have been racking my brain for several days now, trying to come up with a blog post that will be interesting, informative, and overall relevant. As I continued to come up with vague ideas, without ever putting virtual pen to paper, I realized that the subject was staring me directly in the face: procrastination.
Procrastination is a phenomenon that comes up in all circles and in many diverse situations. I’ve experienced it in my personal life, in my professional life, and certainly during my academic days. I have spoken to countless clients about the frustrations and lingering effects of putting things off, and procrastinating tasks, both big and small. The most common idea that I hear from clients, is the feeling that they may be the only ones experiencing such struggles – and often feel that this points to something very wrong. Unfortunately, and fortunately, this is not the case.
What is procrastination really?
The definitions I have come across describe it as the practice of doing more pleasurable activities in place of less pleasurable ones, or spending time on less urgent tasks instead of more urgent ones. So, planning to work on a paper/project/assignment? Nope. Instead, perhaps Netflix/Facebook/socializing/sleeping/cleaning. If any of this sounds like you, you are certainly not alone.
Instead of thinking of procrastination as one type of experience, I believe it is important to consider and understand why you may be procrastinating in a specific instance. The reasons driving procrastination can often be a partial key to working through it.
Some examples of underlying feelings associated with procrastination could be: fear of failure, fear of success, feeling overwhelmed, feeling unprepared or unqualified, fear of conflict – and the list could go on and on.
Below are some general tips on approaching and managing your procrastination.
- Take breaks! One of the most common things I hear from clients (and have done myself), is that they expect to be able to work on something for a long period of time, or even until it is complete – perhaps all in one go! This is usually both unrealistic and unhealthy. Our minds are made to wander, and even the most focused and attentive minds eventually begin to stray. Whether you prefer to schedule in breaks, or listen for cues from your mind and body, taking regular breaks while working on something is a helpful and healthy place to start.
- Make sure you’re getting enough self-care! This point is somewhat related to the first one, as when taking breaks, you will likely fill it with some sort of self-care. But this point also speaks to self-care in more general terms. The more we are feeling stressed, under pressure, or backed into a corner, the more we are likely to put off our work, feel overwhelmed, and generally feel unproductive. I think society can sometimes promote the idea that the harder we work, the more we will achieve and the more successful we will be. Don’t get me wrong, working hard is essential – however, I think it is important to consider how we are defining hard work. Pushing ourselves to, and past our limits, while it may seem beneficial in the short-term, over time will wear us down, and burn us out. So to put it simply – make self-care a regular priority.
- Start small. Start anywhere. Procrastination very often goes hand in hand with another frustrating P word: perfectionism. A lot of what blocks our way to getting things done, is desperately wanting to get it done right…and perfectly. That’s a lot of pressure to withstand while staring a project in the eye. It makes complete sense that the urge to avoid, run away from, or put off even for 5 to 10 minutes, comes up instead. I can use this post as a good example. All of my thinking about it, hypothesizing, wondering, imagining what it would look like – kept me in the non-doing and avoiding phase. The productivity only began once I stopped getting ahead of myself, and put some ideas out there in a real and concrete way. Allowing yourself to start small, and letting go (even if it’s just temporarily to start) of the expectations you set for yourself, can be the path to productivity and reduction in stress.
- Give yourself credit. This one is crucial, and goes nicely with the previous points. I think a lot of us are used to working ourselves to the bone, finishing our assignments and projects, then starting all over again on the next project in line. We typically don’t stop and appreciate our efforts and successes long enough to let them sink in. Going from one thing to the next, with continually high expectations and pressures, is a sure way to feel drained, emotionally and physically. Learning to congratulate ourselves with a figurative or literal pat on the back, and just being able to acknowledge our effort can go a long way.
So, there you have it. One full blog post, that almost didn’t happen because of at least the 2 P’s – procrastination and perfectionism, but did happen because of one very important P: possibility. The next time you’re confronted with that pesky procrastination urge, take a moment (or even a few) to check in with yourself, consider with curiosity what it is that your procrastination is trying to tell you, and engage in some self-compassion and self-care.