“Procrastination is like a credit card: it’s a lot of fun until you get the bill.” – Christopher Parker
I’m just as guilty as the next person for putting off until tomorrow what really needs to be done today.
It has compromised my creative life, my ability to stay organized, and my commitments to myself and others. At times it has compromised my ability to succeed at the highest levels.
We can all find lots of excuses for not doing the things we’ll say we’ll do, and many of them feel justified.
But are they?
What is Procrastination
The dictionary definition of the word procrastinate is to postpone, put off, or defer. The word comes from the joining of two Latin words – ‘pro’, meaning forward, and ‘crastinus’, meaning belonging to tomorrow.
In other words, I’ll do it later.
Intelligence bears no relationship to procrastination.
Forget the idea that you’re putting things off until your muse or your brilliance kicks in. As an author, I understand that well.
People often wonder how to differentiate between true procrastination and simply putting things off.
One way to tell is simple…does it bother you?
Some people thrive on busy.
They’re loaded up with projects and things to do. It gives them a sense of purpose.
Others are more laid back.
They prefer to take things as they come, and know that things will get done eventually.
These people choose to procrastinate.
They use procrastination to give themselves time to reflect, to clarify their options, or to focus on what seems important.
At the other end of the spectrum are people where procrastination creates significant problems.
These people find that delaying seems to have a life of its own, and they compare the experience of procrastination to living on a roller coaster of emotions as their moods rise and fall according to what needs to be done.
The Cycle of Procrastination
You have your own unique cycle, which can be drawn out over a period of weeks, months, and sometimes even years.
We all procrastinate in our own ways, and there are thousands of ways to avoid doing what we must do.
The interesting thing is procrastination is a really creative act. We have a million excuses as to why we can’t get started right now.
Think about the moment you start to procrastinate. What are you thinking?
“I’ve got to get organized first”
“I don’t have time to do it all now, so there’s no point in starting.”
“It might not be good enough, so why bother.”
“If I wait, I can do a really first-class job.”
“I’ll just wait until I’m inspired.”
The excuses are endless.
Eventually, you get the message that you’re still not getting the task done that you needed to do.
As time drags on and nothing is done, you begin to feel ashamed of yourself.
Refusing to take phone calls, avoiding people, or having any other contact that will show other people you haven’t done what you said you would do.
Then, there’s the other excuse of, “There’s still time.”
Even though you feel guilty, ashamed, or fraudulent, you continue to hold onto the hope that there’s still time to get the project done.
Someone will wave the magic wand and it’s all done.
But when the things don’t get done and no one waves the magic wand, you’re stuck with one clear message – there’s something wrong with me.
Negative thinking takes over.
“I’m useless. I lack discipline, courage, brains, or luck. Any idiot could have finished this job by now.”
And finally, you’re in the part of the cycle where you have to admit, “I either do it or don’t do it.”
If you do it, you’ll feel good about yourself for finally completing the project.
If you don’t do it, you can continue to feel bad about yourself. It’s your choice.
When we get caught up in this cycle of procrastination we are essentially sabotaging our lives.
How Do You Procrastinate?
Think about how and where you procrastinate.
Is it at the office? At home? At school? Personal care? Social relationships? Or finances?
“I want to stop procrastinating” is a noble but too vague expression.
When you take a look at how you procrastinate you will see you procrastinate selectively.
How to manage this:
Keep track of where and how you procrastinate.
Examine your excuses over the next week.
Many excuses actually have a kernel of truth.
The house can always be cleaner. Your workspace can always be more organized, and your to-do list a lot shorter.
When you notice an excuse, look at what’s underneath it.
Try to reverse the perspectives.
“It might not be good enough, but I’ll at least give a try.”
“I’m tired, but I’ll just work for another 15 minutes.”
“This may not turn out perfectly, but I’m going to learn a lot from doing it.”
Consider where you are currently procrastinating and create actions that will you take you where you want to go.
Be specific and concrete. What specifically will you do?
Who will be present to witness it?
What results will you have in your hand when all is said and done?
Life is lived in increments – small, observable steps that build momentum; a series of mini goals that you can reach.
The distant goal is kept in sight, but it is in the moment goals that you do that makes the difference.
If your project is complicated, break it down into these manageable steps. Think less is more.
In the coming week, choose one unfinished task, and approach it with a desire to learn from both success and failure.
Pay attention to how you set up your goals and how you handle them.
When you make progress and you procrastinate, examine both your successes and setbacks to see where you can learn from them.
It’s not an evaluation of how smart you are, how talented or responsible, but think like a researcher gathering data – not the critic, passing judgment.
Optimize Your Opportunity for Success
Find someone who will hold you accountable, a partner, a colleague, a coach, anyone who can share your goals with you and then check in with you until you reach that goal.
Stick to a time limit to your goal.
If you want to produce results in three months, then set that intention, but put a date on it.
Look at the calendar and make sure that there’s a date on there, and if your goal is 30 minutes a week on this, then keep this in mind.
Setting your intention and honoring your agreement with yourself builds trust and confidence, and once you start to get a glimpse of that, trust me, you want a whole lot more.
Procrastination is a fact of life. When we embrace it as a process, and not an excuse, great things happen.