Do you ever wonder why you procrastinate?
Well stop wondering because it doesn’t matter.
Analyzing why we procrastinate is just another way of procrastinating.
For those of us inclined toward studying the “whys” of human behavior, this is one area where the why just gets in the way of the how.
I could list 100 reasons why we procrastinate, and they might be simply fascinating to study and dissect. But if we really want to stop procrastinating, we need to explore how to stop it rather than why we do it. This, my self-improvement-loving friends, is the time for action — not introspection!
We all procrastinate. No one likes to do what they don’t want to do. If you think you are a far worse procrastinator than the next guy, I can assure you, you aren’t. However, you may not have learned the skills to ignore it, sidestep it, or laugh in its face. (The notable exceptions here are those who suffer from depression or ADHD. Procrastination can be symptoms of these disorders.)
For the sake of this discussion, let’s talk about procrastination related to tasks that you know must be done rather than habits you want to form or drop. Habit creation or habit dropping are entirely different animals and require a different set of skills. I’ve written about habits before, so you can read those posts to compliment this one if you’d like.
But in general, we all have tasks, chores, projects, decisions, or actions that we put off. Again, it doesn’t matter why. But it goes without saying that we are creatures of comfort. We prefer to do what is fun and easy rather than something that is uncomfortable, tedious, hard, or boring.
As you already know, procrastinating might buy us some short term pleasure or pain-avoidance, but it fosters long-term issues that are equally or more uncomfortable than the task we are avoiding. These include guilt, anxiety, stress, and a sense of low self-confidence.
Fortunately, we have this executive level thinking capacity that urges us to do what must be done. And this is the voice that does daily battle with the primordial brain that would rather surf the net or watch TV. (Back in the ancient days, laziness was adaptive in order to conserve energy for survival — slaying beasts and running from enemies.)
So if you want your modern brain to win the battle over your prehistoric adaptations, you have to plan your strategy. You have to remind yourself you are no longer a Neanderthal and that in order to survive in the 21st century, procrastination is the only beast to be slain.
Here are a few keys on how to stop procrastinating once and for all:
1. Awareness and knowledge
In every area of life in which we want to improve, shining the light of reality on the situation is the best first step. Now you know that you don’t have some unique issue with procrastination. It’s just a throwback to your ancient brain, just like so many other behaviors we have. Just as we no longer need to suck our thumbs, we don’t need to procrastinate. We have evolved out of that need.
2. Dis-empower the urges
Don’t give any additional power to the urge to procrastinate. Don’t dwell on the avoidance thoughts or how bad they make you feel. Don’t allow yourself to get lost in the temporary pleasure of whatever is distracting you from your task. Remind yourself that procrastinating is like thumb-sucking. You have grown out of it.
3. Make an appointment
Whatever task or action you are avoiding, make an appointment with yourself to get it done. Put it on your calendar for a specific day and time. Treat it the same way you would treat an appointment with an important client.
4. Remove potential distractions
Once you’ve made the appointment, separate yourself from anything that might tempt you to stray from the task at hand. If it is desk work that requires your computer, clean off your desk, close all other browsers, turn off the phone, and close your door. If it is a physical chore, prepare everything you need in advance so you can optimize the time you’ve allotted for this task.
5. Announce it
Tell people that you are going to complete the task or action during the appointment time and give them a day/time you will finish the it. Create public accountability for yourself to give yourself less wiggle room for avoidance.
6. Communicate with family members
Sometimes other people close to us can unconsciously or consciously sabotage our efforts at ending procrastination. They may have another agenda for you, or perhaps they are procrastinating and want you to join the fun. Communicate your plans for completing your task on your appointment day and ask for support from your family. You may need to rearrange your plans to accommodate your spouse or family, but don’t use this as an excuse to avoid the task altogether.
7. Break it down
If you have a big task or project, and it feels overwhelming, break it down into the smallest possible components. Create a series of easily manageable tasks that you can schedule in your appointment calendar. Remove overwhelm as a potential obstacle to getting it done.
8. Don’t think about it
In the time leading up to your task appointment time, force your thinking away from the task and your feelings of avoidance. If you find yourself dwelling on how much you don’t want to do the task, redirect your thinking to something else entirely. Again, don’t give any additional brain power to the possibility of procrastination.
9. Have a plan B
Emergencies or higher priority tasks can occur that will interrupt your planned task that you put on your appointment calendar. Think in advance about the specific situations that are acceptable interruptions for your appointment. Write them down so you’ll remember. Then set aside a back-up day and time on your calendar if you do get interrupted.
If you do mess up and miss your appointment, don’t dwell in guilt and self-recrimination. Just set another appointment and try again. Giving power to those bad feelings will only decrease your self-esteem, which in turn fosters procrastination. Hit the reset button in your brain and move forward. Every day is a new opportunity to kick procrastination in the butt!
Procrastination is simply a word that represents a feeling. It is a feeling stimulated by an ancient, outdated mental adaptation. You no longer have to hunt or gather, at least not the old-fashioned way!
Just ignore the procrastination urge. Step over it. Push it out of the way. Pretend it doesn’t exist.
If you have something that needs doing, make an appointment and just do it!