Procrastination is a word that I am very familiar with. In fact, I know it so well that I dare say that we were bffs. We co-existed together for a long time, that I could not remember a time when we were apart. It was only recently that I decided to take a closer look at our relationship, and how it is serving me. I would love to say that it was an assessment that was not provoked, but that would be a misrepresentation. Suffice it to say that it was prompted by an eye-opening experience, that was not very pleasant, but an experience that I am glad happened, because it gave me the courage to reassess this relationship.
The Cozy Feeling of Procrastination
Merriam Webster describes procrastination as putting off intentionally and habitually something that should be done.” It gives us a “cozy feeling” because it does not mean that we have no intention of doing the task, only that we prefer to wait, and do it at a later time. It comes in handy when we are faced with a task that we do not find interesting or easy to do. More importantly, tomorrow, always seems like the best time, and we are often certain that nothing would get in the way. But then, why the nagging feeling, we may wonder?
Procrastination, an Addiction
Going back to my relationship with procrastination, I came to realize from my assessment that as cozy as procrastination is, it is quite dangerous because it is addictive. It gives one a false sense of hope and makes us feel that we have time when we don’t. Procrastination does not take into account that tomorrow may turn out not to be the ideal day we envisioned it would be. Procrastination has caused a lot of missed opportunities and frustrated dreams. Procrastination sometimes leads to a belief that one is not capable of taking the required action and has led to lack of self-confidence. It is really no one’s bff. It is like a cankerworm that eats away on precious time and keeps us stuck.
Why Do We Procrastinate?
The first step in overcoming procrastination is to recognize why we procrastinate. Some of the reasons are two that I alluded to earlier:
- Lack of Interest: It is easy for us to procrastinate when we do not find the task at hand interesting. In those moments, we could find the most minute task to do than face the uninteresting task, no matter how important they may be.
- Not An Easy Task: We struggle when we are faced with a task that is difficult for us to do or manage. Instead of going through the rigor of finding ways to do the task, we lose zeal for it and put it aside, hoping that it would become easier tomorrow. The problem is that it does not.
- Negative Emotion Around Task: Some tasks conjure up negative emotions that we would rather avoid. For example, I lost my mother recently, after losing my stepdad a few months before. The thought of planning yet another burial, has had me stuck, even though everyone is looking up to me to give guidance on the way forward. An important task, but one that brings up a lot of negative emotions.
- Lacks Meaning to Us: As a coach, one of the key questions I ask my clients is, “what makes this goal you seek important at this time?” This is very important to know, and to have the client articulate, because that helps in the exploration of how they get to action plan around their goal. When what we are doing lacks meaning for us, it becomes difficult to garner energy around it, hence we fail to move forward, and procrastinate.
- Not Rewarding for Us: The statement “what’s in it for me?” may sound selfish, but it drives a lot of our actions. It is closely related to meaning, but goes a little farther, because it is tangible. When people can see that there is something tangible to gain from doing a particular task, it fuels their motivation. Volunteering is a great thing, but that in itself has to have a reward feel to it, for it to make sense for us to give our time to.
- Lack of Knowledge: Many of us procrastinate because we lack the knowledge to tackle a task. We struggle to find a way, and sometimes, fail to seek the knowledge we need, or we may not really know where or how to seek for the knowledge we lack. This search for knowledge might be impeded by external factors, like time pressure. It is not often that we have the time to find the knowledge that we need to complete a task at hand.
So, there are several reasons why people procrastinate. During my assessment, I realized that it was just as critical for me to know why I had the “love” relationship with procrastination as it was for me to know how to overcome it.
How to Overcome Procrastination
Now that you are aware of some of the causes of procrastination, it would be useful to find ways to avoid it. Part of the tool kit for combating procrastination would be the following:
- Brainstorming: Set apart a focused time to brain-storm the tasks or parts of a task that you find challenging. The tools for this would be pen and paper. These should be written down in no particular order. It would be like a brain-dump and would help relieve the mind. It would also help separate the real tasks from assumed ones.
- Breakdown the Tasks: Break down the tasks in smaller pieces. You can use mind mapping to do so. This would help you to see what steps to take when and make the task less daunting.
- Assess Your Energy: Now that you can see visually what the tasks are, and the steps required for each task or aspects of a task, assess your energy and determine which of the tasks you can tackle when. The more challenging part of the task can be scheduled at a time when you are usually more productive and energized.
- Assess the Gaps: As I noted earlier, lack of knowledge of how to do a task could cause us to procrastinate. Looking at the steps required to accomplish a task or tasks would help us determine where we lack knowledge, so we can ask questions, or research possible solutions.
- Schedule Time for Tasks: Schedule a time for each of the tasks. Set a deadline to finish each task and honor the deadlines. With practice this would become easier to do.
- Ask for Help: Know the tasks and what is involved would help us know what to delegate or seek help for, especially the tasks that conjure up negative emotions. We can outsource the most difficult or emotionally challenging tasks.
- Hire a Coach: As I mentioned earlier, procrastination can stem from a lack of interest or meaning. Sometimes, our view of certain tasks may require a mind-set shift. This we can get stuck on. It might be useful to hire a coach to help us explore why we have the mind-set we have around the task and how we can see the positive in it.
Procrastination is no one’s best friend. It can be subtle, but could have us stuck for years, unable to achieve our life’s purposes. Working with a coach certainly helped me and can make a procrastination survival toolkit complete.