Procrastination is one of the biggest killers of success as well as a major cause of stress. So, why do we procrastinate so much?
People who could otherwise be incredibly successful all too often end up sabotaging themselves by choosing to do things that will hamper their success.
This idea may sound strange, but if you stop and think about why we procrastinate you can see some truth in it.
People who can, and should, be successful end up wasting time doing things that aren’t important because they are, effectively, afraid to succeed.
Why Do You Procrastinate?
One in five people consider themselves to be chronic procrastinators. They think of procrastination as some dysfunctional part of their lives, and they lose out on a lot because of it – not just in their careers, but in the rest of their lives.
Procrastination can lead to you losing out on fun experiences, wasting money because you don’t pay bills on time, being fined because of a late tax return, or upsetting friends and relatives by failing to get your Christmas shopping done, not to mention all the stress that procrastination causes.
Yes, sometimes procrastination can be a joke – Dilbert famously says he loves the sound that deadlines make when they go whooshing by. But when it becomes a regular thing, rather than something that happens in periods when you’re very busy or stressed, then it can be considered more serious.
One thing that a lot of people don’t realize is that procrastinators usually know what they need to do, and how much time it will probably take to do it.
They know what is expected of them, but they suffer a paralysis that stops them from getting it done. They use their procrastination as a way of avoiding tasks.
It is a learned coping mechanism – something that is used as a form of inner rebellion, where people start making excuses or wasting time because of a fear of failure, or because they don’t know where to start with what they are doing.
Procrastinators Don’t Feel Like Getting Started
Often, procrastination is just a matter of people feeling like they can’t be bothered to do something today, but maybe they will tomorrow.
They put off getting started in the hopes that eventually they will find the energy – but they never do. That’s the problem. They fill their day with little tasks that don’t give them a lot of traction.
Checking email, hanging out on social media, or doing ‘make work’ allows a procrastinator to fill their day with tasks that are low commitment, and that take away from whatever it is that they don’t want to face.
A common underlying cause of not getting started with a task is feeling overwhelmed. You have a project that is going to take weeks to complete and there's so much to do, but where do you start?
You may be thinking how you can get all that work done in the amount of time required. Often times it is much bigger in our head than it is in reality.
The best way to get past the feeling of overwhelm is to write down everything that needs to be done and break it down into actionable steps.
You may have heard the analogy... "how do you eat an elephant? ...One bite at a time". This is the same idea.
If you notice that the next step begins to make you feel overwhelmed, then get into the practice of asking yourself... how can I break this down. You'll find that once you develop that habit, that chronic procrastination begins to disappear.
Decisions, Excitement and Avoidance
For some people, procrastination creates a feeling of excitement. They enjoy having “so much to do” and they enjoy the feeling of crunch time so they leave everything until the last minute.
For others, it’s something to do with a fear of failure – if they never get started, they will never fail.
Then there are the procrastinators who don’t like making decisions. They know that if they just don’t ever take action, they can’t be held responsible for whatever happens.
This is all counter-productive, though. Putting off tasks leads to more stress, and more paralysis. Procrastination can destroy relationships, and it can cause problems in the workplace.
Often, people suffer from insomnia or ill health because of the stress that they put themselves under. Breaking out of the cycle of stress and procrastination can be incredibly difficult.
It is Possible to Change
The good news is that it is possible for people who procrastinate to change. Often, all it takes is a structured approach. Learning how to stop making excuses is a must.
People are good at coming up with reasons why they can’t do things – maybe they’re tired, stressed, busy, don’t have enough experience, aren’t in good enough shape, or one of many other reasons and issues.
The trick is being honest with yourself and figuring out whether those reasons are valid, or whether they are simply an excuse to protect yourself from some potential discomfort.
Fear is a serious issue for some people. They are scared that their pride will be hurt or that their perceptions will change.
They don’t want to expose themselves to things that will make them question their understanding of the world. Sometimes, they tell themselves that if they put things off long enough, they will not have to face anything that will challenge how they feel.
