Procrastination, the habit of putting tasks off to the last possible minute, can be a major problem in both a woman’s career and personal life. Side effects include missed opportunities, frenzied work hours, stress, overwhelm, resentment, and guilt.
This article will explore the root causes of procrastination and give you several practical tools to overcome it.
The behavior pattern of procrastination can be triggered in many different ways, so you won’t always procrastinate for the same reason. Sometimes you’ll procrastinate because you’re overwhelmed with too much on your plate, and procrastination gives you an escape. Other times you’ll feel tired and lazy, and you just can’t get going.
Let’s now address these various causes of procrastination and consider intelligent ways to respond.
When you feel stressed, worried, or anxious, it’s hard to work productively. In certain situations procrastination works as a coping mechanism to keep your stress levels under control. A wise solution is to reduce the amount of stress in your life when possible, such that you can spend more time working because you want to, not because you have to. One of the simplest ways to reduce stress is to take more time for play.
Making time for guaranteed fun can be an effective way to overcome procrastination. Decide in advance what blocks of time you’ll allocate each week to family time, entertainment, exercise, social activities, and personal hobbies. Then schedule your work hours using whatever time is left. This can reduce the urge to procrastinate because you work will not encroach on your leisure time, so you don’t have to procrastinate on work in order to relax and enjoy life.
Benjamin Franklin advised that the optimal strategy for high productivity is to split your days into one third work, one third play, and one third rest. Once again the suggestion is to guarantee your leisure time. Hold your work time and your play time as equally important, so one doesn’t encroach upon the other.
Sometimes you may have more items on your to-do list than you can reasonably complete. This can quickly lead to overwhelm, and ironically you may be more likely to procrastinate when you can least afford it. Think of it as your brain refusing to cooperate with a schedule that you know is unreasonable. In this case the message is that you need to stop, reassess your true priorities, and simplify.
Options for reducing schedule overwhelm include elimination, delegation, and negotiation. First, review your to-dos and cut as much as you can. Cut everything that isn’t truly important. This should be a no-brainer, but it’s amazing how poorly people actually implement it. People cut things like exercise while leaving plenty of time for TV, even though exercise invigorates them and TV drains them. When you cut items, be honest about removing the most worthless ones first, and retain those that provide real value. Secondly, delegate tasks to others as much as possible. Ask for extra help if necessary. And thirdly, negotiate with others to free up more time for what’s really important. If you happen to have a job that overloads you with more work than you feel is reasonable, it’s up to you to decide if it’s worthwhile to continue in that situation. Personally I wouldn’t tolerate a job that pushed me to overwork myself to the point of feeling overwhelmed; that’s counterproductive for both the employer and the employee.
Often we procrastinate because we feel too physically and/or emotionally drained to work. Once we fall into this pattern, it’s easy to get stuck due to inertia because an object at rest tends to remain at rest. When you feel lazy, even simple tasks seem like too much work because your energy is too low compared to the energy required by the task. If you blame the task for being too difficult or tedious, you’ll procrastinate to conserve energy. But the longer you do this, the more your resolve will weaken, and your procrastination habit may begin spiraling toward depression. Feeling weak and unmotivated shouldn’t be your norm, so it’s important to disrupt this pattern as soon as you become aware of it.
The solution is straightforward: get off your butt and physically move your body. Exercise helps to raise your energy levels. When your energy is high, tasks will seem to get easier, and you’ll be less resistant to taking action. A fit person can handle more activity than an unfit person, even though the difficulty of the tasks remains the same.
4. Lack of Motivation
We all experience temporary laziness at times, but if you suffer from chronically low motivation and just can’t seem to get anything going, then it’s time for you to let go of immature thought patterns, to embrace life as a mature adult, and to discover your true purpose in life. Until you identify an inspiring purpose, you’ll never come close to achieving your potential, and your motivation will always remain weak.
Center your work around an inspiring purpose, and you’ll greatly reduce your tendency to procrastinate. Finding your purpose is a powerful way to defeat procrastination problems because you won’t procrastinate on what you love to do. Chronic procrastination is actually a big warning sign that tells us, “You’re going the wrong way. Take a different path!”
5. Lack of Discipline
Even when motivation is high, you may still encounter tasks you don’t want to do. In these situations self-discipline works like a motivational backup system. When you feel motivated, you don’t need much discipline, but it sure comes in handy when you need to get something done but really don’t want to do the work. If your self-discipline is weak, however, procrastinating will be too tempting to resist.
6. Poor Time Management Habits
Do you ever find yourself falling behind because you overslept, because you were too disorganized, or because certain tasks just fell through the cracks? Bad habits like these often lead to procrastination, often unintentionally.
The solution in this case is to diagnose the bad habit that’s hurting you and devise a new habit to replace it. For example, if you have a problem oversleeping, take up the challenge of becoming an early riser.
For tasks you’ve been putting off for a while, I recommend using the timeboxing method to get started. Here’s how it works: First, select a small piece of the task you can work on for just 30 minutes. Then choose a reward you will give yourself immediately afterwards. The reward is guaranteed if you simply put in the time; it doesn’t depend on any meaningful accomplishment.
When you timebox your tasks, you may discover that something very interesting happens. You will probably find that you continue working much longer than 30 minutes. You will often get so involved in a task, even a difficult one that you actually want to keep working on it.
7. Lack of Skill
If you lack sufficient skill to complete a task at a reasonable level of quality, you may procrastinate to avoid a failure experience. You then have three viable options to overcome this type of pattern: educate, delegate, or eliminate.
First, you can acquire the skill level you need by training up. Just because you can’t do something today doesn’t mean you’ll never be able to do it. Someday you may even master that skill.
A second option is to delegate tasks you lack the skill to do. There are far too many interesting skills for you to master, so you must rely on others for help. You may not realize it, but you’re already a master at delegation.
Thirdly, you may conclude that a result isn’t needed badly enough to justify the effort of either education or delegation. In that case the smart choice is to eliminate the task. Sometimes procrastination is a sign that a task needn’t be done at all.
A common form of erroneous thinking that leads to procrastination is perfectionism. Believing that you must do something perfectly is a recipe for stress, and you’ll associate that stress with the task and thus condition yourself to avoid it. So you put the task off to the last possible minute until you finally have a way out of this trap. Now there isn’t enough time to do the job perfectly, so you’re off the hook because you can tell yourself that you could have been perfect if you only had more time. But if you have no specific deadline for a task, perfectionism can cause you to delay indefinitely.
The solution to perfectionism is to give yourself permission to be human. Have you ever used a piece of software that you consider to be perfect in every way? I doubt it. Realize that an imperfect job completed today is always superior to the perfect job delayed indefinitely.
Some of these cures are challenging to implement, but they’re effective. If you really want to tame the procrastination beast, you’ll need something stronger than quick-fix motivational rah-rah. This problem isn’t going away on its own. You must take the initiative. The upside is that tackling this problem yields tremendous personal growth. You’ll become stronger, braver, more disciplined, more driven, and more focused. These benefits will become hugely significant over your lifetime, so recognize that the challenge of overcoming procrastination is truly a blessing in disguise. The whole point is to grow stronger.
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