Does this sound familiar to you? You wake up in the morning, have your coffee, read your list of things to do today, then either start dealing with your email and social media accounts, or go back to bed if it is the weekend. Is this procrastination, or a more serious problem?
It is okay to have a “lay day” once in a while, but if your to-do list is getting longer all the time, with nothing being crossed off as complete, it has become a negative pattern that needs to be addressed.
In this guide we will discuss what procrastination is, why it happens, and effective solutions for it. Let’s look first at what it is and why.
What is Procrastination & Why Does it Happen?
Dictionary.com defines procrastination as, “the act or habit of procrastinating, or putting off or delaying, especially something requiring immediate attention.” It comes from the Latin pro-, forward, and cras, tomorrow. The old adage, “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today,” is not one that procrastinators take seriously.
So why do people drag their heels on projects they need to complete, especially ones with a looming deadline?
People procrastinate for a variety of reasons, including:
- Fear of failing
- Fear of succeeding
- Fear of rejection
- Poor organizational skills
- Lack of focus and concentration
- Lack of self-esteem
- Lack of motivation
Let’s discuss each of these in turn and offer some specific tips about how to deal with them. If you recognize yourself as a procrastinator, these tips should help you solve your procrastination problem.
Fear of Failing
Procrastinators may sometimes fear falling short of the mark, so it’s better to do no work all. If you hand in a blank piece of paper as your project, rather than a project you have tried to write, there is nothing to find fault with. No one can make corrections on your spelling, grammar and so on. This habit can start in childhood when we are at school, especially if we have a teacher or parent that is hypercritical and never satisfied.
No one likes to have their work judged, but the judgment will be about the work itself, not about you as a person. You failed a test – that does not make you a failure.
If you think your procrastination is due to fear of failure, here are a few suggestions for dealing with this. Firstly, ask yourself which of these you are most afraid of:
- The task itself.
- The skills and abilities needed to complete the task.
- The results of the task.
- The outcome of the task.
- Putting in all the work but still possibly failing.
The task might leave you feeling vulnerable and exposed. “Write about your family,” for example, can be fun and easy for some children, but emotionally disturbing for others. Or maybe you just don’t feel you know enough about a topic. If the task itself is holding you back, what skills and strategies could you develop to get the work done?
For example, you could do research online, ask a friend or relative with more experience to help, and so on. You are NOT powerless in this situation. Taking action, any action, is better than not turning in an important project for your college work or job.
The results might sound like a strange thing to be afraid of, but there might be some subconscious fears at work. “If I do this project, will it be good enough, or will I have to do even more work? Will I look like a fool? Will they fire me?”
Fearing the outcome of completing the projects can also sound like an odd thing to worry about, but as we will discuss in a moment, people can not only fear failure, but also success. You might be convinced that this project will confirm in your own mind and everyone else’s just what a loser you are.
Finally, putting in all the effort and still failing is negative self-talk based on your perception of yourself as a failure. In the same way that success breeds success, so too can failure become a vicious cycle it is hard to escape from. It is like a self-fulfilling prophecy. So if you are going to fail anyway, why bother doing the work in the first place?
If any of these thoughts sound familiar, it’s time to ban the negative self-talk and instead focus on things you do well and action steps you can take to build on your skills. “I can’t spell,” can become, “I write well but have trouble with spelling. But that’s what a spellchecker is for.”
Fear of Success
In the same way that a person can fear failing, they might also fear succeeding. This might sound strange to anyone who longs to be successful and admired. However, with success can come great responsibility and the glare of the spotlight that not everyone is comfortable with.
Once again, ask yourself what you are most afraid of:
- The task itself.
- The skills and abilities needed to complete the task.
- The results of the task.
- The outcome of the task.
- Putting in all the work but still possibly falling short of your (unreasonable) expectations.
Perhaps you find the task dull and boring. You might even dislike it, or feel it is not one of your strong suits but you are going to have a stab at it anyway and do your best. But then, nothing….
You start to procrastinate and the task that should have been a slam dunk begins to grow out of all proportion as the deadline nears.
Or, the task may be one that allows you to really shine in your office. You have the skills and abilities to make a great impression. You can picture praise on the one hand, but jealousy from your peers on the other. This might start to feel like what is termed “impostor syndrome.”
