We’ve all experienced the horrible pressure of a deadline hanging over our head.
Maybe you’ve put a task or agenda item off for a while knowing the job would eventually rear its ugly head. Maybe you’ve ignored a project for too long, avoided a doctor’s appointment, or dragged your feet on a job you need to face.
Procrastination is the worst! But we’ve ALL been there before.
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Of course, there are little white lies we tell ourselves like, “I do my best work under pressure,” or “I multitask and juggle it.” Then our future self must pay the price when the time comes—stress, lost sleep, embarrassment, even loss of income. Procrastination seems like no big deal, but putting off tasks end up costing us plenty!
So, how can we stop lying to ourselves and tackle this ugly procrastination monster once and for all? Why do we do this to ourselves and how do we stop it now? Here are five reasons we procrastinate and how to combat each!
1. We Feel Fear So We Avoid
One major reason we procrastinate is out of fear. We may fear the scope of the project. We may avoid taking on a big project because we’re not sure if we can do it. We’re afraid we’re going to flop and fall on our face. We fear failure. Even more mind blowing? We may even fear success, too.
Change is scary, friends. We all tend to avoid major life changes and shakeups. Even when they’re positive and will get us to a better place. Taking on a big project or job, when the chance between failure and success is on the line? That’s big-time scary stuff.
When you’re avoiding a project or an activity, even when you know you’d be better for it, look at your fear levels. Are you afraid of the potential outcomes? Is fear or uncertainty holding you back?
How to Stop: Do It Scared
Jump in. One of my favorite sayings is, “Do it scared.” So often we play through “what if” scenarios in our heads. What if we fail? What if this doesn’t turn out like we’d hoped? What if we disappoint someone? What if we are embarrassed?
Sometimes we must simply do it scared. Yes, we’re afraid. Yes, it’s tough and plenty could go wrong. It’s okay to acknowledge our fear and feel it. What’s not okay is to hold ourselves back from doing a job or taking on a task because we’re too afraid of making mistakes. Don’t miss an opportunity!
Life is short. When you look back on your life, you won’t fondly remember all the experiences you avoided because you were scared, or all the times you opted for the safe route even if the path wasn’t the way you wanted to go. We can’t turn our fear off, but we can force ourselves to do what we want, even if we’re frightened.
Think of the Erin Hansen quote, “There is freedom waiting for you on the breezes of the sky, and you ask, ‘what if I fall?’ Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?”
2. We Don’t Wanna
Certain jobs aren’t hard or scary—we simply just “don’t wanna” do them. Tasks like facing chores, getting the car serviced, cooking dinner for a neighbor. We know we should do it. We know it’s on our list, but UGH, we sure don’t want to.
Putting off tasks we don’t want to do is common and it’s tough to work up motivation. Let’s face it—in life certain jobs aren’t fun, especially as adults. We go to work, pay bills, fix dinner, clean the house. These jobs are important and boost our quality of life, but most of them aren’t nearly a fun as reading a book, getting a pedicure, or sitting on the beach.
We might avoid a task because it’s complicated or unpleasant. It might simply be a job we hate doing—like filling up the gas in the car. So, what do we do? We put getting gas off until we’re driving on fumes or the car stalls on the side of the road. Now we’re faced with a way bigger problem.
How to Stop: Eat the Frog.
Mark Twain’s well-known quote, “If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first,” applies well; as does the second part of the quote, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen the rest of the day.”
But what do we do instead? We put the frog off until later. We think, “I can’t deal with this right now,” but there’s the little green monster, staring at us, and hanging over our heads. We know our future self must face it, but at least we don’t need to deal with it right this second.
It turns out, we’re not always so kind to our future-selves. In a study where participants were given the option of drinking a not-so-appetizing drink of soy sauce and ketchup now, or a half a cup next week, many participants choose to put the yucky drink off. This process is called temporal discounting. Somehow, the further we are from an unpleasant event, the easier it sounds. This explains a lot about instant gratification and why we agree to lofty commitments like signing up for a 5k in six months (when we’ve never ran a day in our lives).
The truth is, we’re going to face the task whenever the time comes. It’s only going to get more stressful if we’re less prepared or under a time crunch. If we follow the adage of Mark Twain, we might as well get the worst over with now. Do the job and put it behind you.
The good news is, often when we tackle a frog we realize it wasn’t as bad as we’d previously imagined. I know I often marvel at how little jobs I dread end up taking only a few minutes. Sometimes it’s worth those few minutes of pain to experience the relief of putting something unpleasant behind you.
So, eat that frog first thing and then move on to the stuff you’d rather do.
3. There’s No Clear Timeline
Another reason we fall prey to the procrastination bug is simply because we haven’t set up a clear timeline of WHEN we need to complete a task. When we set lofty goals like, “lose 25 pounds” without a clear methodology or timeline, we leave ourselves running off on an endless treadmill going nowhere—we spin our wheels.
Goals without a timeframe (or with a very broad timeframe) give us plenty of time to postpone them and put them off. We figure we’re blessed with all the time in the world, so why do the job today? We know we want to achieve our goal eventually, but wandering without a clear timeline leaves us unfocused and lost.
Many “annual” goals fall into this category. If we think we’d like to achieve a task in the next year, but don’t set up a plan, we may find ourselves scrambling in month 11. As the old saying goes, those who fail to plan, plan to fail.
How to Stop: Set SMART Goals (Emphasis on the T)!
SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. Keeping goals in this category is VITAL if you want to crush them. Often, we assume all goals automatically fall into these parameters, but, it’s actually quite rare.
