Top Six Thoughts on Procrastination and How to Outsmart it to Get Things Done.
Updated: Dec 9, 2022
What are you procrastinating on?
Is there something that you’ve been putting off that you know you’d feel so much better, physically and/or mentally, once it’s done?
We’ve all been there…whether it’s a task or project at work, something we know we need to do to improve our physical, mental or spiritual health, a difficult conversation, or the chores at home.
A past client of mine came to me seeking help with getting to work on time. No matter how early she woke up, or how much extra time she gave herself to get ready in the morning, she just couldn’t get herself to work on time. When I asked her what she thought was keeping her from arriving on time, she confessed that she procrastinates. In fact, she procrastinated so much that she would start looking up options for other jobs because she was sure she was going to get fired for being late because she was procrastinating!
When we reviewed her Strengths and Saboteurs, it was no surprise that she held the perfect recipe for procrastination. This client’s self-regulation was low, she had a strong fear of failure and tended towards perfectionism and not feeling competent.
Two other situational factors that paved the way for procrastination were that she had a lot of flexibility to complete her tasks and there was very little accountability built into her day. No one knew when she actually came into work and no one knew how many hours she worked at home.
Pairing tasks that are highly aversive with lots of freedom to walk away or not complete them, ultimately leads to procrastination. Especially when there are other distractions and comforts that are easily accessible.
Fast forward a few months and this client is now successfully arriving at work on time. She's implemented a morning routine that works for her and prepares her mentally, emotionally and physically for her day and an evening routine that helps her reflect, unwind and rest in preparation for the next day. She's also started interviewing for a new job...one that aligns more closely with her strengths and her purpose.
This month I am sharing my top 6 ideas on procrastination and how to outsmart it to get things done.
Procrastinating... We all do it. Whether it’s a task at work or home, finances, relationships, health/wellbeing or personal growth, there is likely a list of things that you procrastinate on.
When we have a lot on our plate and in our mind, it’s inevitable that we become overwhelmed and stressed.
So how do we manage those feelings and all those things that we know we need to get done but really don’t want to or feel we don’t have the time or energy or resources to complete?
When we procrastinate, we get stuck. It drains us of our vitality. In order to get that energy moving to create more ease and flow, WE need to shift.
Procrastination is defined as the voluntary delay of an intended action despite the knowledge that this delay may have negative consequences.
It’s often thought of, mistakenly, as being lazy. In reality, it's a behaviour caused by stress in our lives and/or unfounded negative beliefs that we have about ourselves and our situations.
Here are my top 6 thoughts on procrastination and how to beat it!
Mindset/Attitude: You don’t have to WANT to do it. Many of my clients come to me seeking motivation to do something they know they need to do to achieve the goals or outcomes they desire. Motivation, more often than not, follows action. Knowing your why - why the outcome is really important to you - can be incredibly helpful. You need to let go of the belief that you need to want to do it, and just do it anyway.
Willpower: Many people believe that if they only had more willpower, procrastination wouldn’t be an issue. Roy Beaumeister’s research from the 1990’s had us thinking that willpower is connected to a limited reserve of mental energy and once we run out of that reserve, we lose self-control. Newer research by Carol Dweck concluded that this limited reserve of mental energy (ego depletion) was only observed in subjects who believed willpower was a limited resource. In other words, mindset was key to persevering on a task. This limiting belief that willpower is a limited resource is actually harmful - making people less likely to accomplish their goals because it gives them a reason to quit when they could otherwise persist.
Bridge the Gap Between Present and Future Self: Putting off to tomorrow what can be done today only further burdens our Future Self. A question to ask yourself when you are making the choice to delay a project/task is ‘how will this matter in 5 minutes, 5 hours, 5 days, 5 months, 5 years’?
Is this a Technical Problem or An Adaptive Problem: Research by Kagan and Lahey (2009) group problems into two categories, technical problems and adaptive problems. Technical problems are resolved by learning new skills and don’t require you to change yourself or require any new self-awareness. Adaptive problems need more than simply new skills to resolve them. They require the person to change in order to meet the challenge - the person needs to adapt. An adaptive approach demands one to think about , ‘what do I need to think differently about this situation? Or, what new mindset do I need to develop to manage my emotions/mood?’ Have a plan ahead of time to deal with those Saboteurs and Inner Critics.
What’s the Next Step: How often have you wanted to complete/achieve something only to get stuck because you don’t know how to do it or where to begin? When we feel we aren’t competent enough, have a fear of failure or have a tendency towards perfectionism, tasks become aversive. And when tasks become aversive, we tend to panic and stop.
Just Start! This is a 'trick' I've used many a time to do things I'm not keen on doing. I make a deal with myself to just get started or to do just 5 minutes. Just setting myself in motion increases my momentum. Conditions don't need to be perfect either. Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.
Do what you can With what you have Where you are. ~ Theodore Roosevelt
Okay, so I’ve got the background information, now what?
Let’s put it into ACTION…
How to Get it Done:
What are the top 10 things are you procrastinating on?
Make a list.
Select One Thing:
Of all the things you’re procrastinating on, what's the one thing that you want to tackle first? Perhaps it's the most urgent task or maybe it’s the lowest hanging fruit - the task you know will take the least effort or amount of time.
Break it Down:
Now that you’ve got one task to work on, jot down the actions that need to be taken in order to accomplish the task/goal. Don’t get too detail oriented here. You can figure out the details at each stage of the plan.
If you get stuck:
What Technical Skills/Habits do you need to learn?
What Adaptive Skills/Habits do you need to work on? What will you do with those Inner Critics/Saboteurs?
What resources do you need to help you with those skills/habits/actions?
What supports will help you be successful?
Choose one single daily action that will help you be more successful:
Write it out as a SMARTER goal:
Specific: Be specific.
Measurable: Make it measurable. How will you know you've done it?
Action Oriented: Make sure it involves doing something.
Realistic/Relevant: Make sure the action is small enough and that it relates to your overall goal.
Time Bound: Give yourself a timeline to complete it. Since it's a daily action, how many times per week do you need to do it to consider yourself successful?
(Make it Energizing and Reward yourself once it’s completed)
How will you keep yourself accountable to complete the task? This may include scheduling it and setting a consequence or delaying a reward until it’s completed. It may also include setting a reminder or trigger to do it. Attaching the action to another anchor habit (something you already do routinely) is often helpful. Accountability may also include telling someone, such as a trusted friend or coach, what you've said you will do.
Embody the Action:
Don't discount the power of taking on the physical posture or persona to carry out the action.
Need to have a difficult conversation in which you need to stand your ground to voice what you need? Practice standing firmly on the ground and lengthening up through your spine and out through the crown of your head. Plant your fists on your hips and breath deeply lifting your heart with each inhalation. Notice the feelings and the strengths this posture calls forth. Once you've practiced this posture, you can conjure up the feelings of strength and confidence simply by visualizing yourself in this posture.
Need to write a proposal, social post, paper or book? When you imagine being creative and letting the words flow, what do you picture? How can you embody that? Maybe it's using a favourite pen, wearing a special hat or being in or recreating a special space to create in.
Have fun with it. Experiment to see what works and what doesn't.
What went well? What helped you be successful?
What challenges did you encounter? What lessons did you learn?
What do you want to do differently next time?
So there you have it - 6 thoughts about procrastination and a framework to get things done.
For the FULL 8 steps to kick procrastination to the curb, claim your FREE download.
What did you find most helpful? Send me an email and let me know. I read every one.
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