Procrastination is something that we all struggle with in some form or another. We know that we need to do certain things, but we keep putting them off until some future date or time. It’s a common problem that can lead to stress, anxiety, and even missed opportunities. But why do we do it? And more importantly, how do we overcome it?
The literal meaning of the word procrastinate is to put off until tomorrow. But why do we put things off? There are four main reasons:
- Fear of an unfavorable outcome: Sometimes we delay starting something because we fear that the outcome may not be favorable. For example, we may need to have a difficult conversation, but we put it off because we believe it will be hard to have that conversation. Similarly, we may delay starting the gym because we believe it will be painful.
- Delayed benefit: As humans, we are motivated to do things that have an immediate reward or benefit. When the benefit is far off in the future, we tend to put it off.
- Lack of value: We may not see the value in whatever the task is. For example, we may value spending time with friends and therefore don’t put it off. But we may not find washing clothes pleasurable and see less value in that chore.
- Protection mechanism: Sometimes we use procrastination as a way to protect ourselves. For example, if the task we are about to do is preparing for an important talk, we protect ourselves in the short term by avoiding the fear. But this only puts more pressure on us in the long run.
It’s important to note that sometimes we procrastinate because we are not ready yet. For example, we may still be thinking about the ideas for the talk we need to give. We may not be sure what we want to write the article about. So sometimes procrastination is part of the process.
So how do we overcome procrastination? Here are some strategies:
- Remind yourself of why you are doing the task in the first place and the positive impact it would have on your life.
- Break the task down into smaller, more manageable projects if you are still overwhelmed. For example, if you are writing a book, focus on a chapter. Design the outline for the book. Choose to complete one section of the outline every day.
- Plan and schedule time to do the task you keep putting off.
- Use commitment devices. For example, if you are studying for an exam, commit to sending $100 to a political candidate you don’t like if you don’t study. Or commit to meet a friend at 6:30 three times a week to help you get into the habit of running.
- Use the Fresh Start effect. We often use landmarks like our birthdays, New Year, or anniversaries to start developing new habits. You can use landmark events to help you stop putting things off.
- Remove distractions. Most times when people say they are procrastinating, they are actually distracted. Find a quiet space, free from distractions, and get to work.
Perhaps the most counterintuitive piece of behavior change is the idea that belief precedes action. Often when you are trying to do something you have been putting off, it is best to act first and then you will begin to believe you can do it. You will begin to prove to yourself that you can do it.
If you struggle with procrastination, these are just a few things you might find helpful. Remember that overcoming procrastination is a process, and it takes time and effort to change old habits. But with the right strategies and a willingness to try new things, you can overcome procrastination and achieve your goals.
If you’re serious about taking your productivity to the next level, consider downloading our ebook, “Focus in an Age of Distraction.” This valuable resource provides practical tips and insights on how to structure your life to minimize distractions and maximize focus, so you can become a high performer in all areas of your life.