I recently watched a very funny, and somewhat unfortunate TEDTalk® video by a guy who discussed his life-long problems with procrastination (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=arj7oStGLkU). Nothing new to me here as almost everyone I coach – okay, most everyone I know (me included) – deals with procrastination on some level. The speaker put a humorous spin on it, which made the audience laugh, as it was very relatable for just about everyone. However he never really spoke about solutions. He described what it was like to be inside the mind of a procrastinator – which was somewhat insightful – but nothing was said about what to do about it. That got me thinking (and then researching); How does one push past procrastination before they get to that dreaded point of being up against a deadline with only minutes to spare?
Procrastination, otherwise referred to as task avoidance, or avoidance behavior, is a serious problem that gets little attention.1 This is the result of too much information, too many decisions, and way too many options to handle. This overload of information can lead many into what Burka & Yuen (2008) refer to as procrastination paralysis. The Internet is said to be the single most powerful cause of the increase of ‘avoidance behavior.’ Over a third of college students studied indicated that procrastination not only accounted for increased stress but also poor academic achievement.2
Perception of time difficulties seemed to be at the root of some issues with procrastination and not being able to plan ahead was noted as the culprit.3 Some people, research has postulated, resent being told what to do by superiors and therefore got in the habit of intentionally delaying doing a task. These people may use passive-aggressive behavior to avoid doing a task and to cope with difficulties with meeting expectations of others. Others with extreme anxiety may procrastinate more.
Most people get nowhere reducing procrastination in their lives unless they make a concerted effort to do something to overcome it4 — despite knowing why they procrastinate! So where does this lead you? What can you do? In my experience, there are four things that can help with procrastination:
- Understand that you can push past it, but it will take consistent practice. It is much easier to cave and give into the ‘procrastination record’ playing in your head. So commit to being mindful of each and every time you find yourself procrastinating. Journal these occurrences and see if there is a pattern.
- Ask WHY. Take those few moments (you can spare them, I promise) and ask yourself the real reason you are avoiding the task before you. Are you uncertain of what to do? Are you unsure of how long it will take and fear it may take longer than you have? Are you afraid it will become a big mess you may not be able to fix? Are you afraid of becoming embarrassed for some reason if you do the task? Are you afraid you will come up short (fail) at the task? Are you afraid it will go great and then you will be expected to do great things again in the future? Are you uninterested/bored by the task and just don’t want to do it? Whatever the reason – write that reason down in a journal. Keep track of the reasons.
- Make a WRITTEN plan to do the task in advance of when it is actually due. I know…you’ve tried that before and it didn’t work. Refer to rule #1: You have to keep making the effort. Research shows us that when we write something down – in a place we trust we will see again (so not on a napkin or paper scrap) – we have a greater chance of doing it and if you can check off a list and see progress this helps.5 Block time in your calendar: Commit! Somewhere in your brain you will start experiencing the exhilaration of completing something before the last minute deadline and start associating that good feeling with doing things on time or ahead of time.
- Set a timer and do the task for 5-minutes. Decide after 5 minutes whether to continue for another 5 minutes and keep on keeping on. Research shows that simply starting can spur momentum to keep going, known as the Endowed Progress Effect Theory.6
Change your self-talk and start asking ‘what if’ I got this done early? What would that look like? How would I feel? What more could I do? Write down the benefits of doing the task now versus putting it off. What positive reasons can you come up with for getting something done sooner versus later? We all have tasks that are less than glamorous, and many are just plain tedious or boring – but they will not become any less tedious or boring if we wait. And then there is generally stress and anxiety thrown in to the tedium and boredom. Something also not often discussed is the fact that when you put something off it stays in your head and can become a burden until you do it – so why would you drag out the discomfort of a task you must do but don’t want to? If you want to make the thoughts and dread go away then do the task and move on with your day. I have gotten clients to this point and they have discovered that their free time becomes ‘guilt-free’ free time and they have far more joy in their days. Try it (or call me and I will coach you through it)!
1 Ferrari, J. R., Johnson, J. L., & McCown, W. G. (1995). Procrastination and task avoidance: Theory, research, and treatment. Springer Science & Business Media.
2 Ferrari, J. R., Johnson, J. L., & McCown, W. G. (1995). Procrastination and task avoidance: Theory, research, and treatment. Springer Science & Business Media.
3 Ferrari, J. R., Johnson, J. L., & McCown, W. G. (1995). Procrastination and task avoidance: Theory, research, and treatment. Springer Science & Business Media.
4 Burka, J. B., & Yuen, L. M. (2008). Procrastination : Why You Do It, What to Do About It Now (Vol. 25th anniversary ed., fully rev. and updated). Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/31OSHjF
5 Knaus, W. J. (2000). Procrastination, blame, and change. Journal of social Behavior and Personality, 15(5), 153.
6 Nunes, J. C., & Dréze, X. (2006). The Endowed Progress Effect: How artificial advancement increases effort. Journal of Consumer Research, 32(4), 504–512. https://doiorg.ezproxy.snhu.edu/10.1086/500480