What are you procrastinating right now? There is always something we are not doing, but to procrastinate means that we are putting off an important task that we know we should be doing in favour of a lower value, possibly easier or more enjoyable task. Procrastination reduces our effectiveness and ensures that we take longer to reach our goals. It can cause anxiety and stress and reduce the quality of our work as we rush to meet impending deadlines. Worse still when we procrastinate non deadline drives tasks like exercise or spending time with our family, the consequences can be severe, sudden and irrevocable.
Why might you procrastinate? Consider this list of reasons and think which may apply to you –
- I don’t know where to start
- I don’t like this task
- I am lacking motivation
- If I avoid it, someone else will do it
- I work best under last minute pressure
- I don’t have the time
The last one is always an excuse and never a genuine reason. It is never a question of time, only of priority. If something is important to you, then you will find the time for it. So if you find yourself saying this excuse ask yourself, how important is this task to me? If it is very important and more important than other things that you are doing then you are failing to prioritise properly and are probably responding to the urgent needs of others around you rather than outing your own work first. Push back against others, say no and focus on your task first thing in the morning. (Before opening your email inbox).
If you are lacking motivation around a task, consider why you decided or agreed to do that task in the first place. What will the end result give you? How does this task align with your long term goals and objectives? It is important to find that bigger picture purpose and understand why it is important that you do it.
If you don’t know where to start on a task there are several things you could do. For me it always helps to talk it out with someone else. Often a 10 minute discussion can get the ideas flowing and you know what the next action is. You could also break the task down into more manageable chunks. For example, you can commit to spending 15 minutes per day on the task, doing anything that is relevant to it. 15 minutes is not a big time commitment and once you start you will probably find that you end up spending longer on it.
If you think you work best under last minute pressure, then you probably do. Some of us love an approaching deadline that drives us into high productivity (me included). For come tasks this can work really well and it is important to know yourself well. What tasks can you leave to the last minute and still do an amazing job? And what tasks do you need more time on to do well? Adam Grant and his researchers at Penn found that mild procrastination can be good for creativity. Those that jump in and complete tasks early leave no space for the build-up of creative ideas, while those that leave everything to the last minute simply have no time to be creative. So the trick is to find the sweet spot of procrastination where you have benefited from creativity but not left to little time to think. It is also important to consider if others are involved how your procrastination will impact them – you may enjoy the last minute pressure but your collaborators might not!
One technique I like for procrastination is to combine that task that you are avoiding with something that you really enjoy. For example you could bribe yourself with a reward for getting the task done. Or let’s say you need to have a difficult conversation with an employee, why not do it at your favourite café so the cake can take the edge of the meeting. This also works for exercise – save your favourite TV show to watch on the treadmill at the gym.
If you are waiting for your colleagues to pick up the slack on work you do not want to do, beware of this strategy. While this might be effective in the short term, getting a reputation as someone who doesn’t contribute to the team and who does not stick to commitments is not a good place to be.
Setting small short term goals is another great technique to overcome your procrastination. Long to do lists can be so demotivating and can actually discourage action. Instead focus on the 2-3 things that you need to get done today. Write them down if that helps you and focus only on those things. Ask yourself – what would I need to have completed today for the day to be a success? Add only high value, important tasks to that list and focus on them before your lesser value, quicker tasks.
I can personally vouch for all of the above techniques, so whatever you are procrastinating right now, give one of these a try and get your focus back!