I’ve been putting off writing this blog. Logically, I know I should have started writing it a week ago but I kept finding reasons not to start it; I was too busy, I was too tired, I hadn’t done enough research etc. Truthfully, the more I put it off, the less inclined I was to start writing it. I’m a lifelong procrastinator and my delay in writing this blog is a classic example of my tendency to put things off until the very last minute.
If you’re like me, then you’re going to find today’s blog really useful. I’m sick of procrastinating. I’m sick of my brain tricking me into avoiding passion projects, critical life stuff like paying bills, completing work tasks and even staying in contact with friends. It’s time to stop putting things off and it’s time to start getting things done.
Why Do We Procrastinate?
I don’t know about you but I can’t remember a time when I didn’t procrastinate. I was the kind of kid who saved their weekend homework until Sunday night (much to my parents’ dismay). I would reluctantly start my work at 6pm, without any concept of how long it would take me to complete and sometimes struggle with it until 11pm until it was finally finished. This is a pattern that has continued throughout the last 40 odd years. Whenever I know that I have to do something by a certain time, there’s a high probability that I will avoid it until the last possible moment.
Research has shown that there are a number of reasons that people procrastinate. Firstly, procrastination tends to affect people who have perfectionist tendencies. If you struggle to turn off your inner critic then there’s a high chance you’re never going to finish anything because it’s just never going to be good enough for you. The fear that comes with the idea that you may not spot a mistake and end up showing the world something that is incorrect or misspelled or just a complete shambles can also cause a high degree of anxiety.
Then there’s the dread that comes with having to do something that you really don’t want to do. If you know that a task is going to be boring or unpleasant, then you’re definitely going to put it off for as long as possible. If you’re suffering from any form of mental health issue such as depression, this can also contribute to procrastination as your ability to think clearly, be organized, concentrate and make decisions can be severely impaired.
In recent years, there has been a growing trend in adults being diagnosed with ADHD, finally getting a diagnosis that explains behaviours that they have come to think of as ‘normal’. Might this also be the case someday for people who suffer from chronic procrastination? Time will tell.
Finally, if you’re feeling burnt out and overworked (as many of us have done during the last few pandemic years), you may not feel as though you have the energy to complete yet another task. It doesn’t matter how much you want to get something done. If you’re exhausted all of the time then even a happy, pleasant task is going to feel like another kick in the head and you’re going to put it off until the very last moment that it needs to get done.
How Can We Stop Procrastinating?
There are a number of methods and hacks that we can use to reprogramme our brains and get us focused on completing important tasks. It’s just a question of putting them into practice and incorporating them into our mindset:-
- Time Management – We need to start prioritising our ‘To do’ lists and getting organised. The best suggestion I have found is to pick three important tasks every day, that you know need doing right away and just get them done. Write them down, allocate time in your day to do them and just get them done. Tell yourself that you can’t do any fun things at all unless these three things are completed. I’ve tried this tip and it really works. You can them start chunking up your tasks into blocks of threes and ploughing through them on a daily basis. Another idea to psychologically trick yourself into getting something done right away is by not putting a time limit on it. For example, if you drop something on the floor do you say to yourself, ‘oh I’ll pick that up in two hours time’? No, of course you don’t, you pick it up right away. Why not treat your tasks the same way?
- Reward Yourself – We all like getting a treat, so why not promise yourself something you love every time you complete a task? It’s difficult to remember what a treat feels like in this easy access, fast food, instant gratification world but trust me, treats feel good. Completing a task and rewarding yourself for it with something you wouldn’t otherwise have, like a new pair of shoes or a takeaway from your favourite restaurant, will instantly provide you with an incentive to get shit done!
- Get Others to Hold You Accountable – If, like me, you really struggle to hold yourself accountable then it’s time to get help from the people around you. Tell your friends you’re going to launch that business this year. Promise your boss that they’ll have that report by the end of the week. Tell your husband that you are finally painting the living room this weekend. Make a commitment to someone you love or respect and you’re well on the way to getting that task done.
- Be Kind to Yourself – One of the major reasons for procrastination is negative self-belief. You don’t think that you can get the job done or you believe that even if you do it. It simply won’t be good enough, so what’s the point? Well that’s just bullshit. You need to start believing in yourself and acknowledging your many capabilities. Don’t let you self-doubt hold you back. Practice affirmation techniques, look into cognitive behavioural therapy and find a way to quiet the negative voices inside your head. They’re lying to you – you can do anything.
We hope that today’s blog has helped you to start thinking about your procrastination tendencies differently. Putting things off isn’t healthy – it’s so much better to get things done and to stop being afraid of imperfection. We may not all be time-rich but we can still do the things we care about. Be brave, grab the bull by the horns and face that deadline head on. You can do it and you can do it right now.