With the changes and upheaval we've all experienced in recent times, many of us are procrastinating like champions. Even if you're usually someone who's ruthlessly disciplined, you might find there are some items on your to-do list that are just not budging. So how can you overcome procrastination – and what if that thing you're avoiding isn't actually procrastination at all?
Procrastination is rife right now
Some recent examples from our community of things they'd been putting off include:
- Writing a business plan
- Reading a book
- Completing a tax return
- Moving house
- Changing jobs
- Buying a dining room table (that's me!)
... and so on.
Some really big, some pretty manageable.
Take a moment to jot down your own version of that list now.
What have you been putting off? From ordering a new lightbulb or sending an email to writing your will, take the time to capture everything that's in your head.
I'm going to share 7 common reasons we put things off, and give you some tips on how to overcome procrastination so that you can get back into momentum. But first...
Before you overcome procrastination, here's what it ISN'T
You see, I've been a bit sneaky here. At the bottom of that list of things we'd been putting off, I included my dining room table. It's something that needs doing and I've been putting it off for years – classic procrastination, right?
But here's the thing. Procrastination is defined as:
The act of putting off an IMPORTANT task, set of tasks or decision.
And to be quite honest, in the grand scheme of things, getting a dining table isn't something that feels important to me. It'd be useful, sure – it would certainly make me feel fancier when guests come round. But when I weigh it up against everything else that matters, I have zero qualms about relegating it to the bottom of the list.
So, here's your second invitation.
Anything on your list that's not important to you (or going to become important at some point)? Cross it off.
Congratulate yourself on an excellent piece of PRIORITIZATION.
And move on.
The other thing that commonly gets lumped in with procrastination?
The decision we make to put off a task because we're tired.
I would call that ENERGY MANAGEMENT.
And let's take a moment to acknowledge that, at this collective moment a lot of us are more depleted than we have ever been.
When we tell ourselves we're "procrastinating" we tend to focus on the task. Your business plan, your tax return, that long overdue phonemail to your oldest mate... yes, they need doing. But what's more important than the task itself, is the person who's doing the task.
Often, the person who's doing the task (you) is burnt out or exhausted.
I cannot emphasise enough how important that distinction is. If you’re looking at a big long list of things, and every single on of them is on hold right now, that’s probably because you’re totally burnt out.
Your priority needs to be radical replenishment, which often looks like 3 things: rest, sleep, saying no.
(A quick tip: When your list of things you're putting off goes from one or two things, to a page full, you probably need to replenish your energy.)
So, with that in mind, go through your list and note anything that you're not doing because you're managing your energy. That might knock one thing off your list, or it might knock everything off your list. Trust your instincts, and try not to second guess yourself.
Because what you're left with will be the things you're really procrastinating on – and we're about to dig into 7 reasons why that might be and what you can do about them.
Why do we procrastinate?
Once you've taken off the things that really aren't that important, and made sure you're managing your energy, what you're left with will likely fall into one of seven categories. To overcome procrastination effectively, you need to know what the items on your list fall into.
Most of us don't acknowledge these. We look at things we're putting off and tell ourselves we're lazy, incompetent, or just a total failure.
But frankly, that noisy inner critic isn't very helpful when it comes to shifting your energy and allowing you to get things done. Put her to one side for a few minutes, because we’re going to dig in.
The 7 reasons we procrastinate (and what to do about them)
#1 Lack of planning
WHAT? You know where you need to do, you just haven’t planned to do it. And as the old adage goes, if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. One of the fastest ways to overcome procrastination is actually the simplest: Make some time (enough time!) to do the thing you need to do.
WHAT TO DO: I'm a BIG believer in planning – in fact, I'd estimate that in my typical 25-30 hour working week, I spend a good 4 of those hours planning. I'm willing to bet you could probably be more effective if you allocated some serious time to doing the same. Especially when it comes to those tasks you're putting off. Give yourself an extra half an hour to plan when you'll do them, and see if that takes care of them.
#2 The task is out of flow
WHAT: Each of us have some things we’re great at. Maybe you love nothing more than having a good chat with a colleague, but when it comes to looking at a spreadsheet you're suddenly overcome with the urge to check Facebook. Others will avoid a phone call like the plague, but happily tinker with a pivot table until it's working like clockwork.
WHAT TO DO:
- Delegate it to someone else (this works for decisions too!)
- Decide when you'll do it and complete it at a time when you're in the right frame of mind to do it. Maybe that means playing a particular song, doing it first thing in the morning before you've had time to think about it, or having a quick pep talk with your best friend before you do it.
#3 Lack of knowledge
WHAT: If the thing you're putting off is a little bit vague – 'write business plan' or 'get fit' – be honest. Do you know exactly what you need to do to achieve that goal? If not, who do you need to ask?
WHAT TO DO: Make the next action something you at least know how to do: Perhaps it's reading a book, googling a "How to" guide or asking in a friendly Facebook Group. Because what's crazier than giving yourself a hard time for not doing something you don't even know how to achieve?
WHAT: Ahh, overwhelm. It's the pesky sprite that pops up for all of us from time to time. And with homeschooling, risk management and rescheduling an entire year's worth of events and appointments on our plates, LOTS of us are getting reacquainted with what it feels like to be utterly overwhelmed right now.
WHAT TO DO: If you want to overcome procrastination, you've got to get out of overwhelm first. Luckily there's a nifty tool to help you get past it. Click here to download the Overwhelm First Aid Kit so you can regain your focus.
# 5 Analysis paralysis
WHAT: You don't know exactly what to do about this issue... so you do nothing. And the problem gets worse. Maybe sprouts some other problems of its own. The options you're thinking of multiply in response. And still you do nothing. Argh!
WHAT TO DO: You know when you're driving with Sat Nav, and you get stuck on a roundabout? The computer can't quite catch up, and so you go round and round, never locking onto the correct route? This is like that. Pick a decision, any decision, and go with it. You'll soon get feedback on whether it was the right one – but until you take an action, you can't get into action.
WHAT: Whatever you're going to do, has to be perfect. This is how you put off making your kid's birthday cake so long you end up with a midnight baking session on your hands. If you've found yourself swearing into a packet of icing at 2 in the morning, you can probably relate.
WHAT TO DO: Just start. Think of it as a practice attempt, a "Shitty First Draft" as writer Anne Lamott calls it, or just your route off the roundabout. Done is better than perfect – it's a wise saying for a reason.
#7 Present self / future self dissonance
WHAT: This one is a recent addition for me, and it's shed a whole lot of light on things like financial planning or exercise that we often find ourselves putting off. Essentially, we avoid doing something that will benefit our future selves (like going for a run) because our present self is motivated by instant gratification (like eating that cookie).
WHAT TO DO: Find your motivation! Two great ways to do that are by getting an accountability partner, or batching the task you're putting off with something you really enjoy. Habit expert James Clear calls this "temptation bundling". So, you go for a run while listening to your favourite podcast. Or complete your tax return whilst enjoying the ambience of your favourite café. That way, you get to experience the present gratification of the temptation with the future satisfaction of having completed the task.
Go through your list again – and next to each item, jot down which of the 7 forms of procrastination it is. Does that help you get clear on your next actions? Are you finding yourself with a bit more energy to face the tasks that are on your plate? If you're feeling better equipped to overcome procrastination, share in the comments – and if this article helps you, pass it on to a friend!
Finding momentum can be tough
At this moment in history, moving into action can feel harder than ever. But you don't have to do it alone. For a deep-dive into planning, motivating yourself and managing your day to day tasks effectively, check out our free training From Frantic to Fruitful. It’s a practical training to help you rethink how you manage your time and energy - click here for instant access.
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