energy on the goals you set yourself to shape your destiny. Awareness of what you want, why you want it, and how to achieve it is a good remedy to procrastination. If this resonates with you, you might find my article on Powerful Change through Conscious Living interesting. And then perhaps “Mañana, mañana” will more often become “Just start right now!”