Do you procrastinate?
I think most of us do from time to time. But have you ever thought about why you put off doing something specific, but yet get other things done right away?
By definition, procrastination is “a reluctant behavior to do something”. When we procrastinate, we do it because something is mentally holding us back … usually at the subconscious level. It could be fear of failure, criticism, repercussions from suffering a past setback, or as strange as it might sound, fear of success – something in our mind is telling us to not do that certain thing. Let’s look at each one of these a little deeper to get a better understanding of why they cause procrastination:
• Fear of failure – Because you don’t feel confident enough to complete a project and have a fear of failing, you put off completing the project to do more research and planning. Mentally, you don’t feel you have all the information you need to successfully complete the project.
• Criticism – You avoid completing a project because you fear the potential backlash that could result if you fail. If you don’t finish it, nobody can berate your work.
• Repercussions from suffering a past setback – Commonly know as being gun-shy, you have probably failed at doing something like this in the past, so you are reluctant to complete this project similar in nature for fear the outcome will be the same as last time.
• Fear of success – As long as you are working on this project that is comfortable for you, you don’t have to worry that you will get a project that you won’t like, so you put off finishing the current project for as long as you can.
Common thoughts of procrastinators:
“I like things just as they are.”
In this case, you are very comfortable where you are and don’t want to anything to change, so you are reluctant to forge ahead. (fear of failure)
“It’s too complicated.”
Many procrastinators avoid doing something because they think it is too complicated. In many cases the project is large, and they feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to start. You may have failed at doing a large project of this magnitude in the past. Remember the old adage “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!” The same holds true here. Break down the project into smaller more manageable sub-tasks. (repercussions from suffering a past setback)
“I’m not worthy of that.”
This digs down into your self-esteem. You question the success this project will bring you and you are not sure if it is warranted or not. This is along the line of a fear of success, but a little different. This lack of self-confidence at the subconscious level is sabotaging your success by making you procrastinate. (fear of success)
“I don’t really think it can happen anyway.”
Along the same lines as the one above, this has more to do with a lack of self-efficacy – your belief that you can accomplish the goal. This one is about not having the confidence to make it a success. With the one above, you knew you could pull it off, but questioned the success it would bring you if you did succeed. (fear of success)
“I’m afraid of what others will think, say or do.”
Email #4 – How to tell if you have a procrastination problem
Believe it or not, some people are procrastinators, but don’t know it. Here is a fun little quiz to help tell if you are one of “them” or not:
1. You have lots of work left to do on a project and the deadline is approaching. What do you do?
a) I always finish just in time, but in a hair-raising frenzy.
b) I work on it piecemeal here and there but still find myself rushing to finish at the last minute.
c) I schedule it into my workday and actually end up finishing early.
2. How do you feel about deadlines?
a) I just tend to ignore them.
b) They annoy me as I always feel like I’m rushing to get things done in time to meet them.
c) They help me stay focused and keeps me on track.
3. Do you have a tough time getting a project started, especially at something you don’t enjoy doing?
a) Yes! I spend a lot of time planning to get started.
b) Sometimes. I usually start something but end up getting distracted before finishing it.
c) No, I get started right away.
4. What is your plan when you are not sure how to do something?
a) I usually just avoid doing it altogether.
b) I’ll put it off until the last minute.
c) I’ll do some research or ask for help and then get started.
5. How do you stay on track with a project?
a) I just wing it.
b) I don’t like schedules, so I leave things open until I can work it in.
c) I live for to-do lists and set self-imposed deadlines for each step of the process.
6. Do you find yourself frequently stressed out because you waited until the last minute to finish a project?
a) Yes, almost every day.
b) Sometimes, especially if I’m working on a big project.
c) Rarely, as I stay on top of things because I hate dealing with last-minute stress and anxiety.
7. Which motto sounds most like you?
a) “Why do today what I can put off until tomorrow”
b) “It’s easier to keep up than to catch up.”
c) “The best way to get something done is to begin.”
8. What’s your favorite way to waste time at work?
a) I tend to spend more time avoiding a project than it would take to actually do it.
b) Sometimes I’m conveniently distracted by something else instead of working on a project I dislike doing.
c) I sometimes switch to working on other work-related tasks that must also be done just so I can stay on top of everything.
• Mostly A’s – You have a procrastination problem!
• Mostly B’s – You are normal as we all procrastinate at one time or another.
• Mostly C’s – You are better than most about not procrastinating.
If you find you are a procrastinator from this quiz, in the next and final email we will go over some tips to help you overcome it. Come back for that one!
Email #5 – How to beat your procrastination
Welcome to the last email in this series. Throughout our emails, we have looked at the “why” behind procrastination. In this email, we are going to look at a few tips that can help you overcome procrastination. Have you ever heard of the saying “Never put off until tomorrow what you can get done today!”
Of course you have! It is the motto of many overachievers, but rarely found among procrastinators. But it is one motto you should adopt in your effort to minimize procrastinating. Notice I said minimize, as we all naturally delay doing things from time to time.
Prepare – Sometimes we delay doing something because we don’t have all the resources necessary to work on or complete the project. Think about what you will need ahead of time, so you can’t use that reason to stall.
Carrot on the stick – In many cases, we just need an incentive to get going on and finish a project. Create an appropriate incentive that is so strong it will overcome your desire to not do work on the project in question.
Don’t beat yourself up – It’s noon and you still haven’t started on that project that is supposed to be done today. The time you wasted in the morning is water under the bridge. Don’t worry about it. Instead get started on the project and devote your entire attention to it so you can finish it on time.
Schedule the project into your day – Some of us work better if we have a schedule to go by. If a project does not have a time or day assigned to it, it is easy to delay doing it or even legitimately forget about it (which by the way is not procrastination).
Bite-size it – As mentioned in an earlier email, sometimes we avoid starting a project because the scope of it is too overwhelming. The trick to overcoming the delay is to break it down into more manageable bite-size pieces – something that you can do it an allotted block of time and accomplish. Each small finished piece should logically build toward completing the overall project. Another trick, if you are in charge of a group of people, is to assign one small piece to each person (of course with a deadline time or date so they don’t procrastinate). Then you just have to put everything together for the finished product.
Just get started – Sometimes the hardest part of a project is getting started. Once you are in the groove, it is easier to stay there and continue working on the project.
This ends our series on procrastination. I hope you have learned something about yourself as to why you procrastinate and can use these tips and techniques to help overcome it.