Day in, day out you are confronted with situations where a decision needs to be made. So how to avoid procrastination in these instances?
Should I go to the gym or shall I keep lying down on this comfy sofa for a bit linger?
Do I really need to get up this early? It is ok to hit snooze one more time, right!?
Should I finally reply to all my outstanding WhatsApp messages or can it wait a bit longer?
All these dilemmas. What to do?
Recognise this inner dialogue that goes on inside your head? Two parties, each actively trying to voice their opinion, arguments and rationalisations aiming to tip the scales in their favour. Usually, one party represents what we know what’s good for you in the long run, whereas the other party is far more concerned what’s better (more fun and convenient) for you right now.
Guess who usually wins this agument in your case?
Temporary avoiding or giving up on our long-term goals for an immediate reward, in a nutshell, is what procrastination is all about. Although procrastination usually has a bad name, it’s not always a bad thing. For example, if you would never procrastinate you might take on too many rash and potentially bad decisions. However, taken to excess, procrastination can lead to missed opportunities, frustration, regrets, dissatisfaction, not being true to ourselves, and unhappiness in general.
Pause for a moment to think about how procrastination relates to your personal situation. Ask yourself
- What are you currently procrastinating in life?
- How does that make you feel?
- Why are you procrastinating?
- What are the reasons you keep telling yourself?
Really take a moment for yourself to scribble some notes down.
Giving in to procrastination
There are many reasons why you procrastinate and each situation is different, so is yours. I know that’s probably not exactly the answer you’ve been waiting to hear so let me give you a few examples you might be able to relate to. Recognising these situations might even help you doing something about it.
First of all, a very common reason why you fail to start or complete certain jobs is that the effort you need to put in it might feel like too much. It’s overwhelming, making you not wanting to tackle the task at all. If you perceive a job as daunting or just too much, you simply don’t know where to start, this often initiate a so-called ‘freeze response’ which can automatically and physically stop you pursuing the task altogether because you’re just too anxious to start.
Second, most examples of lifestyle procrastination – like improving your health, switching careers, getting out of a relationship that isn’t working – are situations in which there is no specific deadline in place. Hence, the real issue here is that there’s no sense of urgency. Without any real urgency, there’s no intrinsic drive to do anything about your situation.
The reasons we procrastinate
There can also be more complex reasons for procrastination, which are typically more deeply tied to our personality and our sense of identity. These more rigid behavioural patterns that make you feel stuck or unable to move forward, tackling the issue, are often more adequately addressed via a coaching approach. These include:
- Perfectionism. When you are delaying something because you might have (unrealistic) high standards and expectations of yourself.
- Avoidance style. When you often resolve your discomfort by walking away from situations rather than dealing with a situation straight away. These people rather avoid problems than tackle those heads on.
- Fear of failure. When you want to protect yourself from failure. By doing so you might not be fully aware or acknowledge the consequences of that inaction. It is self-defeating.
- Lack of assertiveness. When you tend to put other people’s needs before their own (senseless giving) and will often just be too over-committed to be able to complete the task. These people are more likely to be burned out in the long run and keep finding themselves back in these positions.
How to avoid procrastination: 3 tips
So, what kind of solutions are able to fight back or hold off procrastination? Here are three suggestions how to avoid procrastination that might work for you.
Tip 1. Make the task less challenging
Making things smaller can enable quicker progress. It makes it easier to keep momentum going because you will find it difficult to find an excuse not to such a teeny-tiny action. When you take a step – however small – in the direction of your desired “big picture goal”, it decreases the resistance to take further steps towards that end goal. So, it doesn’t matter as much the size of your step. What matters most is process, the direction you’re heading in. So if the task at hand feels to big, chunk it in smaller sub-tasks. Prune it. What that looks like depends on the situation. Cut back the duration, or cut back the intensity. For instance, stick to it only for one day instead of one week and take it from there.
Make sure you can check for yourself, how do you know you have completed the task? How does success look like for you? When you get the hang of it, up your game by making the job more challenging. Throw in some extra effort so that you don’t lose your motivation because it becomes too easy (and boring) to do.
Tip 2. Introduce a real sense of urgency
Without any real urgency, you’re bound to have issues starting the job. Without a deadline, a finish line you have to pass within a certain amount of time, the challenge you’ve set yourself will not look that appealing. Make sure you remind yourself on a frequent basis such that you don’t lose track of what is important to you. Set a timer, scribble your goal down in your notes or put it down in your calendar. Keep your calendar close to you, stick it on top of the fridge. Do whatever works or has worked for you in the past.
3. Create accountability
With accountability, you’re creating an environment that helps to keep us on the journey when our minds begin resisting and trying to talk ourselves out of it. So ask yourself
- What could you do to increase a sense of responsibility and accountability?
- What kind of measures that introduce accountability would personally appeal and work for you?
For example, you can look for someone who can hold you accountable, an accountability partner. This can be a friend, relative, or even a coach. You can make it extra fun to create consequences if you fail. You can even join an accountability group and commit to them. For example, weight-watchers, the AA or even book clubs use this same principle.
Going forward: How to avoid procrastination
The moral of the story here is that fighting off procrastination can be quite challenging. What often looks appealing in the short term, is totally different when you look at in a longer time horizon. But we don’t do that. So try to hold off temptation as much as you can by purposefully design your environment (your house, your work, your car) in such a way it becomes less easy and less fun to go for the quicker option. On the other hand, make it more easier and more fun to chase your long-term goals instead.
See what ingredients work out for you, introduce accountability, make the challenge easier or even harder. Look at your notes from earlier on and see if they can give you a clue what to start with. Good luck with experimenting with this and notice what works best for you.
If you need a hand to battling procrastination, or you could use some extra accountability, you know who to reach out for.