Everyone procrastinates to some degree. We all have tasks that may be difficult or we might not care to do but must do anyway. If not driven to complete a task we may leave it for another time. Whether that means procrastinating, stalling or a logical and judicious use of our time depends on many factors.
One thing is certain, if we voluntarily delay an intended course of action despite expecting to be worse off for the delay, then that meets the currently accepted definition of procrastination (Piers Steel 2007). This type of forestalling can impair you in that it is counterproductive, needless and delaying.
Procrastination may be due to or a coping mechanism for:
- Anxiety. Over starting or completing a task, especially new or difficult tasks.
- Impulsiveness. Deciding to put off the task with little or no forethought.
- Perfectionism. I can’t do it well enough for my standards so I’m not even going to start.
- Low self-esteem. I’m not good enough to complete the task.
- Depression. I don’t have the mental or emotional energy to start or complete my work. This needs attention from a mental healthcare professional.
- Good Judgment. I have assessed all that I have to do and I am going to put this task(s) off for now because it is less important.
All but the last one of these can lead to decreased productivity and inability to progress. The consequences of procrastination may include:
- Stress. Pressure to perform mounts as deadlines approach. In the end procrastination creates more stress than it alleviates.
- Guilt. From avoiding what must be done.
- Crisis. Too little time remains to adequately complete the task(s) at hand.
- Stigma. The chronic procrastinator becomes know as unreliable.
Here are 7 steps to help you stop procrastinating:
- Remember who you are. Knowing yourself and what you are likely to do when faced with a new project or task is insightful. Vigilance against old behaviors can serve to usher in needed change.
- Establish a routine. Generate a schedule, road map, outline or strategy for handling a new task and try to stick with it. Practice will make it work.
- Be realistic. Know the limits to what you can do. Don’t try to complete everything at once. Set attainable goals. Don’t over promise and under deliver. Do just the opposite.
- Scale down tasks. Break up large projects into more manageable portions or segments. Work through them one at a time. Avoid jumping around from piece to piece. Forget multi-tasking. There is no such thing.
- Ask for help. Good grief, nobody knows everything about everything and none of us are super human. If you get stumped or if there is too much for one person to handle, ask for help. It is not a sign of weakness or ineptitude. It means you’re human. All humans need help from time to time. If you uncover a weakness, work on it. That is how we grow and how we grow is how we know.
- Deadline with a cushion. Build a pre-deadline cushion into your schedule that will offer some leeway for the unexpected. This margin of safety is not to be used up because of stalling. The actual deadline is the hard limit for project completion. A self imposed pre-deadline cushion is set before the actual deadline and affords some usable margin if needed due to circumstances outside your control.
- Auto reward. When the task is completed or the project is shipped on time, take time to rest, reflect and reset for the next project. Oh, and have some fun. If you have worked this list to your advantage, then you’ve earned it.
These 7 steps can also apply to the other realms of your life. An area were I see patients procrastinate all of the time is on beginning a regular program of exercise. Physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual vitality depend on balanced efforts within each.
Are there areas in your life where you procrastinate often? Which of these solutions might you use to your advantage? Are there others?