Why we Procrastinate and how to Stop

Is procrastination holding you back?

As a coach there are two issues above all others that I am asked by people to help deal with more than any others – the first is work-life balance (or life-work balance as I prefer to call it) and the second big issue is procrastination. Perhaps you are not surprised? Perhaps you are a procrastinator yourself? Don’t worry you are in good company and the habit of putting things off until another day is something we all do at some time or another.

So what exactly is procrastination?

How often do you come into your office, you grab a coffee, sit at your desk and there it is. That task you were going to do yesterday, or was it the day before, or even longer. Every time you see it now, you start feeling the pressure of not having done it. So what do you do? You check your emails, you count your paperclips, you restack a pile of papers – that’s made you feel better hasn’t it? But the important job is still there, waiting for you to get on with it… and so is the pressure and guilt. Ring any bells? That’s procrastination.

How often do you decide to lose some weight? This time you say it is going to be different. You just need to cut out the chocolate biscuits for the next few weeks. Your colleague comes by and offers you a HobNob “Would you like one?” “Oh I shouldn’t, maybe just one won’t hurt.” Ring any bells? That’s procrastination.

You are your own boss, you rely on networking to create more business. You went to a breakfast event and met someone who is interested in what you do and they encouraged you to give them a call. You return to your desk and you intend to follow them up, but you’ll give them a couple of hours to get back to their office – the next thing you know it is 7pm and too late to call. No problem, you will do it tomorrow. Ring any bells? That’s procrastination.

If these scenarios strike a chord with you, you’re not alone. In fact, many people procrastinate to some degree – but some people are so chronically affected by procrastination that it stops them achieving the things they are more than capable of and can severely affect their careers.

The key to overcoming this destructive habit of procrastination is to recognise when it starts, understand why it happens (even to the best of us!) and take some active steps to effectively manage your time and the outcomes you achieve.

Procrastination is evident in individual people and it is also evident in businesses and organisations – quite often I have come across whole cultures of procrastination. Teams of people can get into the rut of putting things off.

So why do you procrastinate?

Procrastinators work as many hours in the day as other people (and often work longer hours), but they invest their time in the wrong tasks. Sometimes this is simply because they don’t understand the difference between urgent tasks and important tasks, and jump straight into getting on with urgent tasks that aren’t actually important.

Sometimes, procrastinators may feel that they’re doing the right thing by reacting fast. Or they may not even think about their approach and simply be driven by the person whose demands are loudest. Either way, by doing this, they have little or no time left for the important tasks, despite the unpleasant outcomes this may bring about.

Another common cause of procrastination is feeling overwhelmed by the task. You may not know where to begin. Or you may doubt that you have the skills or resources you think you need. So you seek comfort in doing tasks you know you’re capable of completing.

Unfortunately, the big task isn’t going to go away – truly important tasks rarely do.

Other causes of procrastination include:

* Waiting for the right mood or the right time to tackle the important task at hand

* A fear of failure or success

* Underdeveloped decision making skills

* Poor organisational skills and

* Perfectionism – “I don’t have the right skills or resources to do this perfectly now, so I won’t do it at all”

How can you overcome procrastination?

Whatever the reason behind procrastination, it must be recognised, dealt with and controlled before you miss opportunities or your career or business is put in jeopardy.

First Step: Recognise that you are procrastinating

If you’re honest with yourself, you probably know when you are procrastinating. To be sure however, you first need to make sure you know your priorities. Putting off an unimportant task is not necessarily procrastination, it may well be good prioritisation. You might find it helps to check this out with someone whose opinion you trust and respect.

Some useful indicators which will help you pull yourself up as soon as you start procrastinating include:

* Filling your day with low priority tasks

* Reading an e-mail or request that you’ve noted more than once, without starting work on it or deciding when you’re going to start work on it

* Sitting down to start a high-priority task, and almost immediately going off to make a cup of coffee or check your e-mails

* Leaving a task for a long time, even though you know it’s important

* Regularly saying “Yes” to unimportant tasks that others ask you to do and filling your time with these instead of getting on with the important tasks already on your list

Second Step: Work out why you’re procrastinating

Why you procrastinate can depend on both you and the task. It is crucial to understand what the reasons for procrastination are for each situation, so that you can select the best approach for overcoming your reluctance to get going.

Common causes of procrastination were discussed in detail above, but they can often be reduced to two main reasons:

* You find the task unpleasant; or

* You find the task overwhelming

Third Step: Get over it!

If you are putting something off because you just don’t want to do it, and you really can’t delegate the work to someone else, you need to find ways of motivating yourself to get moving. The following approaches can be helpful here:

* Make up your own rewards

* Ask someone else to check up on you. Peer pressure works! This is the principle behind slimming and other self-help groups, and it is widely recognized as a highly effective approach

* Identify the unpleasant consequences of not doing the task

* Work out the cost of your time to your employer, your business or your customers or clients. As people are paying you to do the things that they think are important, you’re not delivering value for money if you’re not doing those things. Shame yourself into getting going!

If you’re putting off starting a project because you find it overwhelming, you need to take a different approach. Here are some tips:

* Break the project into a set of smaller, more manageable tasks. You may find it helpful to create an action plan

* Start with some quick, small tasks if you can, even if these aren’t the logical first actions. You’ll feel that you’re achieving things, and so perhaps the whole project won’t be so overwhelming after all

The cost of procrastinating in your personal and professional life is real and very high:

* Lost relationships, which lead to
* Lost opportunities, which cost you
* Money – all of which creates
* Stress
* Guilt
* Feelings of inadequacy
* Anxiety and
* Low self esteem

Sometimes it too difficult to beat procrastination alone, if that is the case for you, then seek help.