Think about the goals you’ve set—maybe it’s a financial goal, a fitness goal, a goal for a project around your home, or in your business—without a clear end date on the goal, it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s hard to know what you’re working towards.
Similarly, if one of the best ways to achieve a goal is to break the big goal down into smaller, manageable components. Assign a timeframe to each one of these steps as well.
For example, if you’d like to commit two hours a week to your goal, break it down even further—could you dedicate 20 minutes per day? Suddenly when we work on our goals for small chunks of time, they become much more manageable. As the end of the week approaches, you’ll know if you need to factor in a little more time to hit your two-hour goal (or if you’re on track).
Time is one of those factors we can’t control, but we can learn to maximize. If time seems to escape you or inexplicably disappear, take back your time. Plan out specific blocks to work on what you need to do. Set a timer. Check in with yourself frequently—are you on task? If you can’t stay within your time frame, break it down even further. What will you do in the next ten minutes to achieve a task? The next? And so on….
Get time back on your side by making your goals SMART. Keep them time-bound!
4. We’re Not Ready to Do Our Best
We’ve all put off a job because we don’t feel like we’re ready to do our best. Maybe we’re not sure we are able to do it at all or maybe we know it’s a job we struggle with.
Everyone likes to do tasks they rock at. We gravitate toward tasks we know we’ll tackle and slay easily. We all love to feel successful and awesome at everything we do.
But guess what? None of us are awesome at Every. Single. Thing. None of us.
We all struggle with certain tasks and we all fall flat on our faces sometimes. It’s not fun, and it may compel us to avoid the jobs we don’t feel like we do well. This avoidance becomes procrastination. We put tasks off because we don’t want to face our insecurities. We don’t want to do it because we know it’s hard and we aren’t sure we can do our best.
How to Stop: Aim for Progress Not Perfection
Let go of perfection. So many of us put such high expectations on ourselves. We expect more of ourselves than we would of a friend, a colleague or our spouse. We feel like we’re failing if everything in our house isn’t Pinterest-perfect. We beat ourselves up over the extra 10 pounds, the disorganized cupboards or a less-than-ideal work outcome.
We are all works in progress. Life is long and full of opportunities to learn, grow and keep learning. To get over a fear of not doing or being our best, we must embrace experiences as learning opportunities.
Look at athletes. Do you think Olympic ice skaters or gymnasts are able to land every jump on the first attempt? Of course not! When we see them in competition they’re at the pinnacle of their careers. They’ve practiced every day for hours and hours to get there. Even then, they still make mistakes. There is only one gold medalist.
Rather than expecting you’ll be wildly success on your first attempt, just give it your best effort and move through it. View this as a first attempt and tell yourself you can always go back later and amend or smooth it out later. Let yourself get started and produce something—even if it’s not perfect or the best. Put forth a good effort, work hard, but don’t weigh yourself down with perfection.
None of us are perfect. We’re all still learning as we go.
5. We’re Bothered by Distractions
Sometimes procrastination is simply a symptom of being distracted. There’s a lot going on in your life. You care for your kids, a spouse. Maybe you answer to a boss, run a business and face other major responsibilities. You’re committed to your kid’s school, your parent groups, friends, social circles. It’s a lot.
It’s easy to address the squeaky wheels in our lives. We see them, hear them and know we need to take care of them. The quieter pieces are no less important, but they fall by the wayside and go under the radar.
We might put off caring for ourselves. We might put off following up on a lead or taking care of a bill. Maybe we don’t fill out paperwork or check our budgets, worry about our savings or do preventative maintenance. Why? Because it’s not squeaking right now.
These tasks hang over us. We know we need to get them finished and may even feel bad we never seem to find the time. When the time comes to face the job though, distractions get in the way.
How to Stop: Simplify, Focus and Time-Block
Simplifying our lives will help us manage the important stuff. In our busy lives, there’s so much “noise” and so many jobs to keep up with. It’s easy to feel distracted when we’re constantly bombarded, our schedules are full and our spaces are cluttered.
Decluttering, simplifying, and essentially “getting down to brass tacks” helps us find more focus. A clear, quiet space to work will help us become more productive. A block of time scheduled where we dedicate ourselves to the task at hand helps us accomplish far more than “multitasking.”
Time-blocking is a method of breaking down our schedules into 15, 20 or 30-minute blocks. During each block, we focus on a singular task. Setting a timer will help keep you focused and on-task. Keep your blocked appointments as you would keep any meeting or obligation in your Life Planner.
If you’re sitting down to do deskwork and find yourself tempted by the siren song of the internet, using software to block distractions will help. There are apps and tools such as StayFocusd, Freedom, Forest and Inbox Pause to help you temporarily block access to websites, email or your phone if you need an extra layer of focus assistance.
Figure out what conditions you work best under. Do you need quiet? Do you prefer a clear desk? Do you need bright light or do you prefer soft lighting? Aim to set your workspace up to be as ideal and motivating as possible to help you stick to the task at hand.
Procrastination is a common challenge. Whether you find yourself distracted or you’re avoiding tackling a job out of fear, expectations or general overwhelm, it’s time to get it under control! We all battle procrastination sometimes and we may even tell ourselves we work better under pressure.
In reality, doing activities at the last minute doesn’t allow us to reach our full potential. Procrastination causes us to feel stressed out, frazzled and frustrated.
Give yourself time to really dedicate to getting your goals and tasks achieved. Stop procrastination in its tracks so you get more accomplished today!