Don’t we all at some point happily (but remorsefully) put off today what we can do tomorrow or the next day or the day after that?
When we have deadlines looming, don’t most of us at some point, clean our kitchens, reorganise our bookshelves or find other ‘more important’ distractions that keep us on a knife edge of anxiety and at arms length from our projects?
Procrastination is that odd combination of lethargy co-mingled with guilt so that a vicious cycle gets created where the more guilt we feel, the more our lethargy grows. It gets harder and harder to feel any motivation at all for the stuff that really does have to get done.
What sits behind procrastination?
For some people, they actually like to work under the cosh, stay up all night and get things done fuelled by coffee and adrenaline. I used to be like that but eventually, that just became too wearing and I found I was much happier doing things way ahead of the deadline and then cleaning my kitchen.
For some people, they are afraid of the responsibility and the potential fallout if things don’t go well. I’ve seen this with people who look as though they are dithering, when really, it’s the fear around the reaction to the result that keeps them stuck.
Alongside this there are some people who are such perfectionists that this fuels their fear of starting something because it won’t live up to their high (and usually) impossible expectations.
For some, they are so used to being in a state of crisis that not completing something keeps them caught up in the drama of it all. I know people who seem to exist in a perpetual state of catastrophe and spend inordinate amounts of time and energy in a near state of hysteria which of course stops them from completing what needs to be done.
For others, sometimes the projects are boring, tedious, unexciting and it’s easy to let them drift to the bottom of the pile.
Whatever the cause, the vicious cycle doesn’t help.
Maybe because I grew up in a deadline-driven world (my parents were actors) and I worked in the performing arts for years, I’m not too much of a procrastinator. Work deadlines are always met no matter what it takes. However, I have been known to put off doing things in my personal life that aren’t crucial but they weigh heavily on my conscience.
Here are a few tricks I’ve used to help me overcome the stupor that descends when faced with an unwanted but necessary task or even a wanted and necessary task.
Call a friend. I do this a lot. When I am faced with what eventually becomes an onerous job, I have a friend come over to help me. This friend has been known to actually physically help me and she’s great at asking probing questions so I have to get my thoughts in order.
Treat yourself first. Most of the things that people do to distract themselves are other seemingly less arduous tasks but they are often done to salve one’s conscience by being useful (like cleaning the kitchen). I like the idea of letting myself off the hook by doing something fun. Doing something fun usually creates energy so I can use some of that energy to get going on the thing I’ve been avoiding.
Do something physical. Aside from cleaning, do something physical and fun – go for a walk, garden (if you have a garden), play tag with a child, kick a football, do some yoga – just about anything that shifts your physical dynamic so that you stop feeding the lassitude and start getting extra oxygen to your brain.
Do it in bite-size chunks. By the time we’ve created some energy to reinvigorate our fatigued minds and face the job at hand, it can then feel like an awfully big chore – bigger than before you started putting off doing it. Break it down into smaller jobs and set small targets which will give you more of a sense of accomplishment. When I’m writing my books, I set a daily word count rather than giving myself a chapter goal. It makes my writing go much smoother and like those fitbits that people wear I end up wanting to exceed each day’s word count…and I do.
The most important thing is not to give yourself a hard time for procrastinating.
You have to feed the energy not the guilt.
Check out Impact Factory’s range of courses, all designed to give you energy and motivation.
By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory