Procrastination is putting off doing something for later when we know we should be doing it now. Or yesterday. Or last week. Most of us procrastinate, however some do it much more than others. So what makes us procrastinate? What makes some people more likely to procrastinate than others? And how can we beat procrastination and save ourselves a lot of angst?
What causes us to procrastinate?
I’m a bit of a procrastinator. Not the worst case I’ve seen, but I definitely have my moments. Maybe that’s why I am so fascinated by this subject. I’ve found that I procrastinate most when:
- The task requires deep thinking or planning, or is confronting in some way
- Others are dependent on me to finish the task, i.e. there’s a lot of external pressure
- I’m feeling tired or stressed, or
- The task is just plain boring, i.e. I’d rather be doing something else.
Ironically, I love planning and it’s the meaty projects that interest me most. And being accountable to someone is a great motivator for me. So I’ve concluded that if conditions 1) and 2) above are met, this doesn’t necessarily cause me to procrastinate. Conditions 3) and/or 4) have to also be met.
Other reasons why people procrastinate include a lack of skills and therefore a fear of failure, excessive perfectionism (“analysis paralysis”), low energy levels, a lack of focus or even resistance or rebellion (“why should I do it just because someone told me to”). (Sources: here and here)
Chronic procrastinators are those people who procrastinate in every area of their lives, and this can be linked to clinical depression or low “social esteem” (how others like us) as opposed to self-esteem, which is how we feel about ourselves. (Source: here)
Tips to beat procrastination
Those are some of the reasons why we procrastinate. So how can we beat this sometimes exhausting habit?
1. Stop beating yourself up
Gretchen Rubin says “Nothing is more exhausting than the task that is never started”. That horrible feeling of laziness or inaction can get even the most positive person down. Remind yourself that everyone procrastinates. It’s normal and very common. But try not to wallow in it either.
2. Take care of yourself
I have a tendency to get fed up, plonk myself on the couch and put everything off (not only work deadlines) when I’m tired or haven’t been taking care of myself physically and emotionally. Make sure you’re eating well, sleeping and ensure you get some exercise/fresh air. You want to keep yourself fighting fit, so you have stamina and energy to hit your deadlines on time.
3. Do something – just start
One of my favourite phrases is “paralysis by analysis”. That’s a form of procrastination. Instead of over-thinking it, just start. Eat that frog. Bite the bullet. Put pen to paper. Bribe yourself to spend just 15 minutes doing that task you’ve been putting off. You’ll be surprised after the 15 minutes is over what you’ve accomplished. And you’re more likely to continue once you’ve got started.
4. Find the right balance between accountability and pressure
Being accountable to someone or having an immovable deadline (set by someone else) is an effective way to beat procrastination, but as mentioned earlier, sometimes having people to answer to just adds to the pressure and that sense of overwhelm. And if you have a tendency to rebel when you “have” to do something, this won’t work for you. But if you can, try to find mechanisms that give you a sense of accountability but don’t place so much pressure on you that it becomes overwhelming.
5. Use technology/apps to keep you on track
In this age of technology, there are literally thousands of productivity apps and tools you can use to help you get moving with tasks you’ve been putting off. Some specific mobile apps to help with procrastination are suggested here. But even use things like task lists or focus timer apps can be super helpful.
6. Build up your JDI (Just Do It) muscle
Practice makes perfect. Try to put yourself in situations where you are forced to flex your JDI muscle, and keep practicing the techniques above to help build up this muscle. In other words, you are trying to create and practice a new habit until it becomes second-nature. All things going well, you should find that you procrastinate less often. And if you do still procrastinate, at least you now have a set of techniques you can use to deal with it quickly.
* Photography by Markus Jaaskelainen.
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About the Author: Angeline Zaghloul is an expert in business strategy, client management and business processes, and is the Managing Director of Peer Business Consulting, a Sydney-based consultancy providing strategy and operations advice to startups and SMEs. Angeline also publishes a regular blog which provides research, advice and tips on key issues facing businesses.