Procrastination is something we all wish we could live without. It’s easy to consider this behaviour as evidence of being lazy or poor time management. That’s the perceived wisdom we are brought up to believe. However, there is much more to it. Understanding what feeds it is the first step towards breaking the habit. Read all about how to make it flow and stop procrastinating in this blog.
Some leading psychologists find that at its core, procrastination is a behaviour used to manage emotions. The fear of failure highlights this. Many of us have had that experience of the high-school essay due at 9 AM the following day that must be done in too little time.
It’s very easy to watch a Ted Talk in order to avoid the work at hand, giving you short-term relief. Moreover, the closer the deadline is, the twisted reality of procrastination is that the fear of failure grows.
A key feature of procrastination that the famous American psychologist Adam Grant discussed in the New York Times earlier this year, is that procrastinators suffer from neurotic perfectionism.
He gives the example of the writer Margaret Atwood, who was her own worst critic. She was so sure she would screw up on her writing, that she put her famous novel The Handmaid’s Tale on hold for three years.
It’s easy for a graphic designer with the deadline, let’s say a month away, to believe a brilliant idea will just pop into their head. More than likely, that moment never arrives and the work is squeezed into the month before the deadline.
In extreme cases, the irony is that the much feared failure actually takes place. This is caused by the individual not planning adequate time for the task to be completed.
In life, when we look at those who are “successful”, we all look for the secret ingredient so we can copy and paste into our own life. Actually, what we find is that this secret ingredient is the ability to break down tasks into easily digestible steps.
Whether it’s a video production or a content brief, breaking down huge projects into measurable tasks can remove a lot of the associated stress. It also helps to give yourself little rewards or at least something to look forward to, which can help relieve negative emotions.
When you’re able to shake off “the procrastination bug”, it results in a big drop in your stress levels. There is a whole fleet of positive impacts: lower anxiety, increased life satisfaction, and improved productivity.
Another way a procrastinator can approach reducing their usual behaviours, is to focus more on the eventual goal rather than the short-term discomfort of work.
It’s important to recognise that even if we love our job or our university degree, there are still certain tasks or activities we dislike or find boring. We need to frame such activities as part of a means to an end in achieving our goals.
A strategy that is easier said than done, is focusing on the present to make it flow. This helps to avoid being focused on negative thoughts and feelings related to either the past or the future.
As mentioned in Forbes back in 2019, defeating procrastination is less an exercise in perfect time management and more of an indicator of emotional intelligence. One of the points they argue is planning ahead in order to achieve emotional regulation.
Planning is vital to break down tasks into measurable tasks and removes a lot of the uncertainty associated with a task. It also creates clarity from the beginning of the day and prevents your limited willpower from being eaten up by mid-morning.
The New York Times bestseller author David Allen, has outlined in his “Get Things Done” productivity methodology a number of key steps to deal with procrastination.
His aim is to change the way you approach work and life. The interesting point is that these five steps focus on the task at hand rather than the goal in a mindful manner:
Step One: Capture (Collect What Has Your Attention)
Step Two: Clarify (Process What It Means)
Step Three: Organize (Put It Where It Belongs)
Step Four: Reflect (Review Frequently)
Step Five: Engage (Simply Do)
Another way to stop procrastinating is by surrounding yourself with productive people. In laying out their research findings in the Harvard Business Review, Jason Corsello and Dylan Minor point out how productivity is contagious.
It was demonstrated that for a procrastinator, when sat next to a productive colleague, their productivity increased by ten percent.
Likewise, when other people are dependent on you completing the task, it becomes much harder to procrastinate.
Firstly, the task takes on a greater meaning and is likely to be less ambiguous. Secondly, in some cases, the dependent individual may face adverse effects if you do not complete the task on time.
This explains why many creatives are procrastinators, whereas thankfully surgeons are not.
So if you are a procrastinator, or at least recognise some elements of procrastination in yourself, what is the first step?
To put it simply: mindset.
Planning, or as we can call it emotional regulation helps you to avoid holding yourself to unrealistic standards of perfectionism.
Constructive Strategies such as those outlined by Dave Allen can be actionable ways to achieve a shift in your mindset.
On the other hand, simply planning out projects can make them less ambiguous and provide clarity in the end goal, as well as making it all that bit more digestible.
Letting go of an unrealistic standard of perfectionism is a key way to achieve success. Taking the pressure off will really help you to stop procrastinating.
We need to allow ourselves to get on with the task at hand, and allow ourselves to at least produce an unpolished end result.
It can always be revised or changed at a later point. At the end of the day, don’t beat yourself up for having the odd bout of procrastination.
As Adam Grant points out, it’s less something that you can defeat and more something that you have to manage—just like your emotions.