As referred to in last week’s blog, a post on good old procrastination. My number 1 enemy. When thinking about what I need to include in this post, I looked up some definitions of the word and found the following:
To keep delaying something that must be done, often because it is unpleasant or boring.
To put off intentionally the doing of something that should be done.
If you procrastinate, you keep leaving things you should do until later, often because you do not want to do them.
Trouble persuading yourself to do the things you should do or would like to do. When you procrastinate, instead of working on important, meaningful tasks, you find yourself performing trivial activities.
The final definition rang truest with me. When I procrastinate, the tasks I know I should be doing are nearly always things I want to do, so it certainly isn’t a case of putting them off because they are boring or unpleasant. It’s this tendency to perform trivial activities rather than the important tasks that is an issue for me. This happens primarily in my personal life but also, on occasion, in my work life too. The following extract from an article on procrastination, which can be found on the excellent mindtools.com website, really hit home:
It’s Friday afternoon and the clock is ticking. You’re working furiously to complete a task before the five o’clock deadline, whilst silently cursing yourself for not starting it sooner. How did this happen? What went wrong? Why did you lose your focus? Well, there were the hours that you spent re-reading e-mails and checking social media, the excessive “preparation”, the coffee breaks, and the time spent on other tasks that you could have safely left for next week.
Damn those easy and comforting things we do! When I break off from an important task to search for a bit of light relief, the easy options tend to be browsing favourite websites, losing an hour listening to random songs in Amazon Music or viewing live music videos on YouTube, picking up a guitar and playing random tunes rather than new songs I should be learning, updating my subscribed podcasts episode list, checking my e-mails and WhatsApp groups, and remembering I have something to add to my to-do list (oh, the irony…). These are all my easy options; the ‘switch off my brain’ options; quite often, the wrong options….
The same mindtools.com article goes on to state the following regarding recognising that we’re procrastinating:
You might be putting off a task because you’ve had to reprioritise your workload. If you’re briefly delaying an important task for a genuinely good reason, then you aren’t necessarily procrastinating. However, if you start to put things off indefinitely, or switch focus because you want to avoid doing something, then you probably are. You may also be procrastinating if you:
- Fill your day with low priority tasks.
- Leave an item on your To-Do list for a long time, even though it’s important.
- Read e-mails several times over without making a decision on what to do with them.
- Start a high-priority task and then almost immediately go off to make a coffee.
- Fill your time with unimportant tasks that other people ask you to do, instead of getting on with the important tasks already on your list.
- Wait to be in the “right mood” or wait for the “right time” to tackle a task.
There are many theories as to why we procrastinate. Some claim that it’s because we’re afraid of failing at the tasks which we need to complete. Some claim it is to do with emotional self-regulation, particularly an inability to manage negative moods around a certain task, i.e. we don’t procrastinate on “fun things” – we procrastinate on tasks that feel especially overwhelming or which provoke anxiety, so it’s often easy to avoid them. Another theory is that creative people may have many brilliant ideas but can’t quite seem to bring them to fruition, usually because there is no structure or goal-setting involved once the idea has been created. Finally, there is a train of thought which suggests that our brains simply aren’t wired to focus for long periods of time, and it therefore quickly looks for other things to do. Throw into that a bunch of chatty colleagues or a desire to mindlessly check social media and you have a recipe for award-winning procrastination.
Back to the mindtools.com article for some generic anti-procrastination strategies. The article claims that procrastination is a deeply ingrained pattern of behaviour and is therefore nigh-on impossible to break overnight. The following techniques may help with this:
- Forgive yourself for procrastinating in the past. Studies show that self-forgiveness can help you to feel more positive about yourself and reduce the likelihood of procrastination in the future.
- Commit to the task. Focus on doing, not avoiding. Write down the tasks that you need to complete and specify a time for doing them. This will help you to proactively tackle your work.
- Promise yourself a reward. If you complete a difficult task on time, reward yourself with a treat, such as a slice of cake or a coffee from your favourite coffee shop. Make sure you notice how good it feels to finish things.
- Ask someone to check up on you. Peer pressure works! This is the principle behind self-help groups.
- Act as you go. Tackle tasks as soon as they arise, rather than letting them build up over another day.
- Rephrase your internal dialog. The phrases “need to” and “have to”, for example, imply that you have no choice in what you do. This can make you feel disempowered and might even result in self-sabotage. However, saying “I choose to”, implies that you own a project, and can make you feel more in control of your workload.
- Minimise distractions. Turn off your e-mail & social media and avoid sitting anywhere near a television while you work!
- Aim to “eat an elephant beetle” first thing, every day. Get those tasks that you find least pleasant out of the way early. This will give you the rest of the day to concentrate on work that you find more enjoyable.
If you procrastinate (and research suggests that the vast majority of us do on a frequent basis), I hope there’s something of use there. I’ve tried many of these techniques. Some have worked and some haven’t, though the ones I really need to spend time on is committing to a task and minimising distractions. These are key for me and when I’ve tried them in the past, they have worked, though they are very difficult to implement and maintain over any period of time. However, it is time to revisit these and I know I need to get better at all of the following:
- Concentrate on one task at a time and one task only.
- If it’s a significant task, break it down into smaller, more manageable stages.
- Allocate specific times to each task to ensure I don’t spend excessive time on anything (something the perfectionist in me is very guilty of).
- Set specific time aside each day to do the ‘easier’ things which I usually drift toward. Basically, the things I listed earlier that do have the ability to suck the life out of each and every day, such as checking social media, checking e-mails, checking my podcast feed, visiting favourite websites etc. Doing this will hopefully reduce the ridiculous amount of time I currently waste on these.
- Continue in drinking a lot less alcohol than I used to. Those hangover days are killers when it comes to procrastinating.
- Leave my mobile in a different room when I’m concentrating on a specific task. At times, the damned thing is like a magnet. I know I shouldn’t but my hand frequently just drifts toward it and before I know it, I’ve wasted an hour of my time on absolutely nothing of note.
Hopefully, these techniques will help others too. As always, I’ll update on progress in a future YYCDI post.
Finally, some of you may be wondering why I’m writing about this in a blog of this nature. It’s primarily due to procrastination having a major impact on my mood and state of mind. I know what the main tasks I want and need to complete are. I know some of them have remained untouched for far too long. I also know that completing these will have a hugely positive impact on my self-esteem and my self-confidence. Sadly, I also know that continued failure to complete them (or even start) will continue to have a negative impact. I go to bed on days when I’ve procrastinated feeling unfulfilled, a failure, and, at times, disappointed and angry. I simply cannot let that continue.
As always, thanks for reading, stay safe and be kind to yourself and others.