My mom once told me a story about her university years. When students were supposed to study for an exam they suddenly found many other interesting and absorbing activities. For example boiling water for tea required a personal chaperon of the kettle throughout the whole heating process. So they stood and stared at the kettle, killing time. Time that was not meant to be killed. Time that was meant to be used for studying.
If you haven’t experienced that, well… lucky you! So called procrastination – delaying, instead of dealing with, an activity – has happened to me multiple times. Last time was this week. I made a horrible error and delivered a piece of writing more then a week after its deadline. It was an exception but it still bothers me. I got mad at myself and decided to analyze why I had procrastinated so much and how to deal with it.
Where is procrastination born?
There is a task at hand that you are committed to deliver – why do you wait until the last seconds to do it or fail to do it at all?
- Trying to meet the expectations of others.
In those rare occasions when I postpone an activity is it that I don’t “feel” the best person to do it or is it that I’m not sure why I should do it? Why did I agree to do it in the first place? Probably it happened under time pressure – I didn’t have time to think it through, overpromised because I wanted to be helpful while underestimating the effort it will take to actually complete the task. It happens only with unusual tasks that I don’t do on a regular basis.
Action plan for the future: if there is something to be done that does not fit in with your every day tasks, take a deep breath and give yourself the time to decide until the next day.
- Crazy imagination at play.
I can recall an image of a cat looking into a mirror and seeing a lion as its reflection. This is how I imagine new tasks I haven’t done before and I have already committed to. They seem very hard and time consuming. Even thinking about it turns my stomach upside down.
Action plan for the future: force yourself to sit down and write down a step-by-step plan for accomplishing the task. If it’s small I may “accidentally” complete it right away. If it’s bigger I will tune my brain to thinking on the right wavelength and make the first step towards completion.
- Waiting for the adrenaline rush.
I would miss this one point if I were not having a conversation today with Mary Joseph (thank you for that). It is highly possible that waiting for the last moment to complete the task gives you an adrenaline shot. With time, working in such a mode becomes addictive. As if working on a proper, safe schedule was not exciting enough to even start doing. I tried cheating myself with fake early deadlines, but it didn’t work.
Action plan for the future: ask around for more answers – maybe you can help me?
One of these tricks can help you deal with the task with enthusiasm and will not let procrastination get to you.
How to overcome procrastination when it has kicked in?
Imagine that you have this pending task, that grows in your mind (in my case it feels more like an apple growing in my throat) what do you do? It is too late to relax and it is time to face it. How to increase gain and reduce pain?
- Look for help
Obviously it is not pleasant to admit that you have failed. But pretending to be on track and ending up past the due date can effect not only your image but also have more serious repercussions. Maybe you can exchange the task for one that is easier for you with another person who has a similar problem with the job they are doing. We tend to stick to short term comfort instead of looking at the long term risks.
- Eat the elephant one bite at a time
This reminds me of a technique for very obese people who need to start working out. First time they go to the gym they get rewarded for just showing up. Next time they can just stand on the treadmill for 20 minutes and get rewarded for that. And so it goes. If your task is a piece of writing – just take a piece of paper and write the first sentence. You may end up writing the whole thing. It is like pushing a heavy object. To get it moving is the hardest part and then it just goes.
- Enjoy the feeling of accomplishment
In a to-do packed every day life we end up seamlessly jumping from one task to another. We may motivate ourselves with stress and anxiety before doing what we planned, but we forget to reinforce positive motivation by congratulating ourselves after accomplishing tasks. This is especially worth trying with those big hairy tasks we struggle to do. Reward yourself nicely when you’ve done the job. Watch a movie, eat a piece of cake or do whatever you like and rarely enjoy doing.
Wow! You made it. This big scary lion of a to-do has now shrunk into a small pussy cat and went to sleep.
Procrastination – why don’t we just call it escaping from responsibility or being lazy and irresponsible.
A fancy name gives it some splendor and makes it easier to talk or even brag about it.
Watch out for the moment that you catch yourself staring at the kettle. Just take a breath and get it done.
Can you relate to this text? Do you have any secret recipes for dealing with procrastination? Share your thoughts!