Procrastination is an emotional trap. We’ve all been there. We convince ourselves that what’s essential can wait. And choose to focus on other tasks or sometimes easier and comfortable tasks.
It’s universal. Almost everyone procrastinates. It’s not a character flaw because, at some point, we end up “eating that frog” (getting that unpleasant task done) if it’s a “must”.
I’ve been putting off writing a book proposal for some months now. The agency keeps messaging me. The problem is, my first traditionally published book didn’t do well. I spent a lot of time writing it.
A new book may help my career, but I can’t convince myself that it is worth the insane amount of time I will invest in it this time.
“Procrastination is an emotion regulation problem, not a time management problem,” says Tim Pychyl, psychology professor.
Procrastinating may not be a laziness problem, but putting things off has consequences. First of all, the tasks don’t go away.
You still have to get it done if it contributes to a bigger goal or it’s a necessary step to get to the next stage of your life or career.
In the end, you will miss out on your high-value goals and good habits that can help you get real work done or become a better version of yourself. And don’t forget the added stress management you have to deal with before it gets done.
If you consistently procrastinate, you are putting off your best work today. You are delaying a better future. And you are choosing to live in your comfort zone where growth rarely happens.
It’s widely misunderstood that procrastinators are lazy. Many people procrastinate, not because they are lazy, but because;
- They don’t have a good enough reason to complete the task.
- They don’t have an action plan in mind to complete the task.
- They’ve not established the value of the task yet — they are not sure it’s worth their time.
- They are afraid of making a wrong decision or scared to fail.
- They feel overwhelmed.
- They feel the task lacks meaning.
High performers don’t make procrastination a habit. They have a bigger why, so they don’t put off the mini-tasks contributing to the bigger goal.
“People procrastinate because of a lack of value [associated with the task]; because they expect that they’re not going to achieve the value they’re trying to achieve; because the value is too far from you in terms of time; or because you’re very impulsive as a person,” says Alexander Rozental, a clinical psychologist at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden.
The good news is, you can eliminate procrastinating (most of the time). You can’t completely stop it. You are human, after all. But you can find ways to get a lot of things done or overcome the impulse to procrastinate a lot of the time.
You can reduce the impulse to procrastinate by asking yourself these three questions:
- What do I have, must, need or want to do? The task has to very clear, specific or very obvious. Write it down if you must. Get a good picture of the work or task at hand. How big or small is it?
- Why am I avoiding it? Face your emotions. Is it fear, anxiety, failure, success or something deeper than that? Confront that uncomfortable feeling, mood or self-doubt. It’s the best way to manage or get past it. Don’t replace it with a comfortable fix.
- Why do I have, need, want to do this? What’s the end goal? What will I achieve or gain by completing it? What do I lose if I keep putting it off? What’s the value of the task to my big picture? Find your big why or reason. What do you gain by completing it? Once you clarify your why, your emotion is unlikely to stand in your way.
Until you clarify what you have to do, why you are avoiding it and why you have to do it, you won’t find a way to get things done.
Procrastinating can force you to ask important questions about your tasks or essential work. It won’t be a massive problem if you face it and answer the difficult questions.
Once you answer them, just get started — even if you have to do a small part of the task, it makes a huge difference. That’s how you can move from emotional stress to taking action.
This article first appeared on Medium.