There are two types of procrastination, active and passive, or adaptive and maladaptive. The former can be useful, it’s usually for the people who thrive in the eleventh hour, you know the ones who don’t study at all until the night before an exam and still pass with flying colours (sigh). The latter, however, is the more common form of procrastination, and it is the one you need to watch out for. It’s the creative voice that says I can’t right now because I need to talk to X, I don’t want too right now because I want to eat this snack, and perhaps; I can do it later because it isn’t urgent. This is unhelpful procrastination, which is fine, until you find this voice is starting to affect the quality of your life and work, then it’s time to shake up how you handle it.
Below I have outlined some points that might shed some light on why you personally procrastinate, and how you can handle it. Remember everyone has different methods, it’s just about finding what works for you and when.
Anticipate the future
We are psychologically terrible at anticipating the future, we are hardwired to focus on the here and now, so when we get handed a task thats due in three months, we don’t focus on it. From a threat point of view this makes sense, but if you know the next three months will be hectic, and the chances of getting it done well will be slim, it might be better to do it now. Step back. Take a new perspective of the scenario. What could happen if you did it now? Would it make your life that much easier in the future? Would it be tough but worth it? If you answered yes to any of these you know what to do.
Going back to the introduction here; there is such a thing as good procrastination, and that is active or adaptive procrastination. This is a strategic procrastination that many people employ because they know it works for them. If you know that waiting until the final moment where the intensity of time pressures you to work brilliantly, then by all means use adaptive procrastination, but if you know that you have been there and you have cracked under the pressure on a regular basis, don’t wait.
Too much to handle
If you are sitting at your desk with you head in your hands because you honestly have no idea where to start, break it down as far as you need to. A simple solution, but don’t doubt it’s effectiveness even if you have used it before. If you are feeling overwhelmed it can help you slowly restart.
How do you measure your self worth?
Are you scared of failure? Do you think failure will make you worthless? Do you measure yourself according to how you perform? If so, it’s time to realign yourself.
Doing a job, particularly one that you love, makes it easy for us to tie our self-worth to how we perform, and that can be a good thing, as long as we remember it isn’t the sole thing that makes us worthy. You are a sum total of your thoughts, family, friends, your work, the adventures you have had, skill sets you hold, your tastes, how you treat people and the list goes on. Remember that when you tell yourself you can’t do something.
Set some goals and get them to stick
You are now focused, so how do you stop procrastination from creeping in again?
Set some goals. Goals can help you keep a routine which may not be your style, but it really will keep you on-track and help you slip out of procrastination mode that much easier in the future. So, try writing down some goals that you want to achieve, break them down into smaller, easier steps like you read above, and give yourself some deadlines. If you need help sticking to them try the following:
Accountability - Find someone, or something, that will help keep you on track. Be it an app, a friend, or even a pet (Have a dog? They can give you a routine).
Visualise - What would it look like, feel like, and taste like if you just successfully finished your tasks with ease? It wont always be easy, but if it gets your goals to stick try following in Michael Phelps’ very large footsteps and practice visualising success. If you can, set aside some time before doing a task to close your eyes and just visualise its completion.
Reward yourself - Food driven? Exercise driven? or perhaps you are driven by fun? Figure out a system whereby every-time you achieve a goal you reward yourself in some small way.
It is almost certain that you will procrastinate again in your life, so when you do, remember to cut yourself some slack, and simply start again when you are ready.