Five ways to overcome procrastination 8


I’m sure you’ve been there, I know I have. You’ve had months and months to finish that report, thesis or bird table.

And yet as that deadline is fast approaching, you are nowhere close to being finished.

You start passing through the five stages of grief;

Denial – No! You’ve plenty of time! No need to get writing when you’ve got a series of Narcos to work through and that Instagram feed isn’t going to scroll through and like itself.

Anger – It’s not my fault! It’s their fault! How dare they put me in this situation! I am so through with them! Just wait until I get my hands on my tutor/better half/self/mum.

Bargaining – OK, OK, we can all still be friends, let’s sort things out. Can I not just have one extra week to revise for this exam…?

Depression – Argh, do I really need to get out of bed. This is hopeless. There is a shortage of hope to my situation. Can it just be over?

Acceptance – Alright, I accept whatever will happen to me, whatever will be will be, que sera, sera…

And you try to cram for your exam, go without sleep and engage all sorts of unhealthy behaviours you wouldn’t otherwise think of resorting to.

I remember spending months and months to write half of my dissertation. After putting it off for so long, I was suddenly taken over by panic and anxiety and steamrolled through it to get the second half done in 48 hours. Needless to say, it wasn’t exactly my best work and definitely sold myself short.

 

Whether your final outcome is a success or not, this isn’t, and shouldn’t, be a sustainable way to get things done. You feel guilty for leaving it so late, frustration when you know it could be so much easier and the feeling you’re sabotaging yourself and anger you don’t know how to make things better.

There is another way. Why? Because I know so. I’ve gone from frittering away hours, days and weeks on essays, work projects and even bird aviaries, to cutting back on my procrastinating to be something resembling a functioning, productive member of society. And if I can do you can too!

What is procrastination?

Some people may think that procrastination is simply putting off doing a task. But there’s a bit more to it than that. From a psychologist’s point of view, procrastination is the delaying of tasks for ones that are less important or for ones that are more enjoyable. For example, if you were going to paint a fence, but it was raining and so you had to wait for it to dry. I don’t think anyone would consider that procrastinating. However, if you delayed painting the fence to watch Netflix or YouTube videos, then I think we would all agree that was procrastinating.

Some people are of the opinion that as long as you get your work done then no harm has been done. However, that lumps together procrastination with actual productive tasks that help you get your work done and these need to be separated. A study was done of procrastination by college students in 1997 by APS Fellow Dianne Tice and APS William James Fellow Roy Baumeister, which showed that students that procrastinated ended up with lower grades and higher cumulative amounts of stress and illness. I know that feeling…

In short, procrastination is the failure of self-regulation and not just a matter of time management, where you know exactly what you need to do but just can’t bring yourself to do it.

Why are some people affected by it?

Whilst it is accepted that everyone procrastinates, only 20% of us are procrastinatorsRecent research into procrastination points to the difference between procrastinators and non-procrastinators. Procrastinators tend to be impulsive, conscientious and more like perfectionists. Procrastination can also come from both negative and positive personality traits. It can be brought on by fear of failure, perfectionism or the joy of temptation.

 

One of the misconceptions about people who procrastinate is that they are lazy. This is not true and certainly not helpful. Procrastination isn’t an option for true procrastinators, it’s a way of life. Just telling a procrastinator to stop putting it off and just getting on with it, isn’t going to cut it.

Here are some traits of serial procrastinators;
  • They know full well what they are doing is self-sabotaging, but don’t have the self-discipline to
  • They undermine themselves and would rather people consider themselves to have failed through lack of effort, not ability

Impulsiveness and lack of self-discipline

Procrastinators are derailed by their short-term impulses that tell them you don’t need to start now and to indulge in whatever seems to be more fun to do right now. Non-procrastinators on the other hand (you lucky bunch) are able to put their long term goals ahead and focus on what needs to be done to achieve them.

The frustrating part of this for procrastinators is how often this can repeat itself. The memory of such strong negative emotions, like guilt and anxiety, does not seem to be enough to prevent a repeat episode, where others would learn from their mistakes.

