Procrastination is a common problem. Clients often tell me that it’s a huge problem for them. But procrastinating is not the real problem, it is merely the symptom of an underlying issue.
Before I get too deep into procrastinating and how to overcome it, I’d like to talk about incubation. When in the creative process or working out a problem, it is typical to go through a “ruminating” phase, when you turn over all of your work to your subconscious and give it a chance to work on the problem. This is where those “aha!” moments come from. Do not confuse this important phase with procrastination. You should be able to tell the difference. For me, when I’m letting ideas percolate, my thinking is fuzzy. I feel slightly agitated because I don’t like not knowing. When I am procrastinating there is a feeling of avoidance and resistance.
Procrastination – Why we do it
As I previously stated, procrastination is not a cause but a symptom of a larger and more complex issue. Some of the reasons why we procrastinate include:
- Fears – Fear is uncomfortable and we often choose to relieve our discomfort by distracting ourselves with T.V., surfing the web, cleaning (notice how appealing cleaning is when faced with something you don’t want to do?), etc.
- Lack of confidence
- Perfectionism – As a recovering perfectionist, I understand how hard it can be to risk doing something that doesn’t live up to your (often unrealistic) expectations. In order to avoid making a mistake, looking bad or failing, our modus operandi is to do nothing.
- Bad habits – We become comfortable with our routines and bad habits and don’t realize how big of a hold they have on us. Habits are hard to change.
- Expecting things to be easy – If things have been relative easy for you all your life, taking on something that requires an effort can be, well, hard.
Tools to Overcome Procrastination
While it helps to understand and be aware of where our procrastination stems from, these tools don’t require identifying the origin in order to be effective.
Break down what you need to do into the smallest step possible, such as sticking with the task for 5 minutes. Small steps actually works on several levels. First, getting started is often the hardest part. When I am avoiding a task, I often tell myself I only have to do it for 5 minutes. It seems counter intuitive, how will you accomplish anything if you only do it for 5 minutes but it works. If I stop after 5 minutes, I’ve achieved my goal (and built up a little confidence). But what happens more often than not, is I continue because I’ve broken through that wall of inertia and gained some momentum.
Second, we often overwhelm ourselves by making that first step unrealistic. I used to make these ridiculous schedules, leaving little breathing room for anything else. And -surprise – I never followed them! It’s much less daunting to write a sentence than a book so break things down. Then break them down even further.
Find a Buddy
Find someone who is also working on a goal. Make it a habit to meet and work on your goals together (5 minutes at a time, if you have to), supporting and cheering each other on. Be picky about who you choose. I’ve been running consistently for nine years because I had a running partner when I started. Not just any partner, but someone who already had a running habit making it hard for me to back out. I knew if I did she would not go easy on me. She was the perfect partner because her good habits rubbed off on me and appealed to my competitive nature.
What Worked in the Past?
This is a powerful question. It gets our minds thinking about what we are trying to accomplish instead of what’s getting in our way. We procrastinate because we are focused on the negatives – I’ll make a fool of myself – instead of what we are trying to accomplish. We all have areas we’ve had success in and feel confident about. What did you do then that you can apply to your current situation?
You can not tell me that you’ve never had any success in your life. If you are reading this, you’ve mastered one of the hardest skills there is and you did it at a relatively young age – language and the all intricacies involved with it such as reading and writing.
I have found these tools to be easy to use and produce incredible results in a short period of time. Give them a try the next time you find yourself procrastinating.