Last week I had to prepare for an important presentation. I was pitching for a deal, which, if it went through, would increase my top line by a possible 30%. The presentation was on Monday and until the Friday before that, I was nowhere near getting started on it. I had known about the meeting a good 10 days in advance. I was completely aware of what the presentation could do for my business.
To be on the safe side, I had even kept my Friday relatively free to ensure that I would be able to give time to the presentation.
But when Friday came I couldn’t seem to get round to it.
There were the constant emails to check.
My desk had to be organized.
Then I had to check my Facebook and LinkedIn accounts to make sure I knew what was happening in the world.
And then I got hungry and had to take a break.
Then somebody sent me a funny video on WhatsApp that I had to watch.
If any of this sounds familiar, these are the typical symptoms of most procrastinators
- There is an important task with a deadline.
- You know you need to spend time and work on it.
- There are all these unimportant things you keep finding to delay getting started.
- In the end, you feel guilty and keep beating yourself up for not completing the task.
- When the deadline is really close and you get down to doing it, you feel stressed and worked up.
Procrastination is the art of keeping up with yesterday. Don Marquis
On the surface, it may look like there is a lack of focus and the person is simply whiling away the time out of laziness or disinterest. In reality, laziness and disinterest are the symptoms and not the cause of procrastination. If you ask most procrastinators, they know the importance of the task at hand and want to do it….but they just don’t feel like working on it.
The top 4 reasons why people procrastinate:
- Fear of failure or being inadequate: When you set yourself a task that you feel you may not be able to achieve or one that pushes you out of your comfort zone your chances of procrastination go up drastically. This is because the mind at a subconscious level feels fear. The default reaction to fear for most people is to avoid the thing causing it.
- High level of difficulty and not knowing where to start: If the effort required to complete the task is something that stresses you out or if you are unsure of how to start the mind copes with it by looking for alternate options to release the stress. One way to do this is to find more pleasurable things to do. These could be in the form of looking up a YouTube video, taking a smoking break or simply wasting time.
- Boredom: The opposite of finding a task difficult is finding it boring. If the mind does not find the work at hand interesting enough, it looks for ways to avoid it by finding something more worthwhile or fun to do.
- Perfectionism: Sometimes the need to get it right is so high that the person just doesn’t feel ready to complete the task because the time, energy, focus, information, structure or some other thing is not perfect. For perfectionists, all the ducks need to be in a row before they feel ready to start. So if some piece of information is missing or they haven’t reached the level of competency they want they will struggle to get started.
Simple hacks to break the cycle of procrastination:
Procrastinating is often about being unable to get started. Most people find that once they get started they are able to complete the work without a problem. The key to beating procrastination is to find ways to get started.
- Get a partner : Procrastination is easier to avoid if there is someone else’s time or effort at stake. This works especially well for things like setting up meetings. When you feel you may slack on setting up a meeting, ask the other participant to block your calendar instead. If you have trouble getting started with a presentation set a 15-minute discussion with a partner and commit on when you will share the draft. Giving the mind a commitment to focus on works well to keep it off other distractions.
- Think of this as practice: If you are a perfectionist, think of the task at hand as a practice session to see how far you have come instead of something you need to do perfectly. This helps relieve the pressure to get it right. It also gives you the confidence to get started
- Break it down: Stop thinking of the task as one big complete thing to do. Break it down into smaller steps. Now focus only on getting the first step completed. Once that is done move to step 2. Or maybe look at doing all the steps you can easily manage and only then focus on the ones you can’t. If a step feels difficult seek help. Move through the whole thing one step at a time.
While procrastination is often considered to be opposite of productivity it is not always bad. There are often times that procrastination is good for you. More of this in my next article.