Impostor syndrome is a psychological issue in which the person always feels like they are not good enough, or only average, nothing special, despite the fact that they have considerable evidence of high achievements well above the average. Actors Natalie Portman (Black Swan) and Emma Watson (Hermione in the Harry Potter movies) both admit to having impostor syndrome.
Read more here – https://counseling.caltech.edu/general/InfoandResources/Impostor
Since they both launched impressive careers when they were younger, it might be hard for them to measure themselves against their peers. Therefore, they attribute their success to luck or chance, when it fact they have worked really hard to get where they are.
If you are afraid of success, you may sabotage yourself through procrastination. Success can trap you because if you succeed, you need to keep meeting the high expectation others have about you and your work. An average grade or end of year job review isn’t good enough.
Yet how high is it possible to climb? Even if you get 100% on a test, for example, you might still feel disappointment because in your opinion, you could have worked harder. Perfectionism can lead to procrastination.
Success means more pressure is being placed upon you, and therefore, you feel under pressure all the time. Your negative self-talk will make it worse. If you have impostor syndrome, you will be under even more stress because you are just waiting for it to all come crashing down around your head. You believe yourself to be a “fraud” and are just dreading the moment when you will be “exposed.”
However, procrastination means that the clock is ticking towards a deadline, which can only add to your stress and pressure. We all need to perform well in our jobs, and most of us take pride in our work. It is up to us if we want to feel stress for failing to meet expectations, or stress at rising to the challenge and delivering what is expected of us on time, every time.
Those who battle with fear of success and one another aspect of it, perfectionism, will procrastinate until it is almost too late. Then you will make an exhausting push to the finish line and feel bad about all the effort you have put in. There will be little sense of accomplishment and no satisfaction in any success you achieve.
If you are procrastinating due to perfectionism, remind yourself that the work does not have to be perfect; it just needs to get done, and that perfection is in the eye of the beholder. Your worst with a small amount of effort might be another person’s best if they really work hard. You never know. But you will never know unless you start to look deeper at your reasons for procrastinating.
Fear of Rejection
Fear of rejection can be another reason for clinging to procrastination. This may originate from low self-esteem, or a lingering uncertainty within your own mind about your job or role in the world. You overcompensate for any perceived deficiencies by trying to be perfect.
This is often generated from a past rejection which has resurfaced due to the task itself. For example, you might have had a mother or father always pushing you to achieve, or one who made you feel like nothing you ever did was good enough.
In this case, stop placing so much importance on what others think. Build your self-confidence by looking at your resume and seeing all that you have accomplished. Knowing your own worth is one of the best ways to deal with rejection.
If you get turned down at a job interview, for example, or passed over for a promotion, it is not necessarily a reflection on you. It could be due to internal politics within a company that will affect their selection of candidates to interview and to hire. Once you understand this, it will be easier to overcome a perceived rejection.
You may feel a slight twinge if your work is criticized, but it is your work – not YOU. Also assess where their comment is coming from. Is it constructive and valid? If yes, use it to do better next time. If not, remember who you are and what you have achieved and just brush it off.
In this section we have discussed fear of failure and fear of success as being two key factors in procrastination, and how to handle them. In the next part, let’s look at how to deal with a lack of organizational skills, focus and concentration.
Organization, Focus and Concentration
Organization is one of the best tools to defeat procrastination. If you don’t already have a to-do list, now is the time to start one. Also get a calendar, both a paper one and an electronic one. The paper one makes it easy to take with you anywhere and jot down notes about appointments, deadlines and so on. You can use the electronic one to set automatic reminders.
If your list is already a mile long, choose five tasks that will give you the most value for your time, and focus on them. You will feel really good once you are able to cross them off your list.
Similarly, if you have a large project, break it up into smaller chunks with a number of milestone deadlines to make sure you are on track. There are a number of free project management tools online that help you organize everything in one place, such as Asana.com. Attach the files and then click the check box to mark the assignment as done.
In terms of keeping your calendar, it is important not to overburden yourself with so many chores that you have no time for anything fun, or anything which nourishes your soul. If you don’t schedule exercise and relaxation time, you will find yourself procrastinating at the wrong times.
Also schedule time for email and social media if it is for marketing purposes. Otherwise, you will find yourself checking your accounts a dozen times a day and getting little of value accomplished. Check your emails first thing in the morning and at the end of the day. If necessary, also schedule a short session in the middle of the day.
Try not to eat and deal with email at the same time. Focus is important, both on eating healthily and on working efficiently. Contrary to popular belief, there is really no such thing as multitasking, only forcing your brain to switch gears rapidly back and forth from one thing to the next and getting neither done well.
Focus and concentration are the key to doing your chores efficiently. Let’s look at a few success strategies next.
Lack of Focus and Concentration
In the modern world, we seem to live in a perpetual state of distraction. Email, calls all the time on our cellphones, texting, social networks, and more, the range of information and “static” bombarding us is so great that the “noise” can make us unfit to do anything other than stare into space and let it all wash over us.
A new study out recently shows that children learn less well and are much more distracted when the TV is on. The test was conducted with the TV on low and showing an adult news program the young children in the study couldn’t possibly have found interesting or understood. Yet they were compelled to stare at it and did all the tasks they were given very badly, including eating a nice meal.
When you are at your desk, do not have the radio or TV playing on your computer, especially not talk shows, which can completely sidetrack your chain of thought. Put your phone on vibrate and turn off the ping on your computer for new emails coming in.
Experts have shown that the human attention span is really only about 20 minutes long before it has to be stimulated to get back to concentrating again. This being the case, if you are still having trouble with clearing your to-do list and getting all your projects done in a streamlined way, consider the Pomodoro Technique.
Pomodoro is the Italian word for tomato. It is basically a kitchen timer you set at the start of each work session so that you will make steady progress until the project is finished or you tackle a range of items on your to-do list.
The technique also has built-in breaks. Work for 25 minutes, take a break for five. When you have completed four pomodoros, you can reward yourself with a 15 to 30 minute break.
During each pomodoro, focus and concentrate on the one task you have decided to work on, and nothing else. Studies suggest this technique even works with those who have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), so if they can do it, you can too.
Now that we have discussed the importance of organization, focus, concentration and good time management, let’s look in the next section at two other reasons why you might be procrastinating.
Dealing with a Lack of Self-Esteem or Motivation
Lack of self-esteem prevents you from completing the easiest task. Why? Either because you do not feel you are worthy of the challenge, or because you feel you are not good enough to complete it. As we discussed earlier regarding fear of failure and fear of success, if you have a little voice in your head telling you that you are not good enough, you have self-esteem issues that need to be dealt with if you are ever going to stop procrastinating.
Ironically, not procrastinating and getting solid work done can be one of the best ways to boost your self-esteem and give you a real sense of accomplishment.
You can also take an inventory of your strengths. Make a list of all the things you are good at. Then make a list of three things you would like to improve.
If you get dejected, look again at your list of strengths. You must have put focus and effort into them, which you should be proud of. This also demonstrates that you can focus to improve almost every area of life you might feel is an issue. Identify it and tackle it.
“But,” you may say, “I’m just not a motivated person.” Let’s deal with the issue of motivation in more detail.
Lack of Motivation
Motivation can be a very vague word we use often but pay little attention to. What is your motive for doing any action? In some cases it is for fun, like watching TV or partying with our friends. We certainly do not need to “psych ourselves up” to do fun things.
In the case of work, there is usually little fun in it. However, there are a number of strategies you can use to make it more fun and interesting. The first is to alternate the tasks you enjoy with ones you don’t. If you love blogging but hate balancing your checkbook, sandwich your bookkeeping time between two fun blogging sessions.
A second way to have fun and gain motivation is to think about the end result of your task. If you do your job well, you will collect a paycheck and might even get a raise or promotion. Everything you do each day contributes to your better future.
Consider setting a reward for your work. Once you complete the project, you can spend time doing X. You can go away for the weekend, treat yourself to a session at the spa – whatever you wish. It is up to you.
Only you know what will motivate you enough to take the needed action. Chances are that once you stop procrastinating, you will not need to grit your teeth to get even the dullest of tasks done.
These days, a lot of people are under a great deal of stress to achieve and to keep their jobs in a difficult economy. If you procrastinate, you are actually putting MORE pressure on yourself.
Procrastination is paralysis. Focus and concentration are dynamic, helping you to move forward. There is no need to feel stuck. Take small baby steps by making your to do list right now. Gather all the tools that will help you get organized.
Prioritize the tasks in terms of upcoming deadlines, then begin to work on each one until you complete it. The great feeling of positive accomplishment you will get should be more than enough motivation to stop procrastinating.
Forbes: Why We Procrastinate
American Psychological Association – Procrastination
wikiHow to do anything… – How to Stop Procrastinating