Procrastination is everywhere. Your coworker’s got it. Your friend has it. Yep, even managers and supervisors are afflicted with it. The hard-working entrepreneur, the well-intentioned small business owner, PhD students and your kids all struggle with procrastination.
We want to reach our goals, we want to tackle our to-do list, but we postpone. We delay, defer and just plain avoid certain things we really need to do.
Did I mention that we also put off, consider doing (but don’t actually take action), write a plan (that stays in our journal), casually glance over our to-do list and even spend several hours throughout the month telling various people all the things we’re going to do (that we never end up doing)? Yeah, well…we do that too.
There are so many things that we want to do, that we know we need to do, but we still can’t seem to get them done. We’re adults – skilled, competent, self-aware, generally hard-working…What’s going on here? Why can’t we get it together to finish certain, nagging tasks?
Why Do We Procrastinate?
1. Attachment to comfort / resistance to discomfort. We want to be comfortable, we want to avoid the uncomfortable/painful. In some ways, this makes sense to be like this. However, this attachment/aversion causes problems for us and is exactly why we procrastinate like there’s no tomorrow. And all that does is postpone tomorrow to never. Not good if you’ve got health, career, business goals and personal projects that you want or need to do.
2. Weak or no motivation. Sometimes, we don’t know why we’re working on what we’re working on. We don’t have a strong sense of purpose for the activity we’re supposed to do. We do it because we have to do it. Without compelling motivation, it can be very challenging to keep taking action. We look for distractions instead (another snack, a “short” Youtube break that ends up lasting an hour or we phone/email/text a friend to chat).
3. Fear, doubt, uncertainty. Sometimes our projects appear risky and difficult. We don’t know where to start, we don’t want to fail. Sometimes, we can’t see the benefits and/or don’t want to wait; the benefits are too delayed or seem too far out of reach.
Why is procrastination a problem?
Actually, it’s not really a problem. It’s an epidemic. As I mentioned earlier, it’s everywhere. It’s one of the main reasons that I started Holding Your Feet to the Fire. I saw how common it was for so many intelligent, capable people to procrastinate and I realized that accountability-based coaching would be extremely helpful in encouraging them to start taking action.
When people are reaching their goals, they feel fulfilled, happier, more in control of their destiny and often, there simply is a strong need, financially and career-wise, to get out of the procrastination habit. We have to take action, because if we don’t, there could be negative financial consequences.
Procrastinating might seem like a small thing, but throughout your day, every day, every week and as each month passes by, procrastination is causing you to miss out on all kinds of opportunities – career and business advancement, new friendships and relationships, and health and wellness goals.
Check out the video below for what David Allen, author of the popular book, “Getting Things Done”, has to say on staying productive.
How to Break the Procrastination Habit
Changing habits starts out small. Make taking action important, focus on it daily and start to see results. Here are five quick ways to stop procrastinating.
1. Get accountable
Tell someone what you’re going to do and by what date. Ask them to hold your feet to the fire (now where have I heard that before?). You’re probably going to feel a little silly if you’re continually tell ing that person different excuses for why you still haven’t done that task you said you would. This should help motivate you to get things done. You can also hire an accountability coach (I know a little bit about that, you could say). A professional, quality coach will help you create a system for taking regular action and collaborate with you to make sure that you’re making the kind of progress that you want.
2. Create and grow your motivation
Spark your fire every morning. Why are you working on your goal, project or business? What positive benefits will you get if you work on this (ie: money, enjoyment, ability to help more people, ability to help family, better health, less pain, smaller waistline)? Vividly imagine the positive outcomes that you will enjoy if you take action. Make this a daily practice, especially if you’re tempted to postpone something you really should be working on. You’ve got to keep talking yourself into whatever it is that you need to do.
3. Catch yourself in the act of procrastinating.
Procrastination appears in stealthy ways. Be aware of when you’re procrastinating (like wandering into the kitchen for another snack or doing chores that don’t really need to be done). Be aware if you’re procrastinating by taking a “quick” look at email, social media or your favourite online news source.
Catch yourself in the act and stop. Re-focus, remember your priorities, remember all the short and long-term benefits you will get if you take action on your task. Delay your distraction activity. First, do the work, then do your non-work-related activity.
4. Consider all the negative consequences of procrastinating
Consider the potential lost revenue, the lost opportunities, a business that never gets off the ground, connections that won’t be made. Let the negatives motivate you to keep taking action on the task that you need to do. To make negative visualization effective, you do need to spend some time with it. It’s not just a 10-second exercise. It doesn’t have to be a lengthy exercise either, but you should aim to spend 2-5 minutes doing it. I would recommend doing this first as a writing exercise and then referring to your list of negatives whenever you feel like procrastinating on something.
5. Dangle a carrot (or chocolate brownie) on a stick for yourself
Work first so that you get a reward later. Do this throughout the day. Give yourself smaller rewards while you’re still working on something, and bigger rewards once you complete bigger tasks or projects, or at the end of the day. For example, if I really want to hang out with a friend (instead of working), I will resolve to not contact them or meet up until after I complete my work for the day. This means that I need to focus on finishing my work first. When I finish, only then, am I allowed to talk to them. Work first, reward later.
The End of Procrastination, the Beginning of Real Action-Taking
No-one wants to be stuck. It doesn’t feel good. Guilt often builds up for all our side-lined projects and “should-do’s” (but don’t-want-to-do’s). Use the simple tips above to help you to start taking regular action. Increase your awareness (which is always a good practice). Explore what motivates you and start doing more of that. Observe when you’re seeking out distraction. Visualize the present and future that you really want.
I realize that all these tips still require work and require breaking out of a certain habitual comfort zone which isn’t particularly easy to do. You’ll still need to make regular effort in your tasks. You might not always enjoy what you’re working on. Look for the positive potential present and future benefits, build up your motivation bit-by-bit, and create sustainable habits that give you the momentum that you’re looking for.
Anyways, you should probably stop reading this article. You might have a few things you’ve been procrastinating on that I know you’re going to tackle today.
Did this article help motivate you to make some new changes? Share the article with your network on social media.
What do you tend to procrastinate on? What do you really need to work on this week? Write it in the comments below as a small commitment. It’ll help you to take action.