I often think of myself as “a procrastinator”! But is it really procrastination? Or just the impact of a busy life with competing priorities?
Maybe I’m too hard on myself. Maybe I set unrealistic expectations, then feel guilty when I don’t complete them. When I plan my day do I take into account all facets of my life - work, kids, me, friends, family?
When my husband asks “what did you do today” and I say “oh, I didn’t really achieve much - I’m such a procrastinator” am I being true or fair to myself?
The day before World Book Day I found myself making a Cat in the Hat costume instead of working. I had intended my daughter to wear something from her dressing up box, until she said “It’s OK mum I can go as the rabbit from Alice in Wonderland again”. Guilt struck! Reminding myself that I had quit my previous career to be more present with my kids - I cracked on and made it, and actually really enjoyed doing it!
However, that evening I bitterly told my husband that I had “achieved nothing” because I had to make the costume. Which of course was not true; I had chosen to make it because it was important. My article didn’t get written, but this was not procrastination! This was juggling life!
Another day last week I was working in my kitchen, it was a sunny day, I looked up to notice kids mucky hand prints on the window. Before I knew it I had a bucket of soapy water and was washing all the windows. This didn’t need to be done at that moment, the Queen wasn’t coming for tea, and it certainly was not on my “to do” list. This was procrastination! Something led me to irrationally delay writing.
However sometimes I just need time to process an idea before diving in, a bit of headspace to mentally prepare. Sometimes going for a walk to think things through sparks inspiration and makes the act of doing it more effective and efficient. This is not procrastination!
Does any of this sound familiar? - maybe sometimes we should give ourselves a break!! However, some of it is procrastination and recognising this allows us to deal with it and move forward.
So what is Procrastination?
Procrastination is the act of irrationally delaying or postponing an intended action, often by doing something less important but easier or more enjoyable. It is a coping strategy for protecting ourselves from failure, or for avoiding the negative emotions and thoughts associated with a particular task. The fear of potential failure is in itself often misinformed and distorted by irrational thoughts (see my blog on Cognitive Distortions for more on that).
We are all different, procrastination will feel different for each of us.
Maybe you procrastinate because you want immediate results, and lose sight of how the small steps are part of the bigger picture. You want instant gratification!
Or maybe you tell yourself you “work better under pressure” therefore delaying starting something until close to a deadline. Or that you don’t feel like doing it now but “will feel like doing it tomorrow”. (This is probably not actually true: you will feel no more like doing it tomorrow than you do today).
Or perhaps you get so bogged down with the sheer volume of responsibility that you find it hard to identify what needs doing first. Therefore you procrastinate, not starting anything, or not completing anything.
The key is to recognise when you are procrastinating and when you are just being too hard on yourself, expecting too much from yourself, setting yourself unrealistic targets without taking into consideration the other stuff that life may throw your way.
Once you recognise your own procrastination triggers, and can identify when and why procrastination is creeping in you can change the way you respond to it.
Below are a few tips to help you overcome procrastination. Some will resonate with you more than others. Focus on what works for you!
Overcoming Procrastination - Tips
Have a clear plan of actions towards your wider aspirations, so you can reflect and see how the small steps are all important pieces of a much bigger picture. Celebrate when you complete something (a great big tick or chocolate I find helps).
Make realistic to do lists. Don’t over commit. Identify your time-stealers and distractions (email, social media, housework, shopping etc) and allocate specific time to these on your daily plan. These need to be done, so give yourself permission to do them once other more important priorities have been fulfilled.
Identify when you are most productive and focused. For a lot of people this is first thing in the morning. Use this time to do the big important things that require the most focus before getting bogged down in emails and admin. Do the administrative and more mundane but necessary tasks when your energy levels are lower.
Just get started! Take the first step! Whether writing an article or report, doing a piece of work or creating something, it is often the first step that is the hardest. Tell yourself you will do it for just 10 or 30 minutes, and see how you go. You will probably find that once you get started it will flow and you will achieve what you planned to achieve. If not then take stock - what is really stopping you doing that thing (see point 6).
Don’t multitask Try to be present and focused on each thing you do. Good planning helps. (I’m terrible for this one; checking emails while listening to a webinar; reading an article while cooking kids tea, having 10 tabs open on my laptop as I flit between them). The impact is that tasks are not done to a satisfactory level, we probably miss some important gems on the way, and we may not show up how we’d like others to see us if we are distracted and non-present.
When you feel procrastination creeping in, ask yourself these questions:
"Why is this task important?"
“Why is this task so hard for me to do?”
“What am I afraid will happen?”
“What is the worst that can happen?”
“How likely is it that the worst will happen?”
“What would I do if that did happen?”
“Is the likelihood and impact of that bad thing happening outweighing the benefit of doing the task?”
“How would it feel to have completed this task?”
With a little self-awareness and practice we can all overcome procrastination and prevent it from holding us back from reaching our aspirations!