That said, procrastination can also be brought on by the task itself. If your task was straightforward and something you enjoyed doing, then you’re less likely to procrastinate than if you had to tackle an unpleasant and difficult task.

How to overcome procrastination

Am I even procrastinating?

The first thing to do is realise you are procrastinating. If you don’t know you have a problem and when you have it, then it’s going to be tricky to tackle it. Here’s a quick checklist to work out if you are procrastinating or not,
  • Filling up your To Do List with low priority tasks
  • Leaving tasks on your To Do List for a long period of time
  • Putting off your high priority task because it’s not the ‘right time’ or you’re not in the ‘right mood’
  • Getting ready to tackle that important task and then immediately dashing off for a coffee break

Sound familiar? Thought so 🙂

Why am I procrastinating?

As I said earlier, this could be because of you, the task or a combination of the two.

You might find the task that you really need to do unpleasant. Maybe you need to go to the dentist or give some bad news to a client. Nobody wants to do these things, but their importance means that you will be better off doing them, in the long run.

You could be really disorganised. Are you planning and prioritising your tasks and commitments? You don’t just need to have a To Do List, you need to have a prioritised To Do List. Also make sure there are no more than, say, six tasks on your To Do List. If you have more than that on a daily To Do List, are they all really that important or urgent that they need to be done today? Take some time to sit down and really think about the tasks that need to be done on that day and then give each task a priority.

You might feel that you are overwhelmed by the task you have been set. The task just might be so big in terms of importance that you fear what might happen whether you succeed or fail. Try to break down the task into smaller, more manageable tasks. Have confidence in your ability and skills to complete the task and deal with the consequences, good or bad, of it.

This can happen to people who are perfectionists and it is worth thinking about what’s the worst that can happen from not handing over a perfect piece of work. What is your tutor or client actually expecting from you and what do they want to see? I’m sure you will find that you might be worried about aspects of the task that others won’t be focusing on at all.

Motivate yourself to overcome procrastination

Now you know what and why you can’t get round to filling out your taxes or writing that essay, it’s time to beat your procrastination. I find that procrastination can show itself in the form of bad habits like spending what seems like forever checking Twitter and Facebook or just Football Manager. Old habits die hard, so the saying goes. Persistent effort is needed to break them.

I would say the best way to overcome procrastination is to motivate yourself. Here are a few ways you can do that;

  • Give yourself a reward when you reach one of your goals. This doesn’t need to be a big thing, it could be a chocolate bar after finishing off a piece of writing. It just needs to be something pleasant to focus on.
  • Be accountable! Have someone check up on you to keep you on track. Having to let someone else know what progress you’ve made who can think objectively and not be influenced by your procrastinating.
  • Really focus on what you don’t want to do.
  • Eat that frog! Do that most unpleasant task first, before you postpone with less important tasks. Early on in the day is when your self-discipline is at its highest.
  • Think about the cost of your time. If you’re an employee, what does your employer pay you for your time? Or if you work for yourself, what is your hourly charge? Are you earning that money right now? If not, get back to those important tasks!

Five actionable ways to overcome procrastination

You have to make it easy to get your work done and hard to procrastinate. Easier said than done, right? Well maybe. A start would be to check out apps to be more productive. Ultimately, this comes down to your mindset.

Do something you enjoy or care about doing

This probably seems really obvious now, but if you’re really struggling to work on something, it might just be time to stop. Is the struggle really worth it? Maybe you just need to work out why you need to do it. You could also try to make the task more enjoyable or fun. I think you’d be surprised by how approaching a task from a different angle.

I recently came back from building a bridge in Rwanda. There were different tasks, some fun and some completely back breaking. One of the more back breaking ones involved moving rocks around all day. This became one of the most fun tasks once we had some music playing and a comradery going with other team members.

Commit to five minutes of work

The hardest part is just starting. Seriously. Just commit to starting for a few minutes and set a timer if you want. you will soon find that the work’s not so bad and you will find yourself in a bit of a rhythm. You might find that with exercising or going to a class. Sometimes I end up talking myself out of going for a jog, but once I commit to just getting changed and stepping outside, there’s no real chance of me not going for a jog at that point.

