Timothy Pychyl of Carleton University, in Canada, best summarises in my opinion what procrastination is all about:
You know what you ought to do and you’re not able to bring yourself to do it. It’s that gap between intention and action.
Procrastination takes a toll on us: on our time, on our finances but also sadly on our health and well-being. It sucks our time, and energy, to bring ourselves to do what we ought to do. It makes us delay seeing the doctor until our condition deteriorates. It makes us miss important deadlines that may result in costly penalties. It makes us feel guilty for not doing what we ought to do. People who procrastinate experience higher stress levels.
Despite the high price to pay, procrastination is a tough habit to break. Even though I teach my clients practical solutions to deal with procrastination, I must say that there is much more to addressing procrastination than time management skills. In fact, I believe that before attempting to find solutions, you should ask yourself these 2 simple questions:
Do I really have to execute this task?
I think this is a very legitimate question to ask yourself – provided you don’t procrastinate on every single task.
After all, our to-do lists are full of tasks that we haven’t necessarily re-evaluated to make sure they are still necessary, or that we have added just to make other people happy. Challenge yourself:
- Does this task belong to the “must do” or “nice to do” category?
- Does this task help me achieve one of my goals?
- What’s the worst that would happen if I was not doing this task?
Deleting a task from your to-do list doesn’t mean you are unprofessional or irresponsible. On the contrary, it means that you are going to make time for what’s really important.
You could also decide to delegate the task if you can to someone who will enjoy it more than you would, or who could do it better or faster. Delegating is actually a good opportunity to develop your staff or get your children to pick up new skills.
Whatever you decide, let go of the guilt and move on!
Why do I procrastinate?
Understanding the underlying cause is the first step towards finding a solution to the problem and to stop procrastinating. Ask yourself why you are intimidated by the task at hand, whether you procrastinate only on specific tasks or every single one.
It could be that you procrastinate because you have no idea of how to execute the task. The solution is straightforward then: learn the skill and get on with it.
But it could be that you procrastinate for deeper reasons, in particular the fear of failing, or at least of not being able to do as well as you wish. For a long time, I procrastinated on giving talks and conducting workshops, claiming I had other areas to focus on. The truth was that I was afraid of public speaking, especially of being judged for my French accent. But I knew that was something I really needed to do in order to give exposure to my business so eventually I embraced my fear. In fact in the process, I realised that I was enjoying myself more than I thought I would.
You might also think that you work best under pressure and intentionally postpone the task until the very last minute. It gives you an adrenaline rush and makes you extremely focused and productive on the task at hand. That’s when you need to be honest with yourself and evaluate whether it’s entirely true. Wouldn’t you do a better job if you were taking more time to complete your task, and do it with less stress that’s so detrimental to your health? If you feel confident that last-minute work is your thing, then there’s no need to change. Otherwise, it’s time to look at some practical tips.
Here are my own practical tips to help you stop procrastinating and meet your deadlines:
#1 Come up with a motto. Mine is “If it seems scary, then it’s probably something worth doing.”
#2. Eliminate distractions, both digital and physical
#3. Focus on the benefits instead of the task
#4. Break projects and overwhelming tasks into small parts with intermediate deadlines based on how much you can endure working at the task in one go
#5 Change the sequence of the tasks and tackle the easiest one first
#6 Give yourself a time limit and once you’ve reached it, move onto something else until the next time this task is scheduled in your diary
#7 Tackle your most difficult task first thing in the morning so that you’re done with it before it bugs you
#8 Alternate a task you don’t enjoy doing with one you do enjoy doing.
So it’s time for you to act now: pick up one of your tasks or projects you’ve been procrastinating on for a while and see which one of the above questions and tips could help you tackle it.
Now if you really want to achieve a shift in mindset and habits and get the emotional and practical support needed to get back in control of your time, check my one-on-one time management coaching programme or contact me now. I’d love to help you!