Beating procrastination – a story of how to keep up, regain confidence, and succeed
Never postponing activities, not avoiding activities in a recurrent manner, and finalizing everything we have in mind in due time would be an ideal of efficiency, both in the working environment and in personal life. However, this desiderate is rarely accomplished, no matter how much we try, and hence, procrastination becomes our greatest enemy.
What is procrastination, after all?
Today, the term is often understood as the intentional act of postponing something that needs to be done. However, this approach is reductionist and, as Kevin Gyoerkoe and Pamela Wiegartz emphasize, it is very important to distinguish between behavioral and decisional procrastination.
The first one comprises simple acts, such as watching TV instead of writing a paper, or going for a walk instead of mowing the lawn. As Gyoerkoe and Wiegartz state, simply putting off a task represents behavioral procrastinating.
One the other hand, decisional procrastination, as defined by the same authors, is associated with anxiety and worrying, and it is disguised in the act of shying away from decisions, or putting off choices.
Where does it come from?
In order to diminish procrastination and its negative effects on our productivity, we should first understand where it comes from. The same authors consider that the main reason is anxiety, which is also caused by a multitude of factors, such as:
- Self-doubt: when you doubt your ability to successfully finish a certain task, you are more likely to procrastinate and to avoid those situations that require creativity and finding solutions;
- Fear of failure: fearing that the final results of your work might not meet expectations can become a real block not only in achieving good results, but even in starting the activity itself. Procrastination interferes as a protection mechanism in front of the possibility of disappointing yourself, or others;
- Fear of success: Gyoerkoe and Wiegartz consider that, as unbelievable as it might seem, procrastination sometimes represents a form of self-sabotage, which appears either when you believe you don’t deserve to be successful, or when you want to avoid the high expectations potentially brought along by the upcoming success;
- Perfectionism: the same authors consider that perfectionism and procrastination work hand in hand: “the higher and more unrealistic the standard, the higher the anxiety that accompanies the task”.
In their book “Procrastination: Why You Do It, what to Do about it Now”, Jane Burka and Lenora Yuen even create the so-called “procrastinator’s code.” Some of the statements included in this code are:
- I must be perfect;
- It’s safer to do nothing than to take a risk and fail;
- If I do well this time, I must always do well;
- If it’s not done right, it’s not worth doing it at all.
What can you do about it?
Just as in all related issues, such as time management, stress management, or setting personal goals, there is no golden rule that will stop you from procrastinating, effective immediately. There are, however, some measures you can take in order to diminish it and to improve your productivity.
First of all, you must admit you are procrastinating, if the case, and you must distinguish very well between procrastinating and prioritizing, for example. Not undertaking a task because an emergency appeared cannot be considered procrastination, as long as you will return to your activities once the emergency was solved, again according to their priority.
Secondly, you have to analyze your behavior and identify the causes behind postponing or avoiding certain activities. Once you managed to identify why you are doing it, adopting some counteracting measures should be simpler.
Specifically, some of the things you could start implementing today and which, taken separately, tackle either one, or more of the above mentioned reasons, are:
- Break the project or activity in multiple tasks, in order to better understand them, visualize them and establish your approach;
- Create a project plan, or a to do list – from corporate projects plans (implemented for tracking the status of your projects at work), to simple tasks, or other aspects put on a piece of paper to help you get clarity about an activity you have long postponed in your personal life, getting more clarity upon what needs to be done will help you approach the issue with a different attitude;
- Start with the activity that gives you the highest amount of comfort, the one that involves using those skills you excel at or, why not, with the most enjoyable one. Once started, you can get motivated by your results in order to keep going;
- Reward yourself for performing the activity or task, always keeping in mind the reason for this reward was finding the inner resources to beat procrastination.
Procrastination is not something one chooses, neither should it be treated easily. It is a matter of motivation, self-confidence, and being disorganized which, if not fought against, might stop you from delivering your projects in due time, and it might negatively impact you, both personally and professionally.
- Burka, J., Yuen, L. (2008), Procrastination: Why You Do It, what to Do about it Now
- Gyoerkoe, K., Wiegartz, P. (2010), The Worrier’s Guide to Overcoming Procrastination