It is the start of the day and I’m ready to rock and roll!
I get up with a full list of things I want to accomplish – get started on a work project, talk to a couple of clients about a new idea, get that presentation deck ready for an up coming meeting and etc.
Oh, there’s also a few emails that I need to send out from last week, and that other document that is pending for another project with a looming deadline, ugh, but those can still wait. right?
Before I know it, there’s this little voice saying perhaps some of the “more difficult” items can wait while I focus on the “easier” work so that I can get those done faster hence giving myself a bit more time later to focus on the harder tasks.
It becomes a vicious cycle of procrastination with plenty of stress, guilt, and frustration of not getting things done which does not seem to end!
After many procrastinating cycles and even more pending items later, I realised that there is actually a very simple way out of it – just get it done. Throw in a bit of discipline (and intentional focus), soon I was getting things completed – and that felt good!
In short, there are 3 reasons why we are more inclined to procrastinate. By recognising them and adopting the suggested solutions, it may actually help us be more effective getting things done.
Reason #1: We put things off because most of us are afraid of messing things up.
Solution: Try adopting a “prevention focus.”
There are two ways to look at any task. One, we can do something because we see it as a way to end up better off than we are now – as an achievement or accomplishment. This is what psychologists call promotion focused.
Or two, when we are driven by anxiety or doubt, and is afraid we might mess up a project or task. These fears and anxieties may actually paralyse us from taking any action at all.
So instead of thinking about how we can end up better off, we see the task as a way to hang on to what we have already got – to avoid loss. The author calls it prevention focus.
When we are focused on avoiding loss, it becomes clear that the only way to get out of danger is to take immediate action.
Overcoming our fear of messing up is a lot easier when we realise that there are more dire consequences if we do nothing at all.
Reason #2: Because we do not “feel” like doing it.
Solution: Ignore what our “feelings” and just do it.
Oliver Burkeman, author the book The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking points out that much of the time, when we say things like “I just can’t get out of bed early in the morning, ” or “I just can’t get myself to exercise,” what we really mean is that we cannot get ourselves to feel like doing these things.
To be honest, if you think about it, somehow we have been sold the idea that to be motivated and effective, we need to feel like we want to take action. To some degree, yes we need to be committed to what we are doing BUT we do not need to feel like doing it.
Afterall, successful people and top athletes get to where they are today because they rely on routines that forces them to put in a certain number of hours a day – rain or shine.
So what is stopping us? NOTHING! Because we really do not have to feel it to get things done.
Reason #3 We things off because it’s hard, boring, or otherwise unpleasant.
Solution: Use if-then planning.
We have to admit that our will power is limited and some days getting ourselves to do things we find tedious, boring, or awful can be a challenge.
This is where the if-then plan comes in handy.
Making an if-then plan helps us decide specific steps we need to take to complete a project and it also decides where and when we will take them.
For example, If I am unable to finish the report by 2pm, then I will stop what I am doing and work on the presentation that my colleague requested.
Deciding in advance what we are going to do, when and where we are going to do it, leaves us very little time to deliberate – reducing the demands placed on our willpower to decide at the critical moment because we have already made a decision way ahead.
So the next time you find yourself struggling with procrastination, take a step back to figure out why you are doing so and use one of the 3 strategies above to help you be more effective.