Whether it’s a project at work, algebra homework, or filing your tax return, procrastination can cause problems. Consequences can be external, such as a penalty for late taxes, failing a class or losing your job, or they can be internal, such as experiencing guilt or anxiety. Consequences can range from mild to serious. Procrastination impacts our relationships, undermines our credibility, and prevents us from getting some of the joy we want (and deserve!) in our lives. Can you think of a time when you put off something important? Many times the longer we put something off, the worse we feel. Perhaps you have trouble even getting started because you feel overwhelmed by too much to do. So you do nothing.
What is procrastination costing you? Awareness of the problem is the first step to making changes.
Reasons for procrastination vary. See which ones you identify with.
• Fear of failure. In this case, it is important to remember that failure on a task does not mean you are a failure as a person. If you do a task at the last minute, this can give you an excuse for poor work.
• Fear of success. This one often surprises people. Perhaps you slow down on a project that is going well because you are uncomfortable with compliments. Or your definition of success means non-stop work. Others may be jealous.
• Fear of separation or attachment. You may procrastinate to stay in a comfort zone. Maybe you put off calling a friend because you fear rejection when you do call. Another possibility is to remain dependent on others who will do it for you.
• Control issues. Sometimes we become resentful of being told we have to do anything, and use procrastination as an excuse to act out our anger. We put things off as a way of maintaining our independence and individuality.
• Perfectionism. Similar to fear of failure and feeling overwhelmed; having standards so high they are nearly unreachable. A belief there is only one “right” way.
• Overcommitment. The inability to say “No” when your plate is already full out of fear that others won’t like you. The inability to delegate, often related to perfectionism or family patterns.
• Need for immediate gratification or Finding the task unpleasant. The job is boring and I’d rather do something I enjoy that takes less effort. These people find it very easy to rationalize or make excuses.
• Trouble getting started and feeling overwhelmed. “Paralysis by planning” one author calls this. Plans or research are extensive, but implementation is delayed because you don’t know where to start. Other times we lack sufficient information or resources to make decisions and begin.
• Feelings of insecurity or inadequacy. Postponing a challenge if we do not believe we are capable; related to fear of failure.
• Anxiety or depression. As a result of some of the fears listed above, anxiety and depression can prevent us from setting and reaching goals.
In her book It’s About Time, Dr. Linda Sapadin describes some additional styles of procrastinators, including The Dreamer – “But I can’t stand paying attention to all those details,” The Worrier – “But I hate change,” and The Crisis-Maker – “But I only get motivated at the last minute.” Everyone has more than one style or reason that they procrastinate, so you may see yourself in several of the descriptions above. Evaluating the “why?’ of your procrastination can be the second step in the journey to where you would rather be.
Once you have identified your style it is time to find strategies to help you be successful in overcoming procrastination. One of the most common things to put off is a “big project” – at work, school or home. One very useful suggestion is to break down a large task into a number of small ones, then just get started. So you may not get the entire closet clean in one day, but you can get started by sorting what you will keep and what goes in the garage sale.
Identify and avoid cop-outs such as “I don’t feel like doing it right now” or “Nobody is nagging me about it yet.” Be honest with yourself – when will you feel like doing an unpleasant or routine task? One sign of maturity is the ability to delay gratification, recognizing there are many things we need to do that won’t “feel good.” Acting “as if” you felt like doing it is a legitimate technique that will help you get started. Often, just beginning is the hardest part. Set a timer for 10 minutes, and if you aren’t into your task by then, give yourself the freedom to try again later. Odds are that you’ll work past the 10 minutes and surprise yourself with how much you have accomplished.
Remind yourself of the positive payoffs for getting it done. Allow yourself a reward once you have finished. Think about how good you will feel when it is over. Ask yourself, “What is the best use of my time right now?” If time management is the issue, consider taking a workshop or buying a day-planner type of notebook. (However, for this to work, you do have to actually use it.)
Remind yourself of the problems or complications you will face by not getting it done. You may say, “But I do my best work under pressure.”
Find motivators other than stress, and discover other positive ways to get the “deadline high” you used to get from putting it off until the last minute.
Post visible reminders – such as “Make today count” or “Procrastination prevents success.”
Make up your own; whatever works for you. Read motivational books and write down sayings or phrases that inspire you.
Strive for excellence rather than perfection. Excellence is a clearer and more practical target to aim for and to achieve. Spend your energy where you really need to, then save some to play!
Change your ‘someday’s and ‘soon’s to specific times. For example, change I’ll pay those bills “when I get around to it” to “Thursday after work.” Can’t decide? Remember that making no decision is, in fact, making a decision. Many times if you cannot decide, someone else will decide for you. That contributes to feelings that you are not in control of your own life and can result in even more procrastination.
Find and spend time with others who inspire you to get things done. Everyone knows it is easier to exercise or diet with a “buddy,” someone who helps you be accountable in reaching your goals. Tell a friend who can and will genuinely encourage you when you get stuck. Consider consulting a “coach” to assist you in identifying and moving toward personal or professional goals.
One type of procrastinator identified Sapadin book is The Defier, who sees life in terms of what others expect or require them to do. “Defier procrastinators are ever on the alert to avoid, resist, or fight against doing anything that someone else seems to be compelling them to do,”says Sapadin. “They resent authority and use procrastination as a means of challenging it.” If you recognize your own style in this description, learn to see what someone else wants or expects as a request rather than a demand. Then look at the request objectively to find the benefit to you for completing the task versus avoiding it.
If you tend to overcommit, consider a course in assertiveness training to learn to set appropriate boundaries and say NO to the tasks and people you do not have the time or energy to deal with.
Do something about fatigue. If “I’m too tired” is your constant complaint, determine the degree to which the cause is physical, mental, or a combination. Primarily physical fatigue needs to be evaluated by a doctor for a legitimate physical cause. Review your diet and exercise habits as they relate to fatigue and procrastination. More mental and emotional fatigue often improves with relaxation and visualization techniques, physical activity, or
a short nap.
For more information on this topic see the Internet site: The Procrastination Research Group
Useful books include:
Doing It Now by E. Bliss
DO IT! Let’s Get Off Our Buts by John-Roger and Peter McWilliams