Why We Procrastinate
Procrastination is something most of us do at one time or another and it is a perfectly natural thing to do … except when it inhibits you from doing things that need to get done.
There are many reasons why we procrastinate. Most people put off doing important tasks because of three basic reasons:
- they find the task at hand unpleasant to do
- they feel overwhelmed by the task
- they are disorganized.
Unpleasant to do
Let’s look at each reason to see how to best deal with each one. There isn’t a job around or things in your daily life that doesn’t include having to do some unpleasant tasks. Putting off those tasks won’t make them go away.
Time management experts say the best way to deal with these tasks is to make it a priority to GET THEM DONE and out of the way. That leaves you more time to do the things you enjoy doing and in the end, you get more done during the day.
Some people put off doing certain tasks because they feel overwhelmed by the task(s). Maybe they feel they don’t have the resources or the skills necessary to complete the task at hand.
Some people procrastinate because they are afraid of success! Yes, if they do a good job in a timely manner, they will just get assigned more work.
If a person does not have a system in place to track jobs, tasks and deadlines, it is easy to procrastinate trying to figure out which should be tackled first. This can create a lot of stress if something gets overlooked until right at the last minute before the deadline or the boss pounding on your desk because you missed the deadline. Talk about stress! And the quality of the project usually suffers because the you did not have adequate time left to do a good job.
Symptoms of Procrastination
Let’s look at some of the symptoms of procrastination. These are useful indicators that will help you know if you’re procrastinating or not:
- Filling up your day with low priority tasks from your To Do List while avoiding higher priority ones.
- Reading e-mails several times a day without starting work on them or deciding what you’re going to do with them.
- Sitting down with the intent on starting to work on a high-priority task, but then leaving it to do something else.
- Leaving an important item on your To Do list for a long time, even though you know it’s got to get done soon.
- Agreeing on a regular basis to do unimportant things for other people instead of working on more important tasks of your own.
- Waiting until you’re are in the right mood or until the time is right to work on a task that must get done.
- Believing that you do better work when under pressure to get it done.
- Thinking you can finish it at the last minute.
- Over-analyzing the task in an effort to avoid working on it.
- Having a lack of motivation to get important tasks or projects done.
Does any of this sound like you?
Dealing with Procrastination
Here are some ways to overcome procrastination and to prevent it from happening in the first place.
Get organized – People that manage projects well all have one thing in common – they operate according to prioritized lists. This helps keep them on task as far as getting the things with the closest due date done first.
Break large tasks into smaller pieces – Remember the old adage “How do you eat an elephant? One piece at a time”. Projects or large tasks are the same way. While the task as a whole may seem overwhelming, once you break it down into smaller chunks it becomes more manageable.
Manage your thoughts – If you start to have thoughts of procrastinating, quell them right away before they have a chance to take hold. Start working on the task in question even for a few minutes to reinforce to yourself that you can do it if you just apply yourself.
Eliminate distractions – In an office environment, distractions are all over – especially if you work in a cubicle office setting. Learn to tune out the chatter and noise. Close your computer browser to prevent it from distracting you. Focus on the task at hand and tune everything else out.
Reward yourself– Sometimes it is easier to complete something if you know there is something at the end of it for you. That can be as simple as opening up your browser again, to attending a sporting event, to going out for a nice supper… whatever it is at the end that motivates you to get the task completed.
Boosting Your Motivation
Motivation is like a muscle. And just like a muscle, you have to keep using it for it to stay strong and perform well. Take for example going to the gym to work out. As long as you go on a routine schedule, your motivation to work out stays strong, but as soon as you miss a session or two, your motivation begins to wain and if not corrected, the motivation to not to go to the gym is higher than your desire to go.
Fortunately, if your motivation needs a little boost, here are some things that can help get you back in the groove:
Set small, but measurable goals
Break down a large task that is intimidating you into smaller manageable chunks. Set up a schedule with milestones when each chunk will be completed and check off when done.
Commit goals to paper
Tasks or projects that get written down on paper or in your electronic calendar get accomplished more readily. If you commit something to memory, other things come up that can take priority and your original task takes a backseat or is even forgotten altogether.
Share goals with family and peers
Like committing goals to paper, once you have publicly committed to accomplishing a task by a certain date, you are more apt to complete it by then if nothing else to save face.
Create your own routine
If you don’t already have a routine set up that you follow every day, you should. Routines are habit-forming so once established, they can keep you on track. Just make sure your routine is productive and accomplishes the goals set for that day.
Have a positive mindset
Develop a mantra that you can say to yourself that energizes you if your motivation starts to ebb. It could be as simple as “I’m strong and I can get through this today.”
Face your fears head on
We all have fears of one type of another. Yours may be a fear of failing … or a fear of succeeding. Start by tackling one small task that is holding you back. By finishing that one, you get a boost in confidence to keep going. Now choose a larger one and finish it. Keep doing this until you are tackling larger projects that would have at one time stopped you cold.
Is Procrastination a Mental Illness?
Why do some of us procrastinate and others don’t. Could there be some medical cause for the difference?
It turns out there can be. While procrastination is not a mental illness itself, it can be caused by some mental condition that may be lurking in you undiagnosed.
One such illness is depression. It can cause procrastination in a couple of ways. First because it tends to sap your energy, you don’t feel like doing anything. Second, you have a feeling of helplessness that between the two, cripple you from completing important tasks.
A lot of people do not think this is a mental condition. It becomes a problem when you can’t get something just to the point of being good enough; it has to be perfect. It is also called paralysis-by-analysis. You spend inordinate amount of time trying to perfect a project before turning it in. Non-perfectionists reach a point where they realize the additional amount of time spent on a project is not worth the return on their investment.
You probably know it better as putting off completing a project until the very last minute. Then while under an immense amount of stress, they will knock out the project just to finish it. Usually their performance ends up suffering because the completed project is not as good as it should have been had they started working on it much earlier.
Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder
Known as ADHD, people with this disorder are usually impulsive, easily distractible and poorly organized – the perfect storm for procrastination. They must continually force themselves to get focused back on a project only to become distracted a short time later and go through the process again.
For all of the above mental conditions, there are treatments in the form of therapy, and in some cases medications, that can help ease symptoms and the tendency to procrastinate.
We need to learn how to take massive action and learn how to get motivated to avoid procrastination and get those things done.