Dr. Angela Hanford
There’s nothing quite like the feelings associated with finishing an arduous task. Human beings work in a variety of ways, whether at home, outdoors, in an office, using your hands, or sitting at a desk in front of a computer all day – our work contributes to a sense of purpose and wellbeing, not to mention fulfilling practical needs. In contrast, knowing that we have a large task in front of us that we keep putting off can create worry and dread.
Knowing how important or valuable work is, does not always get us excited about the process of completing this work. Many times we have a tough time trying to motivate ourselves to get up and get to work, let alone working when we get there. Procrastination can be a major challenge that we face.Procrastination is when you put off tackling an important task that you know requires your attention. Procrastination can take different forms. Some people procrastinate in starting tasks, focusing on less important tasks to divert themselves from what they know they should be focusing on.
So instead of starting your work, you may tidy your desk, or perform other simple tasks that merely delay starting the job you know you should be tackling. For other people, their procrastination kicks in when it comes to completing the tasks they have before them, and they struggle with handing a completed project over.
This delay in starting or completing tasks is not the same thing as laziness, although sometimes the way people talk about procrastination makes it sound that way. A procrastinator isn’t lazy; they struggle with taking on tasks they know have priority and getting them done and handed over. It may be due to perfectionism, fear of failure, or a combination of both.
Why procrastination hurts you
As one can imagine, procrastination has many consequences. It can have a negative effect on your work performance. By starting late due to self-imposed delays, you likely will not do your best work. This is especially the case if you have a deadline for your task. Some people perform well under time constraints, but there’s no doubt that having time to look through your work and correct anything amiss is better than a last-minute dash to the finish line.
The stress or anxiety associated with these last-minute rushes to complete a project can also be distressing. Studies have shown that prolonged stress has a negative effect on physical and emotional health. Therefore, it is important to take steps to manage stressors, including the stress associated with procrastination.
Even with tasks that have no deadline, letting work linger can make it even more daunting to begin, not to mention the low-key stress of constant reminders that you still must finish your task.
Additionally, if procrastination makes it difficult for you to complete tasks ahead of time or by making you complete tasks late, others may have a more difficult time trusting that you will come through with promised tasks. Thus, there can be relational consequences to procrastination.
Moving past procrastination
Procrastination stands in the way of you starting and completing your tasks well and on time. Being able to overcome procrastination will help you enormously as you tackle tasks more efficiently and make way for other things you need to do. However, overcoming procrastination is not always easy and takes time to establish new patterns. Here are five tips for overcoming procrastination.
1. Just do it.
It may sound simplistic, and in some ways, it is, but the first tip is to buckle down and start working on whatever it is you’re avoiding. You’re going to deal with it sooner than later, so it’s better to do it now. Get started on your task as soon as possible and finish it in a suitable time if you can help it.
It might be helpful to break down the task into smaller steps if the task feels too overwhelming. Another approach is to set a timer for 30 minutes and then schedule a 10-minute break, repeating until the task is completed. Sometimes simply stating that you are procrastinating can be enough to make you consciously push through.
2. Label avoidance behaviorsSometimes people procrastinate as a way to avoid the stress or anxiety that accompanies a task. Ultimately this coping strategy is not very helpful, as you can imagine. Instead, recognize that what you are doing is avoiding the emotional distress and take steps to come with those emotions.
Examples of other ways to cope with the stress associated with the task are deep breathing, relaxation, and making sure that you notice if you are catastrophizing a situation. The goal is to push through behaviors that are contributing to why you are procrastinating.
3. Be willing to try and fail.
One reason that can sometimes be behind procrastination is the desire for perfection and the fear of failure to achieve it. If you want to do something perfectly, that can make the beginning stages daunting to the point of paralysis. Additionally, if you’re afraid of failure, starting the task may feel difficult.
Being willing to try and fail while simply doing your best can take the pressure off a little. Instead of aiming for perfection, doing your best, being faithful, and shooting for “good enough” can get you over the hurdle of procrastination. We can accomplish amazing things, and that’s one of the wonders of human beings, but we can’t be perfect. Recognizing this relieves a lot of pressure to accomplish such a lofty goal.
4. Break down your tasks into manageable sizes.Procrastination can set in when tasks are large and seem overwhelming. Where do you even begin? Rather than simply beginning, we get daunted by it, and we may opt to put it off until we feel up to it.
Instead of going about it that way, sit down with the task, and break it down into its constituent parts. Those smaller parts will be more manageable, and you can get to work chipping away at the mammoth task ahead of you by taking small steps. When you see a clear path to accomplishing your goal, it can give you confidence.
5. Get serious about accountability.
Lastly, you can motivate yourself in several ways to get work done promptly. For example, you can set yourself goals with rewards attached to them. If you start the task as soon as possible or finish the task on time, you can reward yourself.
For example, if you’re trying to get healthy, you can set yourself the goal of getting a workout in every day for a month, and once you’ve accomplished that, you can take yourself out and treat yourself to a new set of clothes or whatever seems appropriate. Having a goal to work toward with a reward attached to it can be a significant source of motivation, and you’ll stay on track because you want to meet your goal and receive the reward.
Another possibility for accountability is to bring someone else in who will keep you on task. Getting someone you take seriously to check in with you on your progress is enough for some people to get to work and get things done on time. This may be a colleague or friend, but a life coach can also help check in with you that you’ve completed the tasks you set for yourself.
You can stop procrastinating
Procrastination stands in the way of doing your work well, but it doesn’t have to be that way. If you need additional help understanding and navigating procrastination, consider finding a counselor who can walk with you on your journey to overcoming procrastination.
Not only are they able to help you identify those areas where you tend to procrastinate the most, but they can lead to discovering why you procrastinate, keep you accountable, and help you learn tools to begin acting promptly and beating procrastination.
“If Not Now When”, Courtesy of Brett Jordan, Pexels.com, CC0 License; “Raindrops”, Courtesy of Aaron Burden, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Checklist”, Courtesy of Glenn Carstens-Peters, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Old Stone Path”, Courtesy of Zosia Korcz, Unsplash.com, CC0 License