Procrastination affects us all – it is not only the stack of unopened mail, the size 8 garments hanging in your wardrobe when you’re now a size 12, that phone call you dread but know you should make or that deadline imposed on you by your boss that is creeping up on you; but more often than not procrastination involves beneficial or exciting activities that have slipped down your list of priorities. Such activities include going to the gym more, combating a phobia, taking up a new sport or hobby, meeting up with old friends, or even a pamper day with just you time.
It may help you to know that 9 in 10 people procrastinate in at least one area of their life and research from the late 90s shows that as much as 20% of successful business people still squander away their time procrastinating and an enormous 60% of university students do the same.
I have written this series to help diminish your procrastination impulses allowing you to take charge of your life furthering your achievement of everything you not only desire but deserve as well. Procrastination can affect all ages from all walks of life however the coping strategies that I have set out throughout the series will not only educate you but provide you with options and choices in assisting you to minimise if not eradicate the effect that procrastination has on your life.
Please make sure you follow the exercises in this series in the order they are presented, practice each technique until it becomes routine and then, and only then, begin on the next.
Procrastination simply means to put off something until tomorrow, it comes from the Latin pro meaning forward and crastinate which means tomorrow; however for most of us tomorrow never comes and we spend our lives needlessly postponing, delaying and avoiding that which we should have done today. Procrastination itself is comprised of two components – the first part is an impulse to delay normally governed by mood or anxiety and the second part comes from your inner critic which reassures you that your reasoning for delay is acceptable. Therefore one can look at procrastination as having both an active and passive phase, however these phases in themselves often take more brain power and time than if we had carried out the original activity. This in turn makes us operate ineffectively which for some people can result in negative consequences.
You may have heard that the best solution to overcome procrastination is to simply jump in with both feet and action the task now. More often than not this is simple to say but much harder to do. Such advice is rarely sufficient in breaking the procrastination habit because of its many complex features. The first and best step to overcoming procrastination is acceptance that you have a problem and a positive intention to establish control over such. To assist you in the first step towards breaking your procrastination habit follow this 6-step process as bullet pointed below.
- Stop and take stock of the Big Picture goal then break the task ahead into baby steps and action only the very first goal
- Resist the urge to deviate from the list of steps that you created in step 1 and re-affirm that you are committed to completing the task
- Reflect on those inner voices creating excuses and justifications to not complete the task and accept that your subconscious is trying to help you but again re-affirm your commitment to carrying out the task.
- Use logic and reasoning to understand that the justifications and excuses in step 3 or just a delay tactic and counteract this with three positive statements about why you need to finish the task and how it will feel to have stuck by your word.
- Review the baby steps needed to complete your task and once you have completed the first one set the rest in motion.
- Reward yourself by completing any procrastination tactic only when you have completed all steps of your original task.
Through these self-regulating actions you will train yourself to overcome procrastination. Do not be too hard on yourself as even with this technique improvements of 10% each time you employ the technique means that you are well on your way to progressive mastery over procrastination.
In the meantime, for those procrastination moments that you have yet to get a handle on, it would be useful for you to diarise in a journal what they are so that we can analyse them later during this series. The questions to ask yourself in the journal are:
- What activity have I put off?
- Why have I delayed this activity?
- What was my feeling during the delay?
- What were my thoughts when I first put off my task?
- What were my justifications after I entered the cycle of procrastination?
- What was my outcome?
These journal exercises have been used by thousands of clients and although time-consuming are a surprisingly effective way to pattern interrupt the automatic procrastination processes thus enabling you a better understanding of why you do what you do and the triggers behind it.
The overall objective from this exercise is to move away from subjective action and see beyond your automatic processes and allow you with the aid from information gathering exercises later in the series to create an action plan finally curbing your procrastination.
It is really important during these exercises not to be too hard on yourself, often procrastinators are either highly sensitive people or often put in situations where they are blamed. Such environments put people in positions where they self-label themselves “stupid”, “slow” or “less than” which only increases negative feelings such as humiliation and low self-esteem.
Do make sure that you re-affirm to yourself while following this series that procrastination is no more than a habit, it is not something that you intentionally created, it took hold gradually over time and likewise takes time and effort to reverse. You are not alone in being a procrastinator however you are already on your first step to overcoming this challenging part of your life.
Before we finish this article, I’d like you to write out three action steps that you can take now to help you on your way, whether that is buying a journal, becoming more aware of your feelings and thoughts, taking half an hour out once a week to follow the series or listing the reasons that cause you to procrastinate.
I look forward to working with you throughout this series.
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