Accountability buddy – Goal Buddies 

Goal Buddies is an app I’ve started using where you sign up to have an accountability buddy. You simply answer a few quick questions about what you want to get done, like writing this blog post or revising for your exams. Then you’re matched up with a buddy who is working towards similar goals. You’re matched together for four weeks and you report to your buddy who can check and comment on how you are doing.

Block out any distractions

There are a number of apps and websites that help you just focus on your work. Here are a couple of them;

  • Cold Turkey writer is a stand alone web app that turns your laptop into a typewriter by running full screen. Better still you can lock into the app for a certain period of time or until you have reached a certain word count.
  • StayFocusd is a Google Chrome extension that limits your daily use to certain websites that you list out like, Facebook or Instagram. You can place a time limit, block a website completely or block everything apart from a few websites you need to use to be productive. Drastic stuff, I know, but very useful.

SMART Goals

 SMART is a goal-setting acronym for;
  • Specific – vague goals, like ‘I want to buy a house’ aren’t going to be much help on their own. Really drill down to what, why and how you want to achieve. This will help you picture succeeding and motivate you.
  • Measurable – is your goal quantifiable? Can you track and measure your progress as you work towards your goal? If the answer is no, then maybe you need to think about how it can be.
  • Achievable – is your goal realistic? Do you have the right skills, experience and resources available to you? It is good to stretch yourself, but there’s no point setting yourself up for a fall. If you keep setting and meeting achievable goals, that can only be good for your self-esteem and will reinforce your productive habits.
  • Relevant – make sure this is the right goal for you. You might feel you should be doing this, but is your heart actually in it? Is it going to be worthwhile for you in the long run. Remember, if you’re motivated to do something, you’re much less likely to procrastinate.
  • Time-bound – have a clear deadline and maybe even milestones along the way to meet. This ties back in with be specific with your goal setting. If you’re trying to buy a house, maybe you still need to save up for it. If you don’t give yourself a deadline, how do you know how much money you need to save each month towards your house? Being time-bound will help you focus on what you need to do today.

This a great way to set goals that will give you a much better chance of completing them. It may not seem too appealing, looking at that list there, but it will definitely be worth it and you will thank yourself in a few months time.

Conclusion

I know first hand how frustrating it can be to be a procrastinator and it is not through being lazy, but there are certain personality traits that make people more likely to procrastinate. The way to overcome procrastination is to first identify when and why you are procrastinating. Only then can you start to tackle the causes of these bad habits.

Luckily, I’m here to help 🙂 the key to beating procrastination is to ensure you are motivated, organised and find your tasks more pleasant. People can also feel overwhelmed by their work commitments, but the most difficult thing is just to start and once you overcome that hurdle you are on your way.

Let me know what you think about this post, get setting those SMART goals and let me know if you need an accountability buddy!

8 comments

  1. Dana says:

    Hey Sean,

    Great post! I’ve definitely suffered from procrastination in the past and still do sometimes. You are right on point when you talk about “being a perfectionist” and “the task being unpleasant or difficult.” What has helped me the most is setting smaller goals that are part of larger goals. I find when I can break my tasks down to the most simplest steps, I tend to follow through an accomplish more. I didn’t know about the SMART system you described but, that’s a really helpful tip. Thanks for sharing this!

    1. Sean Dean ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      Hi Dana, thanks for your input on this. I really like breaking down larger tasks into smaller ones, makes it much more manageable 🙂 Sean

  2. Susan says:

    You certainly have done your homework! Obviously you did not procrastinate!
    Thank you for all the information on this topic. I will re-visit this site every time I look for an excuse to not do what I am supposed to do!
    Thanks, again!
    Susan

  3. Hello and thanks for sharing, procrastination is something that should not be a part of any of our lives because this can really hold a person back from what they want to do. Fear is a part of while people hold back. We should not be procrastinate because of fear but take a leap of faith. We can only accomplish things or have success as we defeat this thing called procrastination.

    1. Sean Dean ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      Thanks Norman. You’re right, fear is something that holds people back, but once you realise that and work through what you are actually afraid of, you often find that the cause is actually pretty trivial.

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