Procrastination. I am guilty. I have the life management skills of a carrot. To make matters worse, the more I have to do, the worse I procrastinate. Instead of taking on tasks as they come up, I let them stack up. Then, once it is obviously too much to do all at once, I get this overwhelmed feeling and just want to take a nap or chill in front of the TV and unwind for a while. While those activities could be called self-care, they are also self-sabotage in some *cough, cough…most* cases: like when you know there are more important matters to handle. It’s definitely a struggle trying to balance the two, and often it is a battle of wills between me and myself. It’s quite the conundrum if I’m being honest!
What is Procrastination, Technically?
The Webster Definition (As if you didn’t know)
Procrastinate: Verb: To put off intentionally and habitually; to put off intentionally the doing of something that should be donehttps://www.merriam-webster.com/
According to Mind Tools “procrastination is an active process – you choose to do something else instead of the task that you know you should be doing. In contrast, laziness suggests apathy, inactivity and an unwillingness to act.” Let’s be honest. I’ve done it. You’ve done it. We have ALL done it. Unfortunately, I have a tendency to do it more than occasionally. I am my biggest obstacle when it comes to anything productive. I’m not lazy, but I am a procrastinator; a tried and true expert procrastinator.
AKA: Also Known As
Some people have been known to associate procrastination with akrasia. Akrasia is an old Greek word for a state of mind in which someone acts against their better judgment through weakness of will. Personally, I don’t think it’s weakness of will, I think it’s more than that. Anyone who has struggled with mental illness knows that it takes a bit more than will to drive you onward sometimes. One of the movies I remember from being a child was an animated and slightly musical version of The Lord of the Rings. One of the songs the Orcs sing is, “Where there’s a whip, there’s a way.” (I will give major nerd points to anyone who finds that movie and sends me a link to it! It’s was pretty cute!) Sometimes you’ve got to mentally “whip” yourself to get going. Trust me, I’m that way!
The one that really struck home to me, was when I read that procrastination is a form of self-harm. I have never thought of myself as someone who self-harms. I’ve never had a cutting problem. I’ve never craved pain or adrenaline rushes, nothing that you would typically think of when thinking self-harm. When I read that statement by Dr. Piers Steel, a professor of motivational psychology at the University of Calgary, I had to take a step back. I’ve already admitted I have a martyr complex, now you want to tell me I’m into self-harm? Well, surprise! Martyrdom and procrastination are both forms of self-harm. Mind BLOWN.
So What is It Really?
What It Looks Like
Everyone thinks they know what procrastination looks like, but until you have actually taken a microscope to your own actions, you won’t necessarily realize how prevalent procrastination is in your daily life. On this fun little journey to self awareness and self improvement that I am on, I ran across an article on Mind Tools that smacked me right up the side of the face.
You may also be procrastinating if you:
- Fill your day with low-priority tasks.
- Leave an item on your To-Do list for a long time, even though it’s important.
- Read emails several times over without making a decision on what to do with them.
- Start a high-priority task and then go off to make a coffee.
- Fill your time with unimportant tasks that other people ask you to do, instead of getting on with the important tasks already on your list.
- Wait to be in “right mood,” or wait for the “right time” to tackle a task.
*BOOM* Yeah, I had that reaction too. I thought I was “taking a quick break” when I left the room for a minute. I thought I was being productive when I’d make to-do lists (for the 100th time). I thought that doing just a couple of the smaller tasks would get me motivated to keep going on the bigger, nastier tasks. NOPE. I’m just that good at procrastinating. So good even, that I have fooled myself for years.
Why People Do It
Clearly, self-harm wasn’t the initial goal when I started procrastinating. Sure, it turns into a form of self-harm quite quickly, but it didn’t start like that. Finding the deeper reasons for why you do what you do is incredibly important if you ever plan on surpassing your shortcomings. I’ve boiled down the research I’ve done on the subject and have been left with 3 main reasons people procrastinate…and it hurt me…because it is me.
This one little reason right here, encompasses enough material to cover several days worth of reading. I will be exploring it more in coming months because it is definitely a root cause to a lot of my flaws. Perfectionism is a negative trait no matter how you slice it. In the case of procrastination, it effects your desire to procrastinate because you would rather not do something, that do something imperfectly.
It sounds simple enough, but it was big enough to rattle my cage. I’m a recovering perfectionist. Unfortunately, I probably always will be (much like an alcoholic). If I don’t think I can complete a task at peak efficiency and accuracy – think borg-like (more geek points to you) – then I would rather not do that task. Often times done is better than perfect. You can always go back and polish something up or tweak things, but getting it done is the first hurdle most of the time.
Poor Decision Making:
Poor decision making is linked directly to the perfectionism aspect, but I felt it deserved some special attention. People tend to have poor decision making skills because of their underlying perfectionism. They don’t think they have enough information to make the right decision. So they avoid making decisions in an effort to avoid doing the wrong thing. Here we are, back at the “done is better than not” argument. It’s completely okay to make a wrong decision, but you have to make a decision before you will know if it’s the wrong or right thing. The fact of the matter is that you won’t always have all of the information or be able to take all of the variables into account every time.
