Have you ever had a task that needed to be done but you suddenly had an overwhelming desire to declutter your house? You should be studying for an exam but you are sitting at your computer getting your email inbox down to zero?
You are not alone! The good news is that procrastination is actually more about our feelings and needs and less about personality and productivity!
What is procrastination?
Procrastination is when we keep delaying or postponing an action that we need (or want) to do. James Clear describes it perfectly in his book Atomic Habits: “It is when you do one thing even though you know you should do something else.” It’s that simple! Or is it?
We choose to do something else even though we know it will make us feel bad later because the immediate relief of postponing the task is so much more appealing. It’s ironic that we procrastinate to avoid feeling bad but then end up feeling worse! Have you ever left your studying to the last day before the exam but find yourself cleaning your house to give yourself the sense of control and productivity that you are craving?
So why do we do this to ourselves?
Why do we procrastinate?
There are several reasons why people procrastinate. Here are a few common ones:
- The task is complex and we don’t know how to do it. (eg: completing a tax return)
- The task is boring and we just don’t want to do it. (taxes again!)
- We fear that we won't be able to do the task perfectly so we don't even want to attempt it and risk the feeling of failure.
- When we procrastinate, we feel bad about ourselves. Research shows that these blaming and shaming thoughts make us feel worse and so we procrastinate even more!
How can we stop procrastinating?
Show yourself compassion
Speak to yourself as you would to a good friend, with empathy and encouragement. If you are feeling stressed it will be even more difficult to make good choices. Research has shown that self-compassion increases motivation and decreases psychological distress, which is a major cause of procrastination. Self-empathy enhances feelings of self-worth, optimism, and initiative - all antidotes for procrastination!
Get information or support
Sometimes we procrastinate because we feel incompetent or fearful that we won’t do the task well. Take action to get guidance or information so that you are better equipped and motivated.
Make it fun and reward yourself
Remember those star charts that you used to get so excited about as a child? Our brains are wired to seek reward so use that primal need to your advantage! What would make the task more enjoyable for you? Put on some music, do it with a friend, take your laptop and go and work in your favourite cade - whatever works for you!
Break the task up into smaller parts
Our primitive brain protects us when we feel fearful. By breaking a task into smaller actions that are more achievable, we feel more in control and confident in our ability to get it done.
In our next blog post, we will talk about 4 steps inspired by NVC that you can use everytime you find yourself procrastinating. I have been using them in my own life and they have helped me so much.
I would love to hear about what you procrastinate about the most and if you have found any helpful ways to overcome this challenge.