Why do I procrastinate? Even worse, why do allow procrastination to come back when I know it causes me so much anxiety? I know what I need to do, but I don’t do it.
Or I wait until the last minute. Time and time again, the pattern repeats itself.
Caught, trapped in a whirlwind of anxiety, stress and procrastination.
I tell myself that I procrastinate because I am disorganized, or lazy, or because I don’t care enough!
But I know that isn’t true. Most of the time, nothing could be further from the truth.
I am smart enough. And I am capable. And I am hardworking but can’t get things done on time and can’t seem to figure out why.
If you are reading this, the chances are that like me. You don’t consider procrastination as an ally.
For me, procrastination leads to nothing but anxiety, disappointment and embarrassment for me.
So, if that is all procrastination gives me, then why is changing it so darn hard? Could it be that like most things, there are also benefits to procrastination?
Active and passive procrastinators
I have friends who delay tasks deliberately because they like to feel under pressure.
That sense of challenge from an approaching deadline. They thrive on the adrenaline rush and buzz that comes with getting things done right at the wire.
These masochists are addicted to the challenge, and they don’t want to change. Call them active procrastinators.
Active procrastinators are comfortable because they feel in control of their time. They have lower stress levels than passive procrastinators.
So while they put things off, they get things done. Unlike passive procrastinators, they don’t freeze by worry and indecision.
I identify more with the passive procrastinator. I know how procrastination interferes with my life.
The missed opportunities and the constant stress, anxiety, and guilt. I have tried before but changing is hard.
One of the main barriers to building the motivation to change is that procrastination has some benefits.
Benefits of procrastination
I don’t think of procrastination as having benefits. And most people don’t see that there are a lot of good things about it. We typically think of procrastination as a negative thing.
It can be difficult to see the benefits of procrastination as they are entwined in your psyche, the hidden benefits reduce your motivation to change nonetheless.
Some examples of the benefits of procrastination include:
- Problems sometimes solve themselves without any effort from you.
- The opportunity to defer the less than pleasant tasks in favor of more enjoyable things.
- You can avoid the possibility of failure or success.
- You get to avoid the discomfort associated with doing something you dread.
- Someone may take pity on you and do it for you.
- You get to avoid some or all of the anxiety you feel about doing the task.
- The demands placed on you get reassigned to another because you showed little progress.
It helps to be aware of the benefits of procrastination as you work to turn your habits around.
Cost versus benefit of procrastination
Do you want to build genuine motivation to change? The motivation that will see you through the hard work necessary to achieve your goals? If you do, it can be helpful to conduct a cost versus benefit analysis. You play the costs and benefits of procrastination against each other to see which one wins out.
To do a cost versus benefit analysis, draw a line down the middle of a sheet of paper, dividing it in half. On the left side, put the heading “Costs” and on the right side, put the heading “Benefits”. Under “Costs” list all the drawbacks of avoiding unpleasant tasks. Under “Benefits” list all the benefits of putting things off.
When finished, examine each side. Does Costs or Benefits of procrastinating win? Is your procrastination working against you or for you?
The answer will be different for each person reading this. Are the benefits of procrastination worth the havoc it wreaks on your personal and professional life?
If not, now may be the time to make some changes.
In my case, my procrastination became so severe that it became career hampering. I coped with the stress for ages. It may have hurt my health, but I am sure there were also other potential causes. When my livelihood got threatened, I had to get working on it.
Why do I procrastinate?
I asked myself this question many times. There was a fear of failure coupled with a desire for perfection. My feelings of insecurity would paralyse me especially if it were an important project.
Then I would struggle to complete it fearing that it wasn’t good enough. It had to be flawless.
Rarely was it disorganisation. I had no problem creating a to-do list or checking items off it.
I didn’t consider depression. Feelings such as hopelessness and fatigue were alien to me. Both are hallmarks of depression and depression is demotivating.
You have your reasons for procrastinating, or you wouldn’t do it. Whatever the reasons are, it is a good idea to figure out why you’re doing it. Then you can change your approach to starting and completing tasks.
In addition to hampering your success on the job, procrastination acts as stressors that can cause all sorts of physiological problems. Here are some tricks to help you stay on task.
A change of scenery
I don’t know about you, but my desk is covered with distractions.
Comforts such as pictures and food not to mention vitamins, bills, books I’m supposed to be reading, papers that need signing. Loads of things scattered around me begging for my attention.
What works beautifully for me when I need to get work done is to pick up my laptop and camp out somewhere else.
You might try working somewhere completely out of your element, like a library. I chose quiet coffee shops where no one knows me.
Online distractions destroy your productivity. It is so easy to get consumed by eBay or Facebook and lose hours of your day.
My friend, John, who works from home and never procrastinates has a secret. “Sometimes I unplug my router and put it in a closet.
Then I go back to my computer. I can’t browse or do anything else, so I just work. It’s a pain to go get the router, so I don’t just reconnect.”
I am not that extreme, or maybe I am lazier. My concern is that I might never plug the router back in again. Instead, I put my iPhone on flight mode and close email and messaging on my laptop.
Stop bouncing between projects
It is common for me to have several projects on the go at the same time. But I don’t work through one, finish it and then repeat the process for the next one.
I behave like a moron. I will work on one for a while, then flip over to another, and so on.
As a result, all of them seem to take forever to complete. Prioritise what is urgent to do, then do it without thinking of the side activities.
If none of your projects are urgent, tackle the most difficult one and complete it. The easier ones that follow will seem like a piece of cake in comparison.
Quit social media
Really? What benefit are you getting from Facebook or Twitter other than a point of distraction?
For many folks, social networks are nothing more than a time suck to check into because there’s work waiting to be done.
Keep a detailed to-do list
I used to put a mammoth, multi-component project down as a one line item on my to-do list.
Now I break it down into action items that I can check off frequently. A little thing that I find important when trying to stay in control.
Update your to-do list at a minimum once every day. If you don’t then you are wasting more time.
Figure out which tasks you don’t like doing and why
Thinking about the reasons you’re putting things off is particularly effective. A frequent one for me was boredom.
Come on, the same weekly and monthly reports that no one ever comments on!
When you write it down, it helps to almost get it out like a confessional type of thing, like therapy.
Then you can try to look and find help for how to overcome that.
Don’t expect perfection
Stating the obvious, if the task is for a client, this doesn’t apply. But how many mundane things are sitting in the queue, waiting for you?
Sometimes getting 80 percent of tasks done is better than not at all.
It is like saying you want to run a mile. Getting off the couch and merely walking half a mile is better than staying glued to the couch and not running at all.
Tell someone you respect when you’ll finish
Absolutely love this one. I term it my accountability partner. I tell them my task and my deadline so they can check progress. And I do the same for them.
What makes it work for me is that my accountability partner is very competitive and I don’t want to look bad by not completing my task.
If I avoid them, my accountability partner will chase me for progress so I can’t ever evade the topic. Oh, bugger!
Drop a comment below, and let me know how you avoid procrastinating and keep yourself on track. Want to find more time in your day? Find out here.