People procrastinate because their drive to delay is irrationally stronger than their drive to act. This happens when their self-control and motivation are weakened by issues like exhaustion and are opposed by issues like fear. There are many reasons why people procrastinate with some being feeling overwhelmed, unable to reprioritise, low energy, a problematic environment, anxiety or even holding a sense of perfectionism.
Procrastination is a trap many people fall into, and it can become a habit. It is often confused with laziness, but they are very different. Procrastination is an active process – you choose to do something else instead of the task that you know you should be doing. In contrast, laziness suggests apathy, inactivity and an unwillingness to act.
If we procrastinate over a long period of time, we can become demotivated and disillusioned with our work which can lead to depression and even job loss, in extreme cases. As most habits it is possible to overcome procrastination. There are a multitude of strategies that can shift procrastination behaviours. A few of my favourites are to:
1: Reconnect to a higher purpose
What is the intention or deeper significance in doing this? As Simon Sinek reminds us, it’s “the compelling higher purpose that inspires us and acts as the source of all we do.” Also recognise that you are procrastinating and understand the reasons why. For instance, are you avoiding a particular task because you find it boring or unpleasant? If so, take steps to get it out of the way quickly, so that you can focus on the aspects of your job that you find more enjoyable. Then you can reconnect to the fun or more meaningful part of your work.
Visualization is important because it helps to prepare and teach us how to respond to a situation before it happens. For example, bringing the future into the present. Visualize the task, and then visualize yourself working through it to completion. Visualization helps you achieve your goals by conditioning your brain to see, hear and feel the success in your mind. A visual board of projects with steps to completion, as well as the important column of “Done” is also a visualizing strategy.
3: Start with easy
Starting is very often the hardest part, so we procrastinate. In her book The Long Game: How to Be a Long-Term Thinker in a Short-Term World one of the strategies Dorie Clark shares to get started on projects that feel overwhelming, is to “trick ourselves” with an easy behaviour change. Instead of focusing on the enormous task ahead, Clark says to create “tiny habits” that are “so minuscule and doable that they’re impossible to resist”. The goal for any activity that feels overwhelming, or where you feel nervous or fearful is to lower the bar. Break down the task into easy-to-achieve steps and find a small way to begin that does not require a lot of motivation. Then once a behaviour is started, it becomes easier to keep going. Getting started is all that’s needed, and motivation and momentum build from there.
4: Change it up
Changing up the environment in which you work can interrupt the procrastination cycle and help you find focus. And, by the way, this also satisfies the brain’s need for novelty. What would you add or change in your environment?
5: MITs – Most Important Tasks
Stephen Covey talks about setting your MITs for the day – your Most Important Tasks. This has been one of the single most effective tools that I teach my clients when they are in ‘’overwhelm mode’’.
- Write down on a piece of paper everything you need to do. Leave nothing off the list – this is about getting them your head onto paper
- Get them to go through the list and pick out their top 3 priorities. This is called the JUST 3 Rule.
- Once they have their top 3 priorities, they can start working on the priority, and then the next and only focus on ONE thing at a time.
- When you have finished those three, stop, take a break and get on with the rest of your day.
- Start tomorrow with the same practice as doing three important things each day can help limit anxiety and procrastination.
Procrastination can restrict your potential and undermine your career. It can also disrupt teamwork, reduce morale, and even lead to depression and job loss. So, it’s crucial to take proactive steps to prevent it.