They believe that one day the timing will be right, and they will have an easier time of things. That time never comes, and they never end up never making the change that they need to improve their life.
Fear Can Destroy Everything
Fear is one of the biggest problems for procrastinators... they become concerned that if they take themselves out of their comfort zones they will end up being confronted with something that they cannot handle.
The more they procrastinate, the more their fears grow into something that they simply cannot defeat. They never step out of their comfort zone. They never see their true potential.
The procrastination holds them back in their careers and destroys their relationships. It cripples their finances and can take their health.
Every time you put off something until tomorrow that could really be handled today, you are selling out on future happiness.
As much as it might not seem like it right now, unfulfilled goals are the most fatiguing thing in the world, and in the long run you are more likely to regret that which you did not try.
There is a solution...
There may be some challenges to overcome in order to beat procrastination, but beating it is definitely possible.
The more you learn to accept that sometimes you may not hit the mark you intended (you will always have a chance to improve), the more you will realize that those little "failures" aren’t really a big deal.
In fact, failure only really happens when you give up.
Setbacks may happen, but if you don't give up, you will never actually experience failure.
Something to think about if you are afraid of failure.
You can’t beat procrastination by buying a weekly planner or setting a schedule in your phone alone. That’s likely to just create more opportunities for procrastination as you write out what tasks you need to get done.
To beat procrastination you need to figure out what is holding you back. Why do you dodge challenging tasks?
Are you not going to the gym so that when you do badly in that triathlon, you can point at the times you didn’t train and say “I would have done better if I’d had better prep?”.
That’s not the way to approach life if you really want to be happy.
Yes, one reason for "why do we procrastinate" is because it's easy, but challenge yourself.
Get out there and give things your best effort, and see where that takes you.
You might surprise yourself, and even if you don’t have things go your way, at least you can say you put an honest effort in.
Try breaking down insurmountable tasks into smaller ones. Each smaller task will give you a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction, and that’s why it works so well.
Try making yourself accountable. Tell your friends what you want to get done, and make sure that you get it done so you can prove yourself to them.
Don’t let yourself fall into the trap of ‘I don’t have time to get things done’, or ‘I’m more productive under pressure’. You’re not... you will be amazed at how well you perform when you have the time to do things right, and you really take pride in your work.
You might get things done in a rush – but the work will look sloppy, there will be mistakes, and people will know that you rushed it.
When you see tasks that seem unimportant, and think you can “do them when you get the time”, you may be setting yourself up for disappointment.
Allocate a morning each week or month to those little tasks, and make sure that you get them done.
You’ll probably find that they don’t take all that long, and it will take pressure off you in the long term to know that they’re completed.
So, Why Do We Procrastinate, Really?
Stress and anxiety are real problems, and it is true that some people do need help to control them. But more often than not the best thing for someone who is stressed is practical help to face the stressor.
By beating the stress, and finding ways to clear their heads, people end up in a much better position and feel happier and more confident.
Mindfulness, meditation, organizational techniques and even exercise can work wonders for those who are paralyzed by simply ‘how much they need to get done’.
Not everyone is in that position, and yes, some people need more help than that, but be honest with yourself.
Do you procrastinate because there is something wrong, or simply because you don’t know how to get things done?
Think about the choices you are making in your life and try to find ways to improve yourself.
Take the long term view and realize that a few challenges and a little effort today will save you a lot of worry and grief over the coming months and make your life better.
Recurring procrastination can turn into a self limiting and stressful lifestyle if not kept in check. If you are feeling overwhelmed, try breaking bigger tasks into smaller ones.
Don't put unreasonable time frames on completing tasks. Give yourself a realistic amount of time to complete each task.
Make yourself more accountable by sharing your desire to complete a task with a friend.
With these tips as well as increasing your awareness around how and why you procrastinate, you are well on your way to developing a habit of reversing the effects of procrastination on your life.
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