Guardian Life & Style.
So that’s how I start most working days. I am an eternal procrastinator. It’s one of my weaknesses. We’re all guilty of it to some extent. But why do we procrastinate? What does it achieve? More importantly, how do we overcome it?
There’s a wealth of research behind why we procrastinate. We all know that we need to be motivated to get jobs done, and self-control to keep us focused. Some thoughts work against this, these are called hindering and demotivating factors.
The fear of failure or anxiety over a task causes us to lose motivation. In short, we give up before we start. If we haven’t started then we haven’t failed.
Other factors such as mental exhaustion are hindering factors that battle with our motivation. So you see it’s a battle between the two teams of motivation/self-control and hindering/demotivation. Sometimes we win the battle and get on with the task at hand, other times we lose and Facebook becomes our best friend!
Well, in short, nothing. The very nature of procrastination is to avoid certain tasks so as a result they don’t get done. Procrastination can take many forms though. The example I gave when I sit at my computer is to visit several other sites before settling to do my work is a perfect example of avoidance. But others procrastinate specific tasks by completing others. Suddenly the need to hoover behind the sofa overwhelms you. Or your inbox needs a declutter. You still feel productive but ultimately that one job on your to-do list remains incomplete.
This is what you’re all waiting for, the magic solution to overcome procrastination. I don’t have one. After researching, the answer that kept cropping up was to understand why you’re procrastinating.
- Are you afraid of making a mistake?
- Do you feel that the task is irrelevant?
- Are you afraid of failing?
- Is the outcome too far in the future for you to feel any reward?
- Are you tired?
- Do you dread the task?
- Is the task-specific enough?
If you can understand why you’re avoiding your work then it will help you to address the underlying cause. Personally, sometimes a task isn’t specific enough. I’ll change my list so instead of putting “Write social media posts” I’ll specify how many I need to write. I’ll also prioritise and shorten my list. When I have a to-do list going over a page it’s overwhelming to look at. Where do you start? I’ll pull out 3 or 4 tasks which have to be completed and break them down. Then when they’re done I’ll find the next 3.
Here are a few more top tips to break that cycle of procrastination!
- Take a break – embrace the procrastination and go and do something completely different. Take a walk, have a shower, put some washing on. Then come back with a clearer head.
- Start with the worst task – when you don’t want to do something you build up how awful it’s going to be. It’s never that bad. Do it first, don’t let yourself do anything else until you’ve completed it. You might have heard people referring to eating a frog in coaching circles, this is what they mean.
- Schedule your procrastination – I let myself have 15 minutes of web browsing before I start work. It makes me feel like I’ve put off work but really I know myself well enough to know I won’t be able to settle until I’ve “procrastinated”.
- Rewards – when all else fails bribe yourself. Agree with yourself that when you’ve worked for 15 minutes, or completed a certain task that you’ll go make a cup of tea or have a biscuit or a desk dance party. Whatever works for you. Once you start work you’ll find continuing much easier.
- Find your best work time – I work best first thing in the morning so I try to capitalise on that. If you know that your most productive time is 9pm in the evening then schedule your work for then (if possible!)
We all procrastinate, just some of us have perfected it more than others! My biggest advice would be don’t fight it. I know that sounds crazy but sometimes you just have to accept that your head isn’t in the right place to focus on work and you need to revisit it. Other times you have to have sharp words with yourself and when all else fails there’s always bribery.