“Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today”. Such wise words by Benjamin Franklin, but so much easier said than done, writes Integrative Health Expert and Clinical Psychologist, Leanne Hall.
In theory, it’s a great idea. Get it done now. In fact, it’s something many of us heard our parents and teachers recite fairly consistently; “Do your homework first, then you can watch TV”.
And while they certainly had the very best of intentions, their advice was often met with “I’ll do it later, I’ve got heaps of time”. Sound familiar?
Procrastination is something that most, if not all of us experience as some point. While putting off or delaying something that needs to be done is completely normal at times, if it becomes a habit, then it can lead to a whole host of problems!
One of the most common excuses for procrastinating is “I work best under pressure”. Okay, I admit that even I have used that one. However if that’s how you roll ALL the time, then how can you really say that’s how you work best?
More often than not, it’s simply an excuse or justification for doing something that you know deep down is not really the best way to achieve optimal results.
So why do we procrastinate?
Well that’s the 6 million dollar question, and if you can answer that – then you are half way to learning how to stop being a procrastinator. Having said that, there are a few clear reasons why we succumb to the temptation of putting something off. Here are a few.
- We feel overwhelmed and/or anxious
- We are just really bad at time management
- We are “too busy”
- We are scared of failing
- We get distracted easily
Now if you look at the research, it will tell you that “procrastination” really has very little to do with things like time management. However, what I tend to think, is that while poor time management on its own may not be the root “cause” of why we procrastinate, it certainly doesn’t help.
In other words, it HAS to be a factor at least in terms of how procrastination can become a habit. What’s more, if you don’t know how to manage your time, then how can you realistically expect to rise above procrastination?
Typically, the REAL cause of why we tend to put things off is related to avoidance. And we know that its first cousin is of course, anxiety. Think of it this way, have you ever heard of anyone putting off something fun and/or easy? Nope, of course not!
So whether it’s about avoiding anxiety, failure, or something overwhelming and/or unpleasant – you can almost always trace the cause of your procrastination to some sort of avoidance. And it’s this avoidance that manifests in our behaviour; putting something off, delaying, stalling, getting distracted, using excuses “I’m too busy”. Hello procrastination!
So what can you do to rise above this “avoidance”?
1. First, be clear about your goals
If you find yourself in the habit of putting something off, ask yourself how important it is? Think of the bigger picture. Are you really just “too busy”, or is it something that you honestly feel is not important? By clarifying your goals, you can then focus on heading towards them.
2. Once your goals are clear, managing your time will feel much easier
This is about PLANNING, thinking ahead and being realistic about what you can achieve. Avoid the temptation to compare yourself to others, and focus on what YOU can realistically do by considering obstacles and lifestyle factors.
3. Break it down!
By avoiding something that seems overwhelming, we create anxiety, which makes the problem feel bigger than what it actually is. Challenge avoidance by facing the task/problem head on. Break it down into smaller steps, and focus on one at a time!
4. Monitor and challenge your self talk
We can be our own worst enemy when it comes to that inner critic. Talk to yourself the same way you talk to a close friend. In other words, be encouraging and positive – not nasty and negative! When it comes to fear of failure, always remember that you only fail if you don’t try. How would you react to your best friend if they tried really hard at something and fell short of what they had hoped? Would you think any less of them? NO! So why think less of yourself?
5. Set yourself up for success
If you have an assignment to get done, structure your surroundings to support this (for example, by limiting distractions). Similarly, if you want to begin an exercise program, create boundaries around your time to allow it to happen. So often we set out to do something, only to “fail” because we have not created “space” to succeed.
6. Monitor your motivation
It will come and go, but if you use rewards and keep things interesting then you will ensure that motivation always finds its way back!
7. Seek support!
By making yourself accountable to someone else – you will create a reason to “get it done” as opposed to risking letting someone down by “putting it off”.
Some final advice
By accepting procrastination into your life, and forgiving yourself when it rears its frustrating head, you will be in a much better place to work through it. By far, the thing that fuels procrastination is negative judgement, and anxiety.
“I really shouldn’t be putting this off”, “Why do I do this, I’m so hopeless!”, “Just do it you idiot!”. If you find these types of statements entering your head, then recognise them as the fuel that turns UP the volume of procrastination.
By focusing on different statements such as “This is a big deal, it’s OK to feel like putting it off – I just need to take one step at a time”, “I’ll never know if I don’t at least try”, “It’s ok to feel stressed, just get this first bit done then take a break”, you empower yourself to move through avoidance, and get it done!
In the words of Martin Luther King Jnr: “You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just the first step.”
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