One of the most common challenges I’m asked about is procrastination. People often feel guilty, frustrated, and self-judgmental about procrastinating and want to find a way to stop doing it.
My best advice for working through procrastination is to first understand why you are procrastinating. Without this awareness, steps taken to stop procrastinating may not be very effective. Procrastinating doesn’t mean you are lazy or lame. It means there is something getting in your way. If you can find out what that is, you can take steps to move forward. Here are 4 common reasons people procrastinate and tips to help you move past it.
One of the most common reasons for procrastinating is thinking that we have to be perfect. Often we tell ourselves that we have to “hit it out of the park” on the first try. You may not even be aware that you are feeling this pressure until you ask yourself if you are. Here is a trick to work through this perfection pressure. First, remember that every single project always has several drafts or attempts before it is finished. Imperfection is a necessary part of every project. Give yourself the challenge of creating the most imperfect first attempt at your project possible. It actually should not be good at all. Aim for mediocrity! Doing this helps you move from a judgmental and frightened frame of mind into a playful frame of mind. It also helps you get started and, in the process, you may find that what you have to do is not as bad as you feared.
Another of the most common reasons for procrastinating is fear: fear of failure, fear of success, fear of not doing well enough, fear of how people may judge us. Many people are not aware that they feel fear until they take a closer look. Ask yourself, “What am I worried about related to this project I keep putting off?” See what comes up as you think about this question. You may find that you are having thoughts that are sending you into a state of worry that makes you want to avoid your project. In order to work through this worry, ask yourself what you are most worried about, and then actually “counsel” yourself the way you would a dear friend in the same position. For example, if you feel you are going to look foolish when you start your task, tell yourself what you would tell a friend who felt that way. Maybe you would help your friend talk about what she needs to do to feel prepared and confident, and then you would encourage her. Do this for yourself! Keep doing this for each worry that you identify within yourself.
A third common reason for procrastinating is feeling overwhelmed. A great way to help with this is to break down what you need to do into smaller steps. It may be that the first step to getting your task done is to plan how you will do it. (And often planning how you will do something is a less intimidating first step than actually doing it!) Maybe your first step is thinking about the task for a while. Many creative tasks require you to have some time to mull things over first. This isn’t procrastinating; it is actually very productive mental activity!
To break your task down into steps, pretend you are telling a friend how to do your task. Share what you would do to prepare, what comes next, and how you will know when you are finished. You can also break steps down into smaller steps. For example, if you are having trouble getting started on a term paper, set a timer for 10 minutes and only allow yourself to work for that amount of time. You may find when it is over that you want to keep going! You can also set up rewards for yourself after you finish various steps to keep yourself motivated. And just think how great you will feel when you are finished!
And finally, sometimes we procrastinate because we really don’t want to do something for a deeper reason. If you are experiencing a lot of stressors in your life, you may find yourself procrastinating more. The remedy for this is to examine your life and find ways to make your whole life feel less stressful and overwhelming. This will free up your time and energy and you will approach things with a lighter heart.
Another deeper reason for procrastinating is that the action you feel pressured to take goes against your values. Maybe you are in a job that clashes with who you are and the tasks feel more and more difficult to accomplish. It may be time to examine other opportunities for work in your life.
These situations are more complex to resolve, but very important to pay attention to. Sometimes, procrastination is a sign that we need to make some important changes.