How to Stop Procrastinating Once and for All
Why do so many of us struggle to find the motivation needed to tackle tasks and challenges head on? Why do we put off so many tasks? Why do we procrastinate?
Dr Fuchsia Sirois from Sheffield University defines procrastination as
“Unnecessary and voluntary delay in carrying out an intended and important task despite knowing that you will be worse off for doing so”
Sound familiar? We all fall victim to the trap of procrastination—likely even more than we’d like to admit. Even though we know better, the siren song of pushing work off until “tomorrow” can often be too strong to resist.
Unfortunately, science tells us that procrastination can have some pretty negative effects. From depression and low self-esteem to anxiety and stress, there are plenty of consequences of procrastination that you’d ideally like to avoid.
Procrastination is not just putting something off if you are too tired or don’t have all the info - it’s the voluntary decision to put something off knowing that there will be some harm to you or others if you don’t complete the task. Procrastination is not laziness or a ‘just can’t be bothered’ attitude. Most of us are more than happy to do anything else but the task that we know really needs doing. We can procrastinate over just about anything - from small tasks like booking a dentist appointment, baking a cake to more significant challenges such as planning a career move, buying a house, changing our lifestyle. Sometimes taking time over a decision is a good thing. Weighing up the pro’s and cons, seeking advice, getting your head in the game. Often however procrastination leads to ‘treading water’ and the longer this goes on the more stressed we become. Identifying what lies behind the inability to make a decision and get on with a task can sometimes be just the push you need to get started. Often we put off things for fear of failure but ‘Catch 22’ means that the longer we postpone, the less time we have to complete, and the more likely we are not to do well or even fail. It’s a vicious circle. We all know that postponing doesn’t solve anything but it is not always easy to find the motivation needed to get started, particularly if the challenge appears overwhelming.
Psychologist Dr Ian Taylor from Loughborough University - an expert in motivation says the we need to find the ‘gold standards’ of motivation for the important challenges in life. He refers to ‘love’, ‘fun’ and ‘identity’. Enjoyment is strongly linked to motivation - if we enjoy what we do, we are easily engaged and more likely to stay the course e.g. gaining a new qualification may be the ultimate goal but if we focus on the joy of learning rather than the intended grade then we can stay motivated. Identity can also play a huge part in staying motivated. “If we describe ourselves as a runner rather than someone who goes running or as a healthy eater rather than on a diet we are more likely to identify with our goals’ Dr Taylor states. Willpower alone is often not enough - its fragile and, early on in any challenge, it is going to get tested - our willpower needs a backup plan. Dr Taylor suggests breaking challenges into small steps - a main goal such as finding a new job can often appear un-achievable but if you break it down and take small steps towards that goal - prepare your CV, talk to recruiters, research your field, get advice, understand your reasons for your proposed career change, plan ahead, use a timeline - you can make progress and the overall task doesn’t appear as daunting. He suggests steering clear of using shame and guilt as motivators as although they can be extremely successful for achieving short term goals, in the long run they are not helpful or healthy. Money and rewards again pay dividends in initiating an activity but if you are not engaged for the long term these motivators will soon tarnish. “If you look to change your job and your main motivators are more money but you have not considered whether the new role gives you the challenge you are seeking or the work/life balance you are striking for, dissatisfaction will creep in”
Tasks that we find boring, challenging, unpleasant are easy to procrastinate over but if we allow ourselves to put these to the side - although in the short term we have solved our immediate problem - they become negative thoughts that build in our minds stressing us out and cannot be ignored forever. We are very good at imagining our future selves as much better versions of our current selves. We persuade ourselves that we are postponing tasks until we are better equipped to deal with them. When this happens we need to take a reality pill - there is no time like the present to crack on with things. Rather than berate ourselves we need to practice a bit of self love, remind ourselves that we can do this thing, we are good enough and look for support from others who believe is us to tackle the task in hand.
Dr Fuchsia Sirois has spent years researching procrastination and has come up with the following tips to help us cope.
Break down the task
Find the ‘enjoyment’ or benefit in the journey
Identify with the task or challenge
Have a support network
Set a timetable
Practice ‘self-love’ and self encouragement (don’t beat yourself up)
Focus on the ultimate benefit to you and/or others
Have confidence - you can do it and you will learn along the way
Next time you procrastinate over something you know you really have to do remind yourself that you are pretty bloody marvellous and that “you’ve got this covered”