I’ve worked on kicking my procrastination habit over the years. When I was honest with myself, I didn’t do my best work when I put it off, and it felt like I was only prolonging my suffering. Instead of just being stressed about a project, I would also be stressed that I was putting it off, making the project harder and increasing my overall stress.
I’m very aware if I am procrastinating, with what activities, and why I am procrastinating. I’ve gotten better at avoiding certain types of procrastinating. I’ve also gotten better at “productive” procrastinating, which could also be called stealth procrastinating.
Why Do We Procrastinate?
It’s easy to think we procrastinate because we are lazy or lack self-control. We actually procrastinate because of fear. We can fear:
Failure: fearing that our work won’t be good enough, or that we can try hard and not succeed
Success: fearing that success will lead to more pressure or responsibility
The impact on our self-worth: this is very common with perfectionism. We equate perfection, good work or being above reproach with being worthy or a good person. A task isn’t just a task; it’s an adjudication or ruling on you as a person
The size of the project: when we focus too much on the outcome or end state, we can start to feel anxious about the scope of the project rather than focusing on the process of breaking it down and accomplishing it
Ultimately, procrastination is a built-in excuse or shield. If we succeed even though we procrastinated, we might feel good about ourselves. If we don’t succeed, we know we didn’t put in our best effort because we put it off. This protects our self-worth because it wasn’t a “true reflection” of our abilities.
There are many ways we tend to procrastinate. Some of the more obvious ones are dawdling, watching TV or listening to music, and cleaning or working on other tasks that aren’t related to what you need to be doing.
I still catch myself doing these, but I’ve noticed more stealthy ways I procrastinate. I procrastinate by making progressively more detailed lists and by trying to create the optimal environment for me to get things done. These are stealthy because they are productive; they are things I should do. They are procrastination strategies because I’ll get stuck doing these things and not actually getting to the work I intended to do.
Productive procrastinating is incredibly alluring. The steps I’m taking are justifiable behaviors; they are time well spent. Until they aren’t. Making a list can help focus my efforts. Making lists upon lists is spinning my wheels. If I have an hour to get work done, and I spend 30 minutes trying to create the optimal environment, I have less time to get my actual work done.
There are several strategies to overcome procrastination. Some target motivation and mindset, some jump-start progress. Regardless of the approach, the first step is awareness. You need to recognize that you are procrastinating. What strategy are you using? What is driving this behavior?
To help with mindset and motivation, you can:
Remind yourself of why this task is important. If your answer begins with “I should,” dig deeper for a stronger source of motivation
Get really clear on the task that needs done. List out the finished product and 2-4 key steps you need to take along the way
Don’t beat yourself up for procrastinating. If you spend time beating yourself up for procrastinating, guess what? You’re still procrastinating.
Often we only have to overcome inertia. We only need to get a jump-start. To help jump-start progress, you can:
Do a 5 minute jump start. Set a timer for 5 minutes and just get going. This could be making a list, scheduling your work, or just start working.
Identify one small step you can take. Then do it.
Establish a parking lot for distractions. A parking lot is often a post-it note, but it is a place for you to jot down other things that come to mind that aren’t the task you’re doing. Sometimes our brains hold onto that task because it’s worried that we will forget it. With a parking lot, you can jot down the things that come to mind, getting them out of your brain, but knowing they won’t be forgotten.
If you tend to procrastinate, you will likely continue to be a procrastinator. These strategies don’t necessarily prevent it, but they can help you catch yourself sooner and help you redirect your energy and attention.
Goalbook. (n.d.). Parking Lot. Retrieved from https://goalbookapp.com/toolkit/v/strategy/parking-lot
Patel, N. (2015, August 31). Your Secret Mental Weapon: 'Don't Let the Perfect Be the Enemy of the Good'. Retrieved from https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/249676
Salzgeber, N. (2018, August 14). Why Do We Procrastinate? Here's the Liberating Truth... Retrieved from https://www.njlifehacks.com/why-do-we-procrastinate/
Steel, P. (2007). The Nature of Procrastination: A Meta-Analytic and Theoretical Review of Quintessential Self-Regulatory Failure. Psychological Bulletin, 133(1), 65-94.
Wiegartz, P. (2011, March 25). Why Do You Procrastinate? Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/in-the-age-anxiety/201103/why-do-you-procrastinate