Feeling overwhelmed: Sometimes you may have more items on your to-do list than you can reasonably complete. This can lead to feeling overwhelmed. 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 everything that isn’t truly important.
- Secondly, delegate tasks to others as much as possible.
- Thirdly, negotiate with others to free up more time for what’s really important.
If you’re putting off starting a project because you find it overwhelming, here are some tips:
- Break the project into a set of smaller, more manageable tasks. You may find it helpful to create an action plan.
- Start with some quick, small tasks if you can, even if these aren’t the logical first actions. You’ll feel that you’re achieving things, and so perhaps the whole project won’t be so overwhelming after all.
Avoiding an unpleasant task: Most jobs have unpleasant or boring aspects to them, and often the best way of dealing with these is to get them over and done with quickly, so that you can focus on the more enjoyable aspects of the job.
Being disorganised: Organized people avoid procrastination because they will have things like prioritized to-do lists and schedules. They’ll also have planned how long a task will take to do, and will have worked back from that point to identify when they need to get started in order to avoid it being late. Organized people know how to break the work down into manageable steps.
- Keep a to-do list so that you can’t forget about unpleasant or overwhelming tasks.
- Become a master of scheduling and project planning, so that you know when to start those all-important projects.
- Set yourself time-bound goals.
- Focus on one task at a time.
Not knowing: A positive reason for procrastination may be that we haven’t yet made a decision. For example, we leave the new plant on the kitchen table because we haven’t yet decided where to put it. Another example might be that we think we want to leave our job but put off doing a new CV because we don’t really want to leave our job, we may just need to become more assertive with a troublesome colleague but haven’t come to this understanding yet.
Bad decision-making skills: If you can’t decide what to do, you’re likely to put off taking action in case you do the wrong thing.
- The first tip is to start with whatever is easy, manageable and doesn’t fill your mind with a nameless dread. Have a look at your project and decide to do the easy bit first. The great thing is that after getting going, you start to build momentum and the harder bits are more likely to flow.
- The trouble with ‘starting easy’ is that it can be difficult to know where to start: there might be several easy bits, or it might be difficult to tell what should be done and what shouldn’t. Planning can help with this, but planning is also a trap. Too much planning and not enough actual doing is another form of procrastination. Take a tip from writers, artists and creatives down the ages: just start anywhere! You may chuck away the stuff you start with, but at least it gets you into the project.
Laziness: 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 spiralling 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: physically move your body – exercise helps to raise your energy levels and motivates you into action. Laziness could also be fatigued-linked and once rest has happened, the laziness goes.
Over-thinking: There are different kinds of over-thinking which are dangerous:
- all-or-nothing thinking
- impossibly high standards
- catastrophizing (thinking everything will be a catastrophe)
Perfectionism: 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 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 e.g. 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 solutions to perfectionism include:
- Realizing that an imperfect job completed today is always superior to the perfect job delayed indefinitely.
- Perfectionism also arises when you think of a project as one gigantic whole. Replace that one big ‘must be perfect’ project in your mind with one small imperfect first step. For example, if you want to write a 5000-word article, allow your first draft be only 100 words if it helps you get started.
- Instead of always aiming for perfection, start intimidating projects by just getting started. Can’t come up with a perfect first line for your article? Just start writing anything that comes to mind on the topic. Can’t think of a topic? Just start writing down anything vaguely related to the subject.
De-motivated: If you suffer from chronically low motivation and can’t seem to get anything going, then it’s time for you to let go of faulty thought patterns. Until you identify an inspiring purpose, you’ll never come close to achieving your potential, and your motivation will always remain weak. ’ Once you’ve centred your life on an inspiring purpose, then you can take advantage of certain motivational techniques to boost your motivation even higher.
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 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.
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 choices to overcome this pattern: educate, delegate, or eliminate:
- First, you can acquire the skill level you need by training. Just because you can’t do something today doesn’t mean you’ll never be able to do it. Educate yourself to gain skill until you become proficient.
- A second option is to delegate tasks you lack the skill to do. If you want a certain result but don’t want to acquire the skills to get that result, you can recruit others to help you.
- 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 choice is to eliminate the task. Sometimes procrastination is a sign that a task needn’t be done at all.
Lack of accountability: Muster up someone to hold you accountable. Whether it’s declaring your intentions publicly to your team of colleagues, taking on a paid assignment you have to deliver, or telling a family member or friend who’s willing to nag you. No one wants to disappoint an expectant audience.
Not seeing the value of a task: A massive cause of procrastination is simply not valuing the goal enough. If we don’t care that much, we’re not going to be that motivated. Other times the goal is unpleasant or aversive and we need to be super-motivated to do it. For any task, though, thinking about why it’s important and trying to up its value in our minds will help fight demotivation.
Abstract thinking: Here are two ways of thinking about a task:
- Abstract: Wouldn’t it be great to write an article on how life coaching could help improve parenting skills?
- Concrete: What would I like to include in the article?
When you are getting started on a task, it’s much better to think about the concrete steps you are going to take, rather than abstract aims and ideas. Thinking concrete helps you get started.
Fear of change: Sometimes we avoid doing or completing a task, in order to stay the same. We don’t want to change. Realizing that change is a constant and that we can survive it helps overcome procrastination.
Attention seeking: Is procrastinating giving you something to talk about? That novel that never gets written? That job change that never happens?