I’ve been putting this off, but it’s time to talk about procrastination. (I’m SORRY!!!)
Okay, so here’s the thing. I’ve been putting off a job that is crucial to my work. One of those things that I hate doing but I HAVE to do. And then today, I did it. It took 20 minutes, and a bit of brain power. I put on a bit of music and just knuckled down.
The relief is huge! I have absolutely no doubt that I will sleep much better for it tonight, because even though it wasn’t feeling like a massive pressure, it was on my to do list, and those things niggle. The occasional wash of guilt, and perhaps a bit of shame because I haven’t done it won’t happen anymore.
And now, having done it, on the other side of the obstacle I sit back and wonder why on earth it took so long for me to do it.
This is such a common problem many people face. Putting something off until the last minute only to be disappointed or massively stressed by the production of whatever it is a common pattern and cycle for many.
Let’s look at how procrastination transpires in our behaviour:
Avoidance – pretending it isn’t there at all, going as far as to avoid a location associated with the task.
Denial – pretending that we aren’t actually procrastinating, and the Tesco order is MUCH more important than the task I’m avoiding!
Trivialisation – It’s not THAT important!
Distraction – hello Facebook!
Blaming – i.e. blaming external sources for reasons we couldn’t have started.
Humour – ‘I’m doing a Helen and leaving it all to the last minute ha ha!!’
For what it’s worth, to me, all the behaviours add up to the sum of avoidance, and when we are avoiding, we are usually scared.
So what on earth are we so afraid of? Why on earth do we do it to ourselves? Why do we spend so much energy avoiding a task we want to do, and then berate us for not doing it well enough.
There are a few answers, but the answer I find resonates most often is pretty simple, but often surprises people.
If we struggle with perfectionism, we can sometimes put the task off and off for fear of not doing it perfectly, and thereby embarrassing or shaming ourselves over our effort. We then delay the start over and over again, until we’re at a point where we have to start and then we have to rush, and so inevitably our task isn’t completed to the standard we want it to, and so we fulfil our self-prophecy of not being ‘good enough’.
It’s sneaky isn’t it?!
Ultimately, it’s about avoidance of negative feelings. We use procrastination to avoid feeling the stress associated with the task. However, this is (as I’m sure you realise!) totally self-defeating, because as a result of our continued avoidance, we end up being even MORE stressed than if we had just taken the task in hand and dealt with it in bite sized chunks and completed it in a timely fashion.
And when we are striving for perfection, we are ALWAYS disappointed. We are always confirming the ‘learned from somewhere’ narrative that we aren’t good enough. Humans have a funny way of trying to keep themselves very safe by confirming what they know to be true, even if it’s something horrible. So, for example if your narrative is believing you are an unlucky person, you will tend to only focus or ‘see’ the times you were unlucky, rather than the times you’ve been lucky too. Derren Brown did a brilliant show about this where he proved it was a matter of looking for the luck. I’ll see if I can find a link.
Anyway. So now we understand WHY we might procrastinate, what do we do about it?!
The biggest indicator for combating procrastination is self-awareness. Understanding why we are avoiding, and what we are avoiding is key to being able to start. Another big thing is to be honest with ourselves when we are avoiding. Are we making excuses? Are we being defensive? Are we justifying?
If we know we are scared of failing, we acknowledge that, and try and lower our expectations so we aren’t being self-punishing. Accepting our fears and having compassion towards ourselves is vital,
Then if we can try and set realistic goals, we are more likely to meet them. I’ve spoken about this before in the motivation blog, but if you can even commit to working just one minute on the specific task, it will help. Break it down so it’s manageable and you’re not overwhelmed by the huge task.
And REWARD yourself! Find something that you enjoy that gives you pleasure that you can use to reward yourself (caveat: without self-sabotaging!!)
Every tiny step you’ve taken is a step forward. Even when it looks like a step back, it’s still a step forward!
When I was doing my masters, I can’t tell you how many academic papers I read (SO DRY!) that I would get to the end of, and think ‘well that was a waste of time’. But it wasn’t! It meant I was one step closer to finding something I needed, and it meant that my knowledge had expanded regardless of whether it was applicable in that moment.
Forgive yourself when you stop, get distracted or forget. It’s okay. It doesn’t matter, just go back to the baby steps and do what you can.
If it’s a task like a presentation etc, then plan plan plan. Put some time management in. Work out mini deadlines. And reward yourself when you hit them.
Remember when we are defending, we need to start reflecting. As I’ve said. the most important and useful tool I could offer you in beating procrastination is self-awareness. Keep trying to dig out why you aren’t managing, what you’re avoiding, and work out your biggest fears, then ask how you can prevent them being realised.
And know this. You are HUMAN. It is part of the human condition to avoid fear and pain. We all do it.
It’s taken me about 3 weeks to write this blog. I normally knock a blog out in about 10 minutes. I very rarely edit them. I spend more time looking for an appropriate meme or quote to go with the content. And yet here I am. Finishing this never-ending blog after setting myself a target and holding myself to it by committing to you guys. Thanks for holding me accountable, even if you didn’t know that’s what you were doing.
Have a great evening, and if you’re reading this and thinking ‘oh god, I should really get on with xxxxxx’, what’s holding you back?!
PS, I hope you like the meme!