How do you battle procrastination?
Day in, day out you are confronted with dilemmas or situations where a decision has to be made. Do I really want to go to the gym after work or shall I rather lie down on my comfy sofa, continue to stuff my face with crisps? Do I need to get up early or shall I hit snooze one more time? Shall I reply to these emails and WhatsApp messages that I’ve been leaving for too long now or shall I rather watch one more episode on the telly instead?
Hmmm….tricky. What to do?
Recognise this inner dialogue that goes on inside your head? Two parties, each actively trying to voice their opinion, arguments and rationalisations aiming to tip the scales in their favour. One party usually represents what we know what’s good for you in the long run, whereas the other party is far more concerned what’s better (more fun and easier) for you right now. Who usually wins the fight in your case?
Temporary avoiding or giving up on our long-term goals for an immediate and awesome reward; that my friends is procrastination. Although procrastination usually has a bad name, it’s not always a bad thing. For example, if you would never procrastinate you might take to many rash and potentially bad decisions. However, taken to excess, procrastination can lead to missed opportunities, frustration, regrets, dissatisfaction, not being true to ourselves, and unhappiness in general.
So let’s stop for a moment and take a few minutes for yourself to think about how procrastination relates to your personal situation. Set a timer on your smartphone. Set it for one, two or even five minutes. Go on then, we don’t want to avoid these questions now are we? Ask yourself, what are you currently procrastinating in life? How does that make you feel? Why are you procrastinating? What are the reasons you keep telling yourself? Scribble them down.
So, why do you lose the fight against procrastination so often?
There are many reasons why you procrastinate and each situation is different, so is yours. I know that’s probably not exactly the answer you’ve been waiting to hear so let me give you a few examples you might be able to relate to. Recognising these situations might even help you doing something about it.
First of all, a very common reason why you fail to start or complete certain jobs is that the effort you need to put in it might feel like too much. It’s overwhelming, making you not want to tackle the task at all. If you perceive a job as daunting or just too much, you simply don’t know where to start, this often initiates a so-called ‘freeze response’ which can automatically and physically stop you pursuing the task altogether because you’re just too anxious to start. ARGH AGAIN.
Second, most examples of lifestyle procrastination – like improving your health, switching careers, getting out of a relationship that isn’t working – are situations in which there is no specific deadline in place. Hence, the real issue here is that there’s no sense of urgency. Without any real urgency there’s no intrinsic drive to do anything about your situation.
There can also be more complex reasons for procrastination, which are more deeply tied to our personality. These imbalances that make you feel stuck or unable to move forward, tackling the issue, are often more adequately addressed via a coaching approach. These include:
- Perfectionism - when you are delaying something because you might have (unrealistic) high standards and expectations of yourself.
- Avoidance temperament - when you often resolve your discomfort by walking away from situations rather than dealing with a situation straight away. These people rather avoid problems than tackle those heads on.
- Fear of failure - when you want to protect yourself from failure. By doing so you might not be fully aware or acknowledge the consequences of that inaction. It is self-defeating.
- Lack of assertiveness - when you tend to put other people’s needs before their own and will often just be too over-committed to be able to complete the task. These people are more likely to be burned out.
So, what kind of solutions are able to fight back or hold off procrastination. Here are three suggestions that might work for you.
1. Male the task less daunting
Making things smaller can enable quicker progress. It makes it easier to keep momentum going because you will find it difficult to find an excuse not to such a teeny-tiny action. When you take a step – however small – in the direction of your desired “big picture goal”, it decreases the resistance to take further steps towards that end goal. So, it doesn’t matter as much the size of your step. What matters most is the direction you're currently heading in. If the task at hand feels to big, chunk it in smaller sub-tasks. Make sure you can check for yourself, how do you know you have completed the task? How does success look like for you? When you get the hang of it, up your game by making the job more challenging. Throw in some extra effort so that you don’t lose your motivation because it becomes too easy (and BORING) to do.
2. Introduce a real sense of urgency
Without any real urgency, you’re bound to have issues starting the job. Without a deadline, a finish line you have to pass within a certain amount of time, the challenge you’ve set yourself doesn’t look that appealing now does it? So, stop using words like someday or tomorrow, instead put a date on it and go for it! Make sure you’re reminded on a frequent basis such that you don’t lose track of your plans and goals. Set a timer, scribble your goal down in your notes or put it down in your calendar. Keep your calender close to you, stick it on top of the fridge. Do whatever works and is motivating for you.
3. Create accountability
With accountability, you’re creating an environment that helps to keep us on the journey when our minds begin resisting and trying to talk ourselves out of it. So ask yourself, what could you do to increase a sense of responsibility and accountability? What would personally work for you? What kind of measures that introduce accountability would personally appeal and work for you? For example, you can look for someone who can hold you accountable, an accountability partner. This can be a friend, relative, or even a coach. You can make it extra fun to create consequences if you fail. You can even join an accountability group and commit to them. For example, weight-watchers, the AA or even book clubs use this same principle.
The moral of the story here is that fighting off procrastination is quite hard to be fair. What often looks appealing in the short term is totally different when you look at in a longer time horizon. But we don’t do that. So try to hold off temptation as much as you can by purposefully design your environment (your house, your work, your car) in such a way it becomes less easy and less fun to go for the quicker option. On the other hand, make it more easier and more fun to chase your long-term goals instead. See what ingredients work out for you, introduce accountability, make the challenge easier or even harder. Look at your notes from earlier on and see if they can give you a clue what to start with. Just experiment and test what works best for you.