The Art of Procrastination

The Art of Procrastination

What’s your favourite procrastination activity? Cleaning the house, tidying your desk, internet browsing? For me it’s filing – I can quite happily while away time saving documents into their right place, then re-naming and reorganising the structure of my folders!

Procrastination is the deliberate and voluntary delay of something we intend to do, despite knowing this will be detrimental. Consciously delaying something for genuine reasons (for example not doing a difficult report because you need to take your sick child to the Doctor) is not procrastination. But delaying something without a good reason, just because we don’t feel like it, definitely is, and sadly, is one of our greatest modern curses.

What do you procrastinate over? For me, it’s writing this newsletter! I love the idea of it, but the self-doubt about how it will be received can consume me, and it’s so easy to find other things to do instead.

Whilst procrastination helps us (in the short term) avoid some unpleasant feelings such as self-doubt or fear of failure, it can be quite detrimental in the longer term. Procrastinating not only stops us getting things done or achieving desired goals, but also impacts on our overall wellbeing as stress, worry and guilt can build up. So if you’re a chronic procrastinator, and you’re having trouble getting through your daily task list, it might be time to make some changes.

Play around with some or all of these tips and see what works for you:

  • Set a goal to just get started – don’t think about the whole task, or try to finish, your aim is just to make a start. Don’t worry about finishing an article, just write the first paragraph.
  • Plan to spend the shortest amount of time on the task – we put things off imagining they’ll take much longer than they actually do. You can always come back to something if you don’t get it done, but chances are you won’t need to.
  • Accept that if you want to get important things done, sometimes you have to do them even when you don’t feel like it.  Kids are bad at this. We justified not tidying our room or doing our homework because we didn’t want to, mistakenly believing we’d feel more like it sometime in the future. As adults, we’re still hoping we’ll feel more like doing something unpleasant later, so we put it off instead of learning to act in spite of unpleasant feelings.
  • Make a concrete plan about what you intend to do, rather than a vague notion. If you want to give up smoking, but have no idea how to go about it, you’re likely to put it off. Get whatever information or advice you need to turn vague ideas into specific actions that you know how to do, and you’re less likely to avoid starting;
  • Build in some external accountability for getting things done – enlist friends, family or colleagues to help you set schedules or deadlines for things you procrastinate on, then ask them to check how you’re going with the task or remind you of your deadlines. A coach is also a valuable ally in holding you accountable for what you have committed to.
  • Imagine yourself in future. Try to visualise or experience the sensations associated with not having done the task – this might be worry, annoyance, disappointment or guilt. Or if it works better for you, imagine the positive feelings associated with getting the task done – pride, satisfaction, energy, elation.
  • Reward yourself to reinforce the positive feelings associated with getting things done.

So go on, what are you waiting for! Pick one thing you always procrastinate over, and plan to try just one of these tips over the next week. If it doesn’t work, at least you’ve made a small start!