I am sure that the majority of us find ourselves putting off certain tasks for a various reasons. Just yesterday I found myself watching some TV, surfing the internet and tidying up, when really I needed to sit down and sort out my paperwork. Does any of this sound familiar? Quite often procrastination is a minor problem, but it is thought that up to 20% of people can have real difficulties with it, where procrastination goes on to cause major issues with their education, career and/or personal life.
There are many reasons for people procrastinating and it is can very individual to each person. Some of these reasons are benign, whereas others are much more problematic and deeper rooted. The most common reason given for procrastination is that it is a means of avoiding unpleasant emotions. Certain tasks may cause feelings of boredom, frustration and the fear of failure. Procrastination is used as a means of protecting the self from such emotions. However, this method of self protection can backfire and result in feelings of panic, work getting rushed, self criticism or even to the point where deadlines are missed and the feelings that someone was trying to avoid end up being increased. This then can result in a vicious circle of procrastination when the next task arises.
Here are some other reasons for procrastination (this list is not exhaustive):
- Depression - Which can be the cause of low motivation and self belief;
- Boredom - tasks that are dull or uninspiring;
- Not knowing where to start - It could be a large task and feel overwhelming;
- Feeling you don’t have enough knowledge or information to do the task;
- Environmental - Too many distractions such as social media, interruptions from others.
- Lack of time management - Task not prioritised correctly, diary filled with unnecessary/unproductive tasks.
What to do about it
The first step would be to figure you why you do it. You might want to ask yourself the following questions:
- What are the reasons for procrastinating?
- What emotions are you avoiding my procrastinating?
- What thoughts do you have when you think about the task?
- What is the consequences of putting off the taks?
- What would you gain, if anything, by not procrastinating?
- What do I need to get on with the task?
Only once you understand the causes and triggers can you work towards a solution.
The following is a list of some of the causes of procrastination and some practical ideas on how to help with this:
Depression & Lack of self belief
- Work for short periods of time;
- take regular breaks;
- reward yourself for working for a specified length of time.
Not knowing where to start
- break the task into smaller segments;
- create sub goals and deadlines on working through these individual segments.
Lack of knowledge
- Sometimes we do not have the full knowledge or understanding of something in order to feel confident in completing it. Consider what sources of knowledge and help you can access, such as courses, friend/colleague, books or trusted internet websites.
- The modern world is surrounded by distractions. Working on the computer means it is easily to flick between tabs to social networking sites or emails. If this is the case it might help to unplug the router and work off line;
- Other distractions could be interruptions from other people, so it might be a matter of working from a different location or at a different time of day.
Lack of time management
- Prioritising work - write a list of all tasks, score them between 1-10 on how important they are. Reorder the list in priority of importance. You can have a number of lists. One with monthly tasks, weekly or daily. Regularly review these lists to check if priorities have changed.
- Unnecessary tasks - For a few days keep a log of how you use your time. Review the list and notice if there is a pattern of any unnecessary tasks that can be reduced or eliminated;
- Planning - Create a schedule and set goals on working through the to do list. When making a schedule ensure that it is realistic and achievable.
I would like to end with one final tip, which is to recognise what you have done. Even one small part of a task, even one sentence, is a sentence closer to completion. It is way too easy to overlook what we have achieved and to become very demotivated as a result. So along side your ‘to do’ list I would suggest keeping a ‘have done’ list too.
In case you are still tempted to procrastinate I will finish with a quote from the author Karen Lamb who said “A year from now you may wish you had started today.”