I have spent my days stringing and unstringing my instrument, while the song I came to sing remains unsung. — Rabindranath Tagore
How do I stop procrastinating?
How do I stop procrastinating? Answer: start procrastinating about procrastination. That’s right, put it off!
I’ve been putting off writing this blog for about a year now. Each time I think about writing it, I feel my mood plummet. I’m immobilized and trapped in the procrastination cycle.
The procrastination cycle goes something like this. You need to do a task and consider it important enough, however something makes it unattractive or undoable. It’s easier:
- to put it off
- make excuses
- do something more pleasurable
- find a distraction.
Yet, all the while you know it’s there, lurking in the background. You attach a big ‘should’ to it, which takes away any joy of wanting to do it. Putting it off makes you less likely to want to do it in the future and the cycle begins again. Really, it works as a perfect strategy for not getting something done. It takes a lot of effort for not much reward.
Procrastination has been described as the voluntary delay of important tasks, even when the costs of putting them off far outweigh the benefits, and we perceive that the action of putting it off is to our own detriment (Ferrari, 2010).
Procrastination is common, affecting 20 percent of the adult population and 75 to 90 percent of university students (Saulsman & Nathan, 2008).
We all put off some things some of the time but procrastination in its more chronic form affects all parts of a person’s life, resulting in ‘a maladaptive lifestyle’ (Ferrari, 2010). Procrastination results in greater stress and negative effects on wellbeing, yet we still persist with this self-defeating strategy.
So why do we do it (or not do it)?
It is so much more than poor time management. Rather than being lazy, some people are highly motivated to keep on putting it off, even when it doesn’t make sense to do so. Procrastination has been linked with high impulsivity and low self-discipline; fear of failure and perfectionism. It has been linked with mood and emotions and may be accompanied by anxiety and depression (Ferrari, 1991), guilt (Blunt & Pychyl, 2005) and shame (Fee & Tangney, 2000).
It’s important to explore your motivations for procrastinating. Such as, what are you driven to avoid? What are the benefits (more time watching TV, talking with friends, doing something you enjoy more)? Or perhaps the fear is all about failure?
Psychologist Dr Ferrari (2010) identified different types of procrastinators, each with different motives for putting things off:
- The thrill-seeker: leaving something to the last minute gives you an adrenaline rush and a renewed burst of motivation as the deadline fast approaches.
- The Avoider: fear of failure or success that might come from others or from one’s own self-judgement.
- The Indecisive Decision-maker: may fear making the right (perfect) decision so put it off.
Which type are you?
How do you stop procrastinating?
To stop procrastinating, it’s important to start thinking about these four things:
- What do you procrastinate about? Everything or just some things?
- How do you do procrastination (what is your perfect procrastination strategy)?
- What are the benefits for you in procrastinating (e.g. do you get to indulge the impulsive part of yourself by doing something spontaneous)?
- A goal that is worthy of pursuing needs to be framed in positive terms and focused around the actions required to start something.
7 steps to stop procrastinating
Here’s a step-by-step process to help you stop procrastinating about a particular task.
- Identify what bugs you about doing this task. How is that a problem for you?
- Ask yourself: What will happen if I don’t do it?
- Is it still worthwhile to do it? How will it make a difference to you and your life?
- Think creatively about how you might approach it. Have you done anything like this before? What worked? Could that work here? Use your strengths (e.g. if you’re more visual, use that skill; if you’re more auditory, record the task; if you’re more kinesthetic think about it as you walk or move and write it down when you get home).
- Make a decision about how you’ll do it and stick to that.
- Give yourself permission to not be perfect. Is the task still worth doing if it’s not perfect or just good enough? Why? Write that down somewhere you can keep looking at it.
- Put off your procrastination and take one action step towards it. If it is a big task that takes longer than a couple of hours, break it up into smaller chunks. Give each chunk a time slot and get it done bit by bit. Minimise distractions.
Contact Linda Magson, Sydney Life coach and counsellor for help to do something other than procrastinate. Email Linda. Call or text: 0402 073 086
Links to other articles by Linda Magson that may help
A flow chart to help you stop procrastinating
Follow this link to a flow chart designed by Dr Ferrari, which helps you identify the type of procrastinator you are and suggests a strategy to match.
Blunt, A., & Pychyl, T. A. (2005). Project systems of procrastinators: A personal project-analytic and action control perspective. Personality and Individual Differences, 38(8), 1771-1780.
Fee, R.L. & Tangney, J.P. (2000).
Ferrari, J. R. (1991). Compulsive procrastination: Some self-reported characteristics. Psychological Reports, 68(2), 455– 458.
Ferrari, J.R. (2010). Still Procrastinating? The No-Regrets Guide to Getting It Done. New York: Wiley.
Saulsman, L. & Nathan, P. (2008). Put Off Procrastinating. Perth, WA: Centre for Clinical Interventions. Retrieved from http://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au