November 19, 2018
Have you ever had a large project that needed to be finished, but decided to latch on to the “low-hanging fruit” assignments first? Maybe there’s an important conversation you need to have with your boss, friend, or significant other, but you’ve waited days, or even weeks to make time to talk? We’ve all been there, and we all know that dreaded word: procrastination.
Procrastination dates back as far 800 B.C. when the Greek poet Hesiod cautioned not to “put off work till tomorrow and the day after.”
Everyone has the ability to hold off on starting on tasks or waiting until the last minute. But, according to Psychological Science, true procrastination involves a complete lack of self-regulation. It’s when you put off tasks that you consciously know need to be done, but you don’t do them even though you know you’ll suffer later on.
Why do we feel the need to put off important tasks or issues in lieu of lesser and more mundane matters?
Experiencing Procrastination in Our Daily Lives
Whether it is tackling a large project, having that hard conversation, or even trying to make the jump into a healthier lifestyle, we tend to procrastinate due to fear of the unknown and the chance of failure. Sometimes, we may have a vision of how we’d like these projects, conversations, or lifestyle changes to occur, but we delay taking action and, ultimately, diminish the success of our goals.
If you’re anything like me, you can relate to the fact that some procrastination stems from trying to do too much. As someone who finds satisfaction in staying busy and sharing my expertise with others, I love taking on a variety of tasks. Sometimes, however, I take on too much.
I take on so much that I leave no wiggle room for the unexpected, which happened just recently. I had taken on about three too many projects when an emergency occurred. Thankfully, that emergency didn’t last long, but it managed to throw off my entire schedule to the point that the last thing I wanted to do was work, and even worse, I really didn’t want to miss any deadlines. So, naturally, I parked myself in front of the couch and watched Netflix for the weekend instead of getting any of my work done. Fast forward to the final 48 hours before the deadline – you guessed it, I had to pull an all-nighter to finish the work I promised to do.
Although, that night was brutal, it really helped me come full circle in my struggle with procrastination and allowed me to discover some helpful tricks that I have now implemented into my life when I feel the procrastination bug creep up. Here are some suggestions to help you avoid pulling an all-nighter:
Small Steps for Managing Procrastination
Did you know that procrastination can actually be a good thing for some personality types? I tend to be one of those people. Having a tight deadline actually boosts my productivity and gets the creative juices flowing faster. But it requires awareness to know when the pressure to get things done is helpful and when it’s harmful. When you delay a project, notice how it makes you feel both physically, mentally and emotionally. If you notice that your shoulders are up near your ears, your inner critic has become way too bellicose and you’re feeling emotionally pent up, you’ll know that the pressure you feel is doing you more harm than good.
If procrastination is a pattern that you engage in frequently, bring your awareness to the habit and acknowledge it. And, then with kind awareness, gently investigate why you might procrastinate on particular tasks. Maybe it’s simply because the task at hand is laborious or maybe it’s something about the task that triggers fears of failure or self-worth. When you acknowledge procrastination and uncover the underlying reasons for it, you can begin to work with your resistance in creative ways. You also can ask for support from others if you need it. Many people, for example, put off paying their bills. After getting dinged with late fees, a friend of mine acknowledged his pattern of not paying his bills on time and decided to make the task less onerous by using a fancy pen to sign his checks and treating himself to a Starbucks coffee as he wrote them. With tasks that create self-doubt or fear, it might be helpful to journal about your feelings or talk to a friend about what you fear in doing the task. Getting in touch with your feelings, might not make the task easier but it will likely help you avoid procrastinating any longer.
Think Agile and Be Realistic
Once you’ve embraced procrastination or acknowledged it, you can avail yourself of a multitude of strategies to make the task at hand easier to accomplish. Breaking up your tasks into smaller, bite-size jobs, for example, can make work more manageable. And while we’re not always in control of deadlines, setting realistic expectations for yourself can help you feel less overwhelmed as can leaving enough cushion in your schedule for when the unexpected happens. Sometimes doing that requires you to check in with yourself and notice how you’re feeling – mentally, emotionally and physically. Often our body is the first to let us know – with a headache, an upset stomach or a backache that won’t go away – that we’re taking on too much. Sometimes, we might need to say no to some activities to give ourselves the space and time to focus on tasks that might be particularly challenging for us to complete.
Working with habits such as procrastination is a practice. Noticing how we feel when we procrastinate, investigating the reasons for our resistance, trying out new strategies and setting new expectations for ourselves takes awareness and intention. But with a bit of mindfulness, we can learn to work with the tendencies that no longer support us and take action in the direction that leads us to feel more ease and even satisfaction in getting the job done.
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Reference – Psychological Science