It’s hard to believe now, but there was a time when I was such a confirmed procrastinator, that the backlog looked like a busy day at JFK. I needed a team of air traffic controllers. Clearly there weren’t any, because I lurched from crisis to crisis with alarming regularity.
Of course being a single parent of two toddlers—one with special needs, and a full time businesswoman required being permanently in overdrive. Of course my To Do list just kept growing. Of course my stress levels were insane. I had a multitude of perfectly logical reasons to put things I didn’t want to face on the back burner—and no of course this had nothing to do with procrastinating….so, riddled with justification, excuses and denial, I continued leaking energy like an incontinent tom cat for years.
Are you also a seasoned justification junkie?
Do you rationalise that you don’t have the time to deal with those issues…you know, the ones that keep getting stuck at the end of your priority list?
I bet Jeffrey Deaver would have a hard time coming up with story lines as compelling as those we dream up to avoid dealing with tasks we really don’t want to deal with.
We can take planning to a whole new level when we’re hell bent on delaying—or not finishing a task.
We can take hours to tidy a cupboard rather than clean the rest of the house; research material for a book, which we fail to actually write; set up a whole new filing system for accounts but never get around to paying them; rewrite a perfect CV ten times while the position is filled by someone else; speak in masterful terms about a project we’re working on (and have been for the past ten years.) Or we can quote every diet ever conceived, while keeping our local Kentucky Fried Chicken on the Fortune 500 list.
People who procrastinate commonly misjudge the difficulty of a task or the time necessary to complete it. Then they then find themselves on their knees with exhaustion halfway through—and quit. This creates negative reinforcement and they’re even less likely to attempt the task in future.
Maybe you’re a perfectionist?
The trouble with perfectionists is that they tend to see things in black and white. Either their project is completely flawless or a slit-your-wrists failure. That’s why many of them devote an entire lifetime to researching a project that never comes to fruition.
Completing a task can be problematical for a top class perfectionist. You do intend to get it done sometime this century, but having to do it perfectly means you delay the possibility that it may turn out a failure. Everyone can see you’re working on it, so you’re really not avoiding the task—just delaying it indefinitely!
Procrastination can also be a way of rebelling.
It’s the covert equivalent of pulling faces or flipping a finger. You’re not saying you won’t do what you need to do. You’re just putting it on the back burner—indefinitely.
The list of creative excuses we can come up with to delay doing something we don’t want to do is endless. I’m too tired. I’m too busy. I’m not feeling well. I have to do something else/be somewhere else. I’m no good at that. There’s plenty of time, I’ll do it later. It’s not really urgent. Can’t you see I’m under too much pressure? Well, I can’t because I haven’t got the money/materials/facilities/knowledge etc.
But I’m so busy!
Almost everyone I know whose life is a blinding blur of busyness, does not have a heavier than average workload—their inability to manage it, to allocate time, prioritise and not procrastinate, is what makes it seem that way.
And the chances are that’s part of the plan. They need to justify procrastinating on tasks they don’t want to face, so they action the safe tasks in vast quantities at high speed, take on more and more of them to fool everyone—including themselves, that they are not avoiding the ones on the back burner. This I know, because I did it for years!
In addition when procrastinators do finally overcome their selective lethargy, of course they have to operate at warp speed because there’s so much to catch up on.
Some of us suffer from overload because we don’t draw personal boundaries or delegate. The halo wielding status of being a ‘good guy’ who never refuses to help, adds to the justification!
We are motivated primarily by two feelings—pain and pleasure.
1. Since procrastinating about something is always driven by a desire to avoid what you perceive as painful or uncomfortable, change your perceptions. Instead of I have to/ought to/must do which immediately sets up psychological resistance, say I want to/choose to/am prioritizing….because the outