It’s that time of year when you’ve set yourself some new goals and not like last year, this time you will achieve them – or not! You find the weeks fly by, and all those new year’s resolutions have fallen by the wayside. You just didn’t get around to making them happen. In fact, you probably found yourself procrastinating.
One of the biggest obstacles to achieving your goals is a failure to take any kind of follow up action. You know what you should do, but instead you procrastinate.
Procrastination is the art of keeping up with yesterday – Don Marquis
Procrastination kills dreams
What happens with procrastination is, you know what you ought to be doing, but you are unable to bring yourself to do it. You have good intentions but, you fail to act. For most people, the term procrastination brings up thoughts of feeling inadequate, anxious or even stupid. These words imply a value judgment that says; if you procrastinate, you are lazy, bad, or even useless which brings with it a feeling of being worthless.
Putting off a task isn’t always procrastination; it may simply be that you are good at time management, and prioritize tasks well, yet occasionally you slip up.
If you find yourself procrastinating from time to time, you are not alone. Most people procrastinate at some time in their lives. It is when you are chronically affected by procrastination that it stops you fulfilling your potential.
By understanding why it happens and taking active steps to manage tasks accordingly, you will achieve success.
The danger with procrastination is, some people become such chronic procrastinators, they fail to achieve anything of significance in their lives. To successfully reach your goals, you must develop the ability to recognize procrastination for what it is, and to act before the habit strips away opportunities or damages your business, career and relationships.
Symptoms of procrastination
You avoid starting a task or project by distracting yourself by doing something you like doing, watching TV, playing video games, talking on the phone. You might complete parts of a task or project you like and avoid the parts you don’t like.
Pretending that procrastination is not actually procrastination and that what you have to do is more important.
You avoid making difficult decisions and become paralyzed having to decide between alternative choices.
Simply being too lazy to do what you should be doing. You act by ignoring a task or project and assume it will go away.
Rewarding yourself by doing something you would rather do, than do what you should be doing. You are so busy with unimportant things that it is hard to get important work done.
Pretending that the task at hand is not important therefore it’s an excuse not to start. You deceive yourself into believing that a mediocre performance or lesser standards are acceptable. “Near enough is good enough”.
You tell yourself that repeated or minor delays are harmless – deadlines don’t matter, do they?
Not taking the task seriously and making a joke about procrastinating to justify not taking action.
Claiming that the task set isn’t fair. Telling yourself you work better under pressure by leaving the task to the last minute (like scramming before an exam.) You might blame others for the circumstances you are in so you don’t have to take any responsibility for your own behavior
Lack of commitment
You make big plans but rarely carry them out. You dramatize your commitment to goals, a task or project then don’t do anything about it.
The procrastination cycle
You would think that procrastination would make your life easier. Instead it usually adds stress, dis-organization and often leads to a failure to achieve your goals. What happens is:
- You know you should do something and you say to yourself “I must start!”
- You delay by telling yourself you’ll do that later. However, you don’t do it later.
- You delay some more because it becomes harder to get motivated to start.
- Now you become self-critical saying “I should have started sooner.”
- You find excuses why you couldn’t start. “I had to call my mother,” – “My best friend needed me they were having a crisis,” – “It’s just not the right time.”
- You delay even more and then start to feel guilty or stressed out.
- Finally, it becomes so urgent it has to be done. Now you just want to get it out of the way and do it any old way in haste. You feel guilty again, because you didn’t do a very good job.
- You might tell yourself – I don’t have time or I can’t do this.
Then, you feel even more stress. As a result……
- You berate yourself with “There’s something wrong with me”.
- Then you justify the procrastination process by saying – “It wasn’t important. It didn’t matter anyway.”
- If you didn’t take action towards achieving your goals, you might tell yourself – “I’m not good enough, so why bother!”
- You tell yourself you will never procrastinate again.
- Then you procrastinate again and the cycle repeats itself.
The smart thing to do would be to simply do what you needed to, when you need to do it. But you don’t. You prolong the agony and put it off, again. (Sound familiar?)
Why we procrastinate
Procrastination can be quite complex as it involves emotions, attitudes, skills, thoughts and subconscious reactions that you may not even be aware of. Some of the reasons for procrastinating are:
Lack of relevance
If something is not personally relevant or meaningful, you might find it difficult to get motivated and start something. If you’ve been assigned a task and it doesn’t interest you or you find it boring, you will probably not be motivated to get started.
If you are uncertain of what you have to do or what is expected of you, this will cause you to delay starting a task or project.
Fear of Failure
The fear of failure might cause you to procrastinate. If you have high expectations of yourself and unless you can achieve that level of success, you might put off taking action because you don’t want to fail. If you strive for something and don’t achieve it, you might think of yourself as a failure. It’s safer to not try in the first place.
Fear of the unknown
You might be reluctant to try something new. It can be scary to try something new or venture into the unknown as you don’t know what will happen or how well you will do. So this fear causes you to delay taking action until you really have to.
You spend so much time worrying about having to do a task rather than starting it or completing it.
Your inner voice limits your thinking. You don’t believe you will succeed or you don’t believe you have the skills so you delay or don’t start at all.
If you set your standards so high that they are unreachable, you might be discouraged from starting in the first place. You worry that you won’t live up to other people’s expectations, or your own. You strive for perfection so if a task can’t be completed perfectly, you won’t start.
Not having the right skills
If you don’t have the right skills through lack of training or you don’t have the right resources, this can cause you to either delay starting a project or avoiding it altogether.
Sometimes setting a goal, a task or project is so overwhelming you don’t know where to start.
Types of procrastinators
Behavioral procrastinators have simply adopted and reinforced a bad habit. This is easily fixed by learning to manage time well, avoiding distractions and breaking tasks or projects down into bite sized pieces.
Psychologists have discovered that emotional procrastinators suffer from anxiety, fear of failure or a lack of conscientiousness or impulsiveness. People who feel an intense pressure to succeed and a fear of failure are likely to feel overwhelmed by pressure or time frames. Often they don’t have any clear goals, they feel dissatisfied with accomplishments, blame others or have perfectionist expectations.
Anxious procrastinators often feel both an intense pressure to succeed along with a fear of failure. These people feel overwhelmed by pressures, are unrealistic about time, uncertain about goals, dissatisfied with accomplishments, indecisive, are blaming of others or circumstances for failures, lacking in confidence and, often have perfectionist expectations.
These people think that their worth is determined by what they do. They are often afraid of being judged and found wanting. Thus, this kind of procrastinator will get over-stressed and over-worked until he or she escapes the pressure temporarily by trying to relax. But any enjoyment by relaxing gives rise to guilt and more apprehension.
According to Neil Fiore in his 1989 book Conquering Procrastination, if the work pressure is already too great, exhorting the anxious procrastinator to “try harder,” “get yourself organized,” “this is a tough job, so don’t put it off,” or “no friends and no fun ‘til the work is done” is counterproductive. Such typical advice only increases the pressure and unpleasant feelings about the task to be done. This kind of procrastinator must reduce the unpleasantness of the task and then, he or she will get it done.
Relaxed procrastinators are often dismissive of their work. They live in constant denial, avoiding challenging tasks by concentrating on other distracting activities. They tend to live in the moment by “going with the flow.” They chase a happy life, rather than chasing their dreams.
These procrastinators are impulsive, are often unable to delay gratification of pleasure and lack of self-control. They may be anti-authoritarian and therefore avoid meeting external demands (from the boss, a teacher, a university lecturer or even a parent). Relaxed procrastinators may lack motivation, energy or organization.
This work-avoiding, pleasure-seeking procrastinator will not feel much pressure to change, unless he or she is confronted with a crisis. This may be failing a course, a serious reprimand from the boss, or a fractured relationship. As with the smoker who needs a cancer scare or the obese person who needs a heart attack, unless a pleasure-seeking procrastinator can change of his or her own volition, it will take a crisis to bring him or her to attention.
Escape from reality
In recent years, most psychologists have come to believe that procrastination can best be understood by identifying the emotion associated with or underlying the behavior.
Essentially, procrastination is an attempt to cope with our fears. Procrastinators may be afraid of failure, scared of success, terrified of authority, afraid of losing control, worried about the future. They may feel panic when set what they think is an impossible task. Each procrastinator will develop and respond to his or her own specific fears. In varying degrees, we are all afraid of facing reality – life’s challenges, the hard work and frustrations ahead of us. Procrastination is an escape from these realities, these fears.
In his book, Do It Now: How to Stop Procrastinating, Dr William Knaus describes three kinds of common diversions:
- Action cop-outs. You are doing something that isn’t a priority, such as cleaning out the office, making coffee, watching TV, eating, playing, sleeping. You become engrossed in the diversion, blocking out the anxiety, self-doubts, anger, or boredom associated with the work you are putting off.
- Mental excuses. You put things off with, “I’ll do it tomorrow” or “I do my best work late at night, I’ll do it then.” An unimportant activity takes priority over the unpleasant task: “I can’t work with a messy desk, so I’ll clean that now and do the report afterwards.” Or you maintain a defeatist attitude, telling yourself, “I could never win that promotion anyway” or “I want to go out with Samantha/Samuel but he/she would never look twice at me. It’s impossible, so why should I try?”
- Emotional diversions. You watch TV, drink alcohol, take drugs, listen to music, read novels, absorb yourself in your social life to escape from unpleasant but important tasks. Sometimes worrying about a speech or some other activity is an excuse, (“I worried so much about it that I couldn’t concentrate!”) and this becomes a poor substitute for working on the important task.
One of the best ways to overcome procrastination is to forgive yourself. This is important because guilt is associated with procrastination which is a negative feeling. Having negative feelings can be a roadblock to overcoming procrastination. When you forgive yourself for past inadequacies, you give yourself permission to start again without guilt. Starting again with a positive attitude lets you just get on with it without having to reason why, or why not.
On a final note
If you have a powerful and compelling WHY, you are less likely to procrastinate and more likely to achieve your goals.
In a Nutshell
Procrastination kills dreams.
Symptoms of procrastination:
- Other rewards
- Delaying tactics
- Using humour
- Making excuses
- Lack of commitment
Why we procrastinate
- Lack or relevance
- Fear of failure
- Fear of the unknown
- Limiting beliefs
- Not having the right skills
- Feeling overwhelmed