Is procrastination stopping you reaching your aspirations?
Procrastination! Such a great word.
How often do you find yourself blaming procrastination when you have not achieved what you set out to do? You were full of good intentions when you decided to do “that thing”. It seemed so obvious, so important. This is what you needed to do. This was your priority!
However, when it comes to actually doing it, you are filled with irrational reasons for not getting started, or not completing it. You find yourself doing something else instead, something easier, something more enjoyable, something mundane that doesn’t require thinking... Procrastination can be crippling to us fulfilling our dreams.
What is 'procrastination'?
But procrastination often gets the blame when it isn’t really its fault. Sometimes life is just really busy, we expect too much from ourselves, we make unrealistic action plans. Or something else important comes up which we hadn’t predicted. This is not procrastination - this is us being hard on ourselves!
I call this "perceived" and "real" procrastination. This distinction is important as if we are kinder in our expectations of ourselves we may find that the thing we see as procrastination largely disappears, or gives way to us tackling the issue of real procrastination.
So in overcoming procrastination and preventing it from blocking our way we need to understand if we are dealing with perceived or real procrastination.
Is the thing that is stopping us from doing the thing that we thought was important actually procrastination? Or have we taken on too much, not planned effectively for all the priorities in our lives and therefore set ourselves up to fail?
To tackle perceived procrastination make realistic action plans:
- Don’t over commit yourself - be kind!
- Include in your plan the priorities from all aspects of your life - not just work (e.g. kids, family, friends, you time).
- Identify your time-stealers and distractions (email, social media, housework, shopping, admin etc) and allocate specific time to these on your daily plan. These need to be done, so give yourself permission to do them once other more important priorities have been fulfilled.
Procrastination is an irrational delay or avoidance of an intended action. Once we can identify when real procrastination is creeping in we can build responses to overcome and conquer it which will enable us to move forward:
Why do we procrastinate?
People procrastinate for different reasons:
It may be fear of failure (which is in itself often misinformed and distorted by irrational thoughts) or avoidance of negative emotions and thoughts that we associate with that particular action.
We may want immediate results and are not seeing the impact of our small steps.
Or, we may have a belief that we will "feel like doing it tomorrow" or that we "work better under pressure". Neither of these is founded, as we can not possibly know how we will feel tomorrow, and we probably don’t perform better under pressure, we just perform - which may not be getting the best results.
5 steps to overcome real procrastination
1. When you feel procrastination creeping in, ask yourself these questions:
- Why is this thing so difficult for me to do?
- What am I afraid will happen if I do it?
- How likely is it that that bad thing will happen?
- What would I do if that did happen?
- Is the likelihood and impact of that bad thing happening bigger than the benefit of doing the task?
- What would happen if I chose not to do this task?
- What would it feel like to have completed this task?
2. Have a clear plan of actions towards your wider aspirations, break these down into bite-sized chunks and reflect on how the small steps are taking you in the right direction. Celebrate completing each step (chocolate I find helps).
3. Know when you are most productive and focused. For a lot of people, this is in the morning. Use this time to do the big important scary thing that requires the most focus. Do the administrative and mundane tasks later when your energy levels are lower.
4. Just get started! Take the first step. Whether writing a report or article, planning, creating something, it is usually the 1st step that is the hardest. Tell yourself you will do it for 10 minutes, and see how you go. You will probably find that once you get started it will flow and you will achieve what you planned to do. If not then take stock - what is really behind you not wanting to do that thing (see point 1).
5. Don’t multitask! Be present and focused on each thing you do. Trying to do lots of things at once is counterproductive. The impact is that tasks are not done to a good level if completed at all. By not being fully present in what we do we could be missing some important gems and insights, and we may not show up how we’d like others to see us.
With self-awareness and practice, you can identify and combat procrastination and prevent it from holding you back from reaching your aspirations!