I’ll do it tomorrow - why we procrastinate

The famous lyrics sung by an optimistic orphan meant to inspire hope is also fittingly the mantra of a procrastinator - “Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya tomorrow, you’re always a day away”.

'Later', 'not now', 'I’m not ready yet', or 'I’ll do it tomorrow' - these are all words and phrases all too familiar to someone who struggles with procrastination. Procrastination is a common issue for life coaching. After all, nothing seems to interfere with achieving one’s goals than not getting started. Many come to life coaching deflated and disillusioned after months or years of wanting to make a change, achieve a goal, or even on a grander scale follow a dream, only to find it isn’t happening due to simply not getting started. If we really do have the desire and motivation for change, then why are we procrastinating?

While each person may have varying reasons for putting off what needs to get done, there are three common themes in procrastinators – fear, perfectionism, and overwhelm. It is important to understand what is behind each of these issues in order to break the procrastination cycle.

Fear – faced with what if's

'I’m just not sure I’m ready' is a common phrase when fear is getting in the way. When someone is feeling stressed or afraid, it is easy to put off doing the thing that is making them uncomfortable. Perhaps it is making a phone call that may result in confrontation, or it could be going to a networking event where they don’t know anyone. Someone faced with fear will quite often let the fear win by distracting themselves until they feel good and ready. The only problem is that, by putting something off, the fear often grows, and thus the procrastination cycle continues.

To overcome procrastination caused by fear, one must first challenge the fear, and then break the task or goal into small steps.

1. Challenge the fear - As an example, let’s say that you plan to attend a monthly networking event that may result in business leads, but you keep deferring attending the event due to fear of the unknown. It is unknown to you what will happen at the event, and whether the outcome will be positive. The negative thinking sounds like 'what if nobody talks to me', 'what if I am standing alone looking foolish', or 'what if they do talk to me and I don’t know what to say', and so on. To break the procrastination, you must challenge each fear by asking what is the worst that can happen? Most likely, someone will talk to you. Most likely, you will find something to say. Really think about the fear and you will find quite often that it is just discomfort with an unfamiliar situation. The only way to become more comfortable in a new situation is to take action.

2. Small steps - Sometimes, challenging the fear alone may not be enough, depending on the task at hand. It can also help to break down the goal or task into smaller steps, so you can see that it isn’t so scary after all. Using the networking example, you could set a smaller goal such as telling yourself that you will only stay at the event for 20 minutes, or will only have to speak to one person at the event. These smaller steps can seem much more manageable to the worried mind than suffering through two hours of potential numerous conversations (yikes). And often, you will find that you exceed your expectations once you are taking action.

Perfectionism – never good enough

“It isn’t ready yet” is a common phrase for a perfectionist. Perfectionists may struggle with getting started on a task, worrying that the outcome will not be good enough. For those able to start, the issue is around completion, as the goal post keeps moving. Perfectionism is linked to a feeling of inadequacy from fearing criticism or failure. Quite often, those with this tendency ironically produce high-quality work, but it is the execution of results that gets in the way.

For a perfectionist to overcome this issue, they need to replace their limiting beliefs with realistic and empowering thoughts, and set boundaries around completing the work.

1. Replacing limiting beliefs - For example, as a perfectionist, you could tell yourself when worried about criticism that nobody is perfect or has all the answers, and remind oneself of what strengths you do have. It is also helpful to ask oneself, 'have I given my best?'. If so, that is all you can do at this point. Criticism does not need to be viewed negatively, but as an opportunity to learn and grow.

2. Boundaries - The perfectionist also needs to set boundaries for starting and finishing work.

a. If you struggle with getting started, tell yourself you are only getting started with a first draft. You will have opportunities to improve the output at another point. Set a time limit for how long you plan to complete the initial pass at the task/goal. It allows the mind to know this won’t be so bad - 'I am only working on this for 30 minutes and I will have other chances to get it to a better state'.

b. If you struggle with finishing, tell yourself that you are only allowed a certain number of versions/attempts, and set a final deadline. If you don’t put boundaries in place, you could continue into infinity revising, redoing, etc. There will have to be a point where the outcome is satisfactory. Remember that nothing is perfect - perfection is in the eye of the beholder. If you are working on something that will be submitted to another for review, get it to where you are satisfied. You will most likely get feedback, but that is the perspective of the reviewer. As above, use criticism as an opportunity to learn and grow.

Overwhelm – confused by all the possibilities

'I don’t know how to start' is a common phrase for someone feeling overwhelmed. This block can occur when the goal seems too big, or there are many steps to take to get there. It is easy to feel confused by where to start when there is a large task or goal. It could also be that the goal is vague, so it feels far away. As a result, it becomes easier to not take action.

In order to break the cycle of procrastination caused by overwhelm, one must get organised. Two ways of getting organised when feeling overwhelmed are to make a list and to create an action plan. 

1. Make a list – So you have an idea of what you want to do with your life but are struggling with starting. Start by taking a blank sheet of paper and writing down everything you think you may need to do to achieve the goal. Spend the time. It is okay if you don’t have all the answers (this is often a stumbling block for people). Add to the list where you may get the answers.

 2. Create an action plan – Once you have the list, start giving yourself action items with deadlines. If you are thinking of starting your own business and made a list of everything you know about starting it, begin taking the steps. People feeling overwhelmed quickly begin to realise that once they get organised and start moving, it becomes much easier to forge ahead.

By putting these tips on managing fear, perfectionism and overwhelm into practice, you will slowly find that you are procrastinating less. Of course, there will be moments when you procrastinate - that is part of life. But more often than not you will overcome the desire to live in the world of tomorrow, and over time you may even find that your new mantra becomes the famous words of Nike - 'Just Do It'.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Liverpool L1 & London EC1V
Written by Sharon Oakley, Career and Life Coach
Liverpool L1 & London EC1V

I coach clients on a variety of situations from figuring out their next career move, creating strategies for professional development, building self-confidence, increasing motivation, improving time management, finding better work/life integration, and creating more happiness and fulfilment in their life.

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