On January 1st, I set an intention to write and post a blog on my website by the 7th of each month. January 7th came and went. By the middle of January, I was thinking a lot about that blog…but not writing a thing. Today is February 26th and naturally, I’m here pondering the messy issue of procrastination as stare at my screen.
I am amazed at how good I am at putting things off…tasks and activities that I believe are “really important,” that I “really want to do.” And I’ve convinced myself that it’s out of my control: “After all,” I say to myself, “I’m a procrastinator!”
Many people whom I admire and respect also describe themselves as procrastinators. Many of my clients are quick to blame procrastination when they don’t do what they say they’ll do. If you self-identify as a procrastinator, your procrastination habit might affect many parts of your life and cause you to experience lower levels of achievement, stress, anxiety, health problems and negative feelings about yourself and life in general.
Why do we procrastinate?
In “Solving the Procrastination Puzzle,” author Timothy Pychyl suggests that procrastination is a form of self-regulation failure: If you’re a procrastinator, you delay action because you don’t want to feel the negative emotions associated with the task at hand.
Maybe you doubt that you have the skills, maybe you don’t know how to start, or maybe you don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish. In any case, the thought of doing the task creates negative feelings and by procrastinating, you’re able to get away from those negative feelings….at least for a little while.
So what’s the solution?
Here are my 3 steps to solving the procrastination puzzle:
Know How You Procrastinate
What are some of the typical things you say and do that keep you from getting to the very thing that you say you want to do? Get honest with yourself…or ask the people who know you well to share their observations.
A good friend of mine is an expert at putting things off and minimizing the magnitude of the task, “It won’t take me long, I can do it tomorrow in a few hours.” One of my clients has a pattern of negative self-talk that is stellar: “I never accomplish anything!” and “It won’t be good enough anyways.”
I’ve learned that I have a pattern of pesky behaviors that keep me from getting started on a task. I’ll grab my coffee, but not anything else that I need to get the task done. I’ll leave my desk three times to gather papers and books….and by then, need a coffee refill. When I finally settle in, I’ll check my email before starting my task and get lost watching funny puppy videos.
As I’ve become “friends” with my procrastination behaviors, I can laugh when I see myself heading down that path. As you build your awareness, you’ll be more likely to redirect yourself and set yourself up for success…and actually get some things done.
Know Why You Procrastinate
Procrastination is not laziness or unwillingness. It’s really about fear. When I’m procrastinating about a work project, it’s most often because I have doubts that I can produce a product that’s “worthy.”
Here’s two of questions I ask myself to figure out why I’m procrastinating:
- What’s the underlying fear that is keeping me from getting started?
- When in the past did I do something that I originally thought was “impossible” to accomplish, and how did I overcome that?
When fear stops me, I try to connect to why the task or activity is important to me and what I’ll be missing if I don’t accomplish it. More than anything else, it’s this connection to what I really want and why I want it that helps me get moving even though it feels darn uncomfortable.
(I also repeat my favorite Pema Chodron quote at these times: “Fear is the natural reaction to getting closer to the truth.”)
Know That You Can Take Action…Even If You Feel Bad About it
Timothy Pychyl also tells us that “Procrastination is the voluntary delay of an intended action despite the knowledge that this may harm you in terms of the task itself or even how you feel about yourself”.
Hmm…voluntary behavior that can harm you…sounds a bit like addiction to me!
If you buy into this perspective, consider what we know about cravings and apply that to procrastination. Maybe procrastination is a like a “bad itch” (similar to drinking, shopping, eating, gambling, etc.)—yes, there are past experiences and situations that may trigger your procrastination behaviors AND you can also choose to reach differently in response to those triggers.
In my experience, the best thing for me is to just do something!
Small steps save me every time. When I give myself permission to take a tiny step, I get unstuck. You don’t have to apply for a new job today, but you can take a look at job postings. I don’t have to write the entire blog today, but I can write a few sentences. You don’t have to resolve the big argument you had with your husband but you can say hello to him when he comes home this evening. Rather than start training for a marathon, just take a walk.
What’s a small step you can take that moves you one tiny step closer to accomplishing the very thing that you’ve been procrastinating about? Allow yourself to imagine what it would be like to give away the low-lying anxiety that may sit in the pit of your stomach or cause your shoulders to cramp.
I started this morning thinking about jotting down a few thoughts about procrastination. And lo and behold, here is the finished product!
If you want to take a look at your own procrastination behaviors and get started with that project that you’ve been putting off for ages, please get in touch.
Then, let me help you connect to all the other things you’ll do when that project is off your plate.