I vividly remember that as a little girl, when my mother would ask me to do something I really did not want to do, I would find ANY excuse to put off doing it. Today, I see my grandchildrens’ creative procastination strategies reflecting my own. “Tidy up time,” says their mother, “But I really, really need to finish this page/color this daisy/ watch the end of the cartoons/stand on my head” – anything to avoid the boring job of clearing toys and mess away for the day. Playing is nice, tidying up is boring.
The root of why we procrastinate seems to lie in a reluctance to stop doing something more pleasurable or even safer, than the activity we keep putting off. Procrastination almost always applies to the dutiful or harder tasks in life. Nobody hems and haws when asked to do something nice. How many people would put off going swimming on a hot day, in favor of cleaning the bathroom? It is far more likely to be the other way round.
Thinking about the concept of safety versus difficulty, another reason why we procrastinate may well stem from fear or doubt. For example, if we have a situation at work, where a colleague’s negative behavior must be addressed, there lurks the danger of an aggressive response. We may doubt whether our interpretation of the case warrants confrontation, and so we keep on procrastinating, hoping it will all either improve or just go away if we leave it alone. In this, and many other scenarios in life, why we procrastinate is a self-protective measure, based on emotional rather than rational response. The procrastinator often tells him or herself “If I leave it alone, it will work itself out, I think.” In reality, this will not happen, so we need to find ways to stop putting things off.
In order to stop procrastinating, the issue we are avoiding needs to be closely examined to identify the reasons why we put off acting. Then a positive view should be taken to find ways to carry it through and complete the task. Finally, when the job is done, we need to see just how good it feels. Here is how to put a stop to procrastination, with some simple questions:
WHAT? Do I need to do that I have been putting off? Is it really difficult or just more of a chore than a pleasure? Could I use a little help? How important is this task?
WHY? Am I afraid of failure or ridicule? Is past experience making me doubt my own abilities? If I could do it before, why not just get on and do it again?
HOW? Can I prepare to get this job done and dusted? Have I got all the facts/tools/equipment I need to achieve success? Have I chosen the right time and place? Am I now ready to succeed?
WHEN? I have stopped procrastinating and finally completed the task, what will it give me? When it is done, will I feel positive and pleased? When I need to do this, or something equally boring or difficult in future, will I keep these good feelings in mind?
My grandma used to tell me “Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today,” which a wise person later translated to mean “Procrastination is the thief of time.” Save precious time, energy and emotional upheaval by thinking of these four points and the questions they raise. Consider giving yourself a reward for a job well done. You will hopefully have a deeper understanding of why we procrastinate and how to stop.