Let’s say you do make the wrong decision. At least you made a decision and have completed a task. You are moving. Newton’s first law of motion states that an object at rest stays at rest, unless acted upon by an outside force. Why do you think they say, “Let’s get the ball rolling?” Get the ball rolling. You can change directions and speed along the way, but get MOVING! Do SOMETHING. Make a decision!
Lack of Immediate Satisfaction:
We, as human beings (assuming you are…) have a natural instinct to work toward things that have instant results and immediate satisfaction. It can be difficult to do something in the interest of your future self because the rewards are too far out of reach or sometimes even sight. You know they are there, but they are too far off to be a driving force in the NOW.
“Avoiding unpleasant work by devoting energy to other tasks, like organizing or cleaning, also helps procrastinators avoid feeling unproductive, although they will have to pay the price for it later.”Psychology Today
People by nature are impulsive and don’t want to wait…for anything. People with depression are looking for immediate positive mood alterations. It would stand to reason that a highly logical person could perceive and value the future rewards of waiting. However, since we are procrastinators, you and I are clearly not as logical as we would have others perceive us to be.
Consequences of Procrastination
As I said in the beginning, procrastination can become quite unfriendly, very quickly. Putting off one task, and another, and probably that other one too, eventually leads to overload. I’m an expert at this. Do as little as possible until there is too much to do and then get overwhelmed and start down the anxiety rabbit hole, because why not?
Then, if you have a martyr complex like me, you start keeping score of everything you do (even though you were the one who put it all off in the first place) to use in your next heated monologue about how nobody appreciates or loves you. Add in a pound of perfectionism and then you are super overwhelmed because you don’t have time to get everything just-so, since you put it all off: another funnel of despair. Relationships suffer, you suffer, your image suffers. People start to not believe you’ll get it done, or that the argument you’re going to have when it does get done isn’t worth the energy. Procrastination is the pits.
How To Overcome Procrastination
Timing Is Everything
Tackle the hardest tasks at your peak times. Do you work better in the morning, the afternoon, or are you a night owl? If we are just talking about work, are you more efficient right as you get in, just before lunch, or right after lunch? Identify when you are most effective, and do the tasks that you find most difficult during that timeframe.
Trying to force yourself to be productive when you are off, often leads to even more procrastination or poor work quality. Then you get that anxiety funnel of despair we talked about. Break the cycle by learning your best, most productive times.
Eat The Frog
While we are on the topic of knowing your best, most productive times. Use those to your advantage. Mark Twain once said, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” I love that saying, but I am by no means a morning person. I am a late morning/early afternoon person when it comes to productivity. So I put my own spin on the quote. Eat the live frog first, the rest will seem like a breeze.
Everyone’s internal clock is different. Use your clock to your advantage. The better you know yourself, the more productive you can be. The hardest things require the most energy. Plan accordingly! With that being said, prioritizing your ever growing to do list important. If there is something on your list you absolutely dread doing, but definitely needs to be done, do it first. Get it out of the way. The rest will just be check marks on the list after that!
The 2 Minute Rule
James Clear has a great book, “Atomic Habits” in which he explains the 2 Minute Rule. “When you start a new habit, it should take less than two minutes to do.” You can find an excerpt from the book here that goes into further detail.
What it boils down to is everything you need to do can be simplified into a 2 minute task. If it’s doing the laundry, then parse it down to putting the laundry in. That’s it. The idea is that if you start a task and dedicate 2 minutes to it, finishing the task seems way less daunting. For procrastinators, the worst part is getting started. If it’s only going to take 2 minutes though, it’s a lot easier.
Clear calls this the action line. Once it’s crossed, it’s literally down hill from there as far getting the painful part out of the way: starting. He also suggests using reverse psychology on yourself if it’s an ongoing problem. ONLY give yourself 2-5 minutes to work on the task, then move on. Doing this regularly tricks your brain into thinking, “but if I just had a couple more minutes, it would be done.” VOILA your brain is now your friend instead of your enemy!
This one is pretty easy, and one of my all time favorite self-motivating techniques. If I am doing [something you enjoy] then I will also be doing [something you should be doing]. I love to binge watch sci-fi (as previously mentioned on many occasions). So I tie many of my tasks to that. I only watch full length movies when I am cleaning house or food prepping. Their story lines and character development are thin enough that I can focus on my cleaning and still enjoy the movie. If I am doing facemasks or some other form of passive skin care, I devote that time to self improvement research or writing.
You’ve Got This
Procrastination is a B****. I am a lifelong champion of it. What’s worse is that at one point in my life, I took pride in that fact. I used to convince myself that I worked better under pressure. Trust me when I tell you, it’s more detrimental in the long run. Sure, you can make due in the short term, maybe even wow yourself or the people around you. However, you have to think, “If I can be that good in that short of a time frame, how good could I actually be at this if I tried?” Definitely something worth thinking about.
You are cheating yourself of your potential when you live in the procrastination cycle. Break free. I’ve given you some decent tips here that have helped me tremendously. Let them help you too! It’s not easy, <— there I go again! but change is rarely easy. It’s not going to get easier the longer you wait. We’ve played that game, we know! You’ve got this!
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