Often clients contact us requesting help or strategies to overcome procrastination. For some people, procrastination has been a long term pattern while for others it has emerged during times of stress or pressure. In a work or study context ongoing procrastination can have serious consequences with deadlines missed and stress levels increased. In relationships, it can impact a partner, family and friends and can sometimes create an air of unreliability and tension as a result.
What is Procrastination?
Procrastination is a process, habit and strategy in which we delay or ‘put off ‘ doing something that needs to be completed or commenced. It often involves substituting more pleasurable or distracting activities in preference for the activity or task that requires priority. For example, watching TV in preference to making a difficult phone call or studying for an exam.
Procrastination can range from a mildly to significantly impacting problem. We’ve probably all had the experience of putting off something we don’t want to do in preference for something we’d prefer to do. A little procrastination is ok and quite common.
Why do we Procrastinate?
There are several theories about why we procrastinate. Some suggest that a need for ‘perfection’ underpins the process while others suggest that for some people, significant, overwhelming feelings prevent action being taken towards the task at hand. Sometimes we are just tired and lack the energy.
For some people, procrastination is experienced as a wider symptom connected to depression, anxiety and stress.
Procrastination doesn’t necessarily mean a task won’t get done, it just takes longer to do and commence for a person who is prone to procrastinating. People often describe an intense feeling of relief once a task is completed and reflect about the problems their procrastination creates.
When does Procrastination become a problem?
If procrastination is a regular experience for you and means that you are regularly not meeting deadlines and goals (at work, study and personally) then you may benefit from applying new habits and strategies. If procrastination is affecting your relationships and potentially isolating you, then you’d probably benefit in doing something about it.
It’s important to consider that procrastination impacts creativity, and this impact is often negative. Having a creative outlet in life is important and is a vital expression of ourselves. Let’s think about that. Imagine having a regular flow of creative ideas but never actioning them? Consider if this was a requirement for your job, study etc. How would this impact your ability to flourish?
Overcoming Procrastination, some tips to get you started
Believe it or not, we sometimes procrastinate about addressing our procrastination! Yes and this makes perfect sense given the nature of the problem
Firstly, it’s important to recognise that procrastination is a habit. It’s something that we have learnt to do (the avoidance aspect) and repeated over time (usually many times to install the habit). Conversely, a new habit of taking action and commencing tasks as required is also a learned habit (and requires repetition anywhere from 7-21 times). Procrastination is also a strategy or process, made up of several components. Not everyone procrastinates in the same way so not all solutions will work for all.
Once you are clear about the above, you may consider the following helpful to move through your patterns of procrastination
It might help to start with a smaller task (like filing some papers or tidying your work desk) and then move up to larger and more complex tasks.
- Visualise or conceptualise the task as a series of steps. Perhaps there are a series of positive feelings as you achieve these or perhaps it’s series of positive thoughts. Notice the little voice in your head that tempts you to do something else.
- Visualise, as best you can, the successful completion of the task. If you are prone to perfectionism you may need to adopt a ‘good enough’ approach.
- Break the task down into manageable chunks or components. Having a timeline can help. Try to limit working on chunks or components to about 45 minutes. Stop, then review. Components may be spread out over hours or parts of a day or over weeks or months depending on the task size. Take regular short breaks and reflect on what’s been achieved.
- Often getting started on a chunk or component is the hardest part (although some find the middle difficult as well). Pick a small action that indicates that the task is underway, this could be as simple as creating a document with a heading (if you are writing a report).
- Notice the resistance to the task (if present) or the urge to do something else. Make room for these feelings and keep going. The more often you ‘surf’ through these experiences the better and the more likely you are to create a new more empowering habit.
- Check your timeline each week, are you on track? If not, go back to the beginning.
- Once completed, take a while to bask in the glory of the completion of the task. Really take on board the positive feelings associated with having completed the task as this can serve to better motivate you for future tasks.
Of course, for some procrastination is a more involved issue. You may benefit from seeking support from an experienced psychologist, therapist, coach or counsellor; especially if procrastination impacts your quality of life.
Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) techniques have been found to be helpful in overcoming procrastination. At Talkingminds, we have many practitioners who are skilled at helping clients in developing more positive habits. In particular, our principal therapist, Trudy Wilson is an NLP Master Practitioner and Trainer and has an interest in coaching clients around areas of motivation and personal efficiency. Please Contact Us for further assistance.