We’ve all done it. Too often. Started out with great intentions – several status updates liked, articles read, cat videos watched, and we’ve frittered away the valuable time we’d set aside to complete a really important personal or work project. Or we simply don’t get started, putting it off until some other time – like never.
Overcoming procrastination is hard – but is easier if you understand exactly why you are doing it. We’ll look first at why you might be procrastinating, and then I’ll give you some ideas of how to stop procrastinating and get it done.
Why do we procrastinate?
The task seems SO important
We are a daunted, put off by the scale, the stakes, and the consequences of doing a bad job. So, we never get going. Better not to try, than to try and fail. Wrong, wrong, wrong! When was the last time you tried something, and it had terminal effects? Exactly. It is extremely unlikely that what you are avoiding doing is life-or-death. Failure will not be that bad. You will recover. You will even learn and get better. However – chances are – you won’t fail, you will smash it, and you will feel amazing.
You are going to have your efforts evaluated
When your work is being evaluated the stakes feel higher. Perhaps it is something important like a driving test, or that big presentation. We put off doing the work we have to because we fear failure and, absurdly, make it more likely that we will fail because we leave ourselves too little time. The reality is that that you will get negative feedback. There will always be people unhappy with what you do and how you do it. That’s simply a fact of life. Leave them to it. Treat any negative feedback either as an opportunity to learn, or simply ignore people who would rather criticise than actually achieve anything in life.
We think it will take longer and/or be harder to do than it actually is
Daunting tasks take forever don’t they? Not necessarily. Once you properly get into the flow of what you have to do, you’ll often find you lose yourself in what you are doing, and find it easier, more enjoyable, and make faster progress than you had thought. You just have to get started.
We believe that we work best under pressure
The student all-nighter to get the paper finished. Most of us have done it, caffeine-fuelled as we make up for not getting our act together. A review of 24 studies into the procrastination of nearly 4,000 students found that those who put off their work tended to have lower grades than those who didn’t. Most people simply don’t work better under pressure – it’s just an excuse for not pulling your finger out.
We are prone to perfectionism so never finish or, worse, never start because it needs to be ‘perfect’
How many people who you meet claim to be a perfectionist, like it’s some badge of honour? People who keep polishing or fiddling, way beyond both what anyone else would notice, or adding any additional value. Really high standards are great, and you should have them. Polishing and fluffing beyond what matters or, worse, not even starting because “it won’t be right” – just don’t.
How do we overcome procrastination?
Be honest about what is making you delay
You have a big presentation to your boss. You want to impress with your thinking and your presentation skills but it’s two days away now and you haven’t even got started. Why? Being honest with yourself about why you are procrastinating is the first step to dealing with it. A simple, yet powerful, technique can help you – ask yourself “Why”. 5 times. Let’s look at how it could play out in this example:
“Why haven’t I started this presentation.” Answer: “Because the stakes are so high.”
“Why: Because I know my boss is concerned I won’t deliver.”
“Why: Because my last presentation didn’t go down that well.”
“Why: Because I didn’t think hard enough about matching business and customer needs.”
“Why: Because I didn’t start with the customer and do enough research, so the presentation wasn’t grounded enough.”
So, after 5 Whys, you know the block that you need to overcome to create a presentation that will delight your boss – solid research into customers, matched with business needs. So, step to it!
When was the last time you did something similar to the thing you are procrastinating about now – and it worked? Think about the success you had. How did that feel? Really get yourself into what that moment was like. This is a technique I use when I am public speaking and the nerves are kicking in just beforehand. I focus on last time I spoke and how good I felt on-stage, the audience enjoying themselves and me in flow having a good time with no nerves. It really works. It beats procrastination because it helps overcome any negative feelings with positive ones. You’ve got a difficult phone call? Remember the last time you had one and what it felt like when you’d finished the call. Try to recreate the conditions that set you up for success last time and repeat them again now. Did you make the call outside with a cup of coffee? Do that again now.
Get feedback early
This will combat the perfectionist in you. Share your thinking early. Got an inkling of how to tackle something you are sticking on? Then share that with someone you trust. Not only will they provide valuable input, you will get great ideas from them and the end results will be far better. Sharing your thinking early also builds confidence because you’ve overcome the hurdle of getting it out there.
Give yourself a break
We all procrastinate. You are not a peculiarly bad or useless person, so relax, forgive yourself, move on, and just get started on whatever it is you are currently putting off.
Get It Done
I have been a life coach for many years and procrastination is one of the most common problems I work with people on. In my own life I too have found at times that I wasn’t making progress in areas that were important to me and need focused coaching support. That’s why I decided to create Get It Done – Life coaching reinvented:
Life coaching on WhatsApp. Get unstuck and reach your personal goal in 1 month through one-to-one coaching, feedback, accountability & inspiration. For only £25.
Find out more about what Get It Done could do for you at www.getitdone.works