How to stop putting off the inevitable
The word procrastination is used quite a lot these days. I’m not sure I’d ever really heard of it until recent years, but there is always a lot of coaching discussion around procrastination and what you can do to overcome it.
The Oxford Dictionary says:
Procrastination. noun. the act of delaying something that you should do, usually because you do not want to do it.
However, this is NOT the same as being lazy. Procrastination is an active process, a decision you make, choosing to do something else instead of the task you know you really should be focussing on. Laziness on the other hand suggests inactivity, apathy and not doing anything at all.
In today’s busy world, we often have a crazy to do list and face a to do list which can feel quite overwhelming. But if we continue this path of prioritising the nice, easy tasks and things we enjoy over the things we really need to get done – what starts off well intentioned, often ends up with creeping feelings of guilt, reduced productivity, low motivation and even missing our goals and deadlines which could start to have real consequences.
However, if you feel you may be falling into this trap – be reassured that as with any habit, you can change it. Here are some steps to making the change:
Step 1 – notice you are doing it
If the following scenarios resonate, it’s likely you are procrastinating:
· Are there items on your to-do list which have been rolled over week to week?
· Are you finding yourself up against it for a deadline? Or worse, perhaps starting to miss deadlines?
· Do you recognise yourself as busy but feel like you are not getting anywhere?
· Do you get swamped in tasks that help everyone else but don’t move you forward?
· Start something high priority/big or complex and find yourself making cup of tea or scrolling through social media?
· Find yourself waiting for the ‘right time’ to do something
· Struggling to make decisions, and thinking you’ll come back to it later but never do?
Step 2 – ask yourself why you are doing it?
I invite you here, to write a list of the things you are putting off right now. Take 5 mins and jot it all down.
Now sit back and reflect. Do they have anything in common? Do you put off a particular type of task repeatedly?
People procrastinate for many reasons. Maybe the tasks you put off are less interesting? Maybe you are fearful of making a wrong decision, or feel you don’t have the skills to do the work? Are you a perfectionist and feeling uncomfortable doing something in case it’s not perfect first time?
Whatever the root causes may be – identifying the common thread, or reasons for delay is a powerful tool to help you find the best solution.
Step 3 – Learn and trial new strategies to help you
Here are a few to get you started:
1. Be kind to yourself. The first thing to do here is recognise you aren’t alone! Procrastination happens to us all, so start by being kind to yourself and changing your internal dialogue. Think about what you would say to a friend in a similar situation and remember to be kind when you talk to yourself too. Procrastination is a habit and grows, and in turn, is also a habit you can change.
2. Remove distractions. Leave your phone in another room. Turn off your email notifications. Tidy up your workspace. Actively removing distractions will help you avoid them and allow you to focus more effectively.
3. Clarify and work on your priorities. Use the Eisenhower matrix to help you – for example weigh up impact versus complexity of doing something and see if this helps you with where to focus. Ultimately, you need to consider – do it, drop it or delegate it. Perhaps something that’s sat on your to do list for months could be dropped altogether? Or is there something you’ve been putting off which you could get some help on?
4. Involve others. Perhaps you are working solo on something or running your own business. It’s easy to drop tasks if no-one is looking right? Consider getting an accountability buddy – is there someone else in a similar situation who you could work with and hold you to account? Could be a friend or colleague or even a coach?
5. Break tasks down. If you are struggling with a decision or putting off a big task – consider if breaking it down might help? For example – what do you need to know to make that decision? Can the big task become a series or smaller tasks to move you forward?
6. Progress not perfection. Sometimes it’s ok to go with something that’s 80%, and to improve from there. If we set our expectations high all the time, it can be tough to get anything done at all. Consider where you need it to be perfect, and where you just need it done.
7. Visualise the results. How will you feel when you get this done? What will it enable you to do once it’s complete? Can you reward yourself somehow too? Equally – if you don’t get this done, what are the consequences? How do you feel about that scenario?
8. Eat the Frog! Based on the book by Brian Tracy, the idea here is that often we put things off which we find hard or stressful. Perhaps it’s a challenging conversation or someone you need to let down and you are dreading it. Rather than letting this dread fill your day and consume your energy – don’t give it time to set in. Dive straight in, first thing and get it done. Perhaps it won’t even be that bad, and even if it's difficult, once its done you can move past it and focus on other more enjoyable things.
9. Set a timer. This is often used with kids to get them to tidy up and is equally as effective with adults! The pomodoro technique is a well-established example where you set a timer for 25 minutes and focus completely on the task until the timer goes off. Having a short period of focussed attention is often better to get you started.
10. Make it easy to get started. When everything is in place and ready to go, you don’t have time to think about it and talk yourself out of it. For example, if you want to go to the gym in the morning, get everything ready the night before and have your clothes next to your bed. Or if you are trying to remember to drink a glass of water first thing, make sure it’s next to your bed when you wake up so you don’t get distracted by something else and end up with a coffee!
There are so many ways to overcome procrastination, it really depends on what suits your situation and where the root cause lies. Most importantly, give something a go. If you have read this far, chances are you want to break the cycle, and you can!
Try it this week and let me know how it goes!