Procrastination is a delay in doing an intended and important task, despite being aware of the negative consequences of not getting it done.
We all procrastinate. Mostly we think of this tendency as an annoyance and just live with it. At other times it can become a hindrance to success, and can cause considerable distress, especially if it becomes chronic.
Remember, you are not alone, and there are things you can do to help yourself. This is the first in a series of blogs on the topic.
The good people at BBC Radio 4 have produced an excellent episode of ‘All in the Mind’ which looks at this issue and makes some interesting points: https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m0005t4x
Here are some of the key things I thought were useful:
Don’t rely on negative emotions to to motivate you: feelings like fear, shame, guilt can sometimes provide a kick. We’ve all heard ourselves say something like ‘Oh I work well under pressure’. However, we are not at our most productive when we are in a negative emotional state. Cognitive functioning: our ability to think, focus, reason, remember things is diminished when there is anxiety, or we feel low. Even if this strategy works, there are emotional costs, it doesn’t feel good, is stressful and impacts on wellbeing.
It is better to engage with positive emotions. Here are some ways of doing that.
Make it fun: One way to engage motivation is to find a way for the task to become more enjoyable. Is it possible to make some element of the task more fun? To find something positive in the process of the task itself?
Engage your identity: using language like “I am a runner”, I am a learner, a teacher, nurse, geographer, conservationist…
Remind yourself of the bigger picture: why is this important? how does it fit with what’s important to me?
Be kind to yourself: The worst thing you can do is be hard on yourself. Have you noticed that beating yourself up doesn’t really work. Rather than getting the job done, it just makes you feel worse. Better to have compassion and forgiveness for yourself when procrastinating. Ask yourself what would you say to a friend or loved one who was struggling to get going with something. Would you berate them, wag your finger at them? Or would you say something kind, supportive, tell them it’s OK to struggle sometimes, and is there anything you can do to help?
The myth of a different future you: We say things like “next week I’ll be less tired… have more energy… be more focused… clearer headed… I’ll be a better person… the writer’s block will be gone”. As if next week you’ll become this cape wearing superhero. The reality is: I won’t, I’ll still be little old me, pretty much as I am now, with pretty much the same resources and limitations, and this is what I’ve got to work with.
So I will take one small step that fits with the resources I have I’ve got right now, and do something (however small) right now. I can do just one part of the task that I can manage right now, and see how I get on.
I recently came across this quote (from Zig Ziglar) which sums up this last point:
You don’t have to be great to start, but you do have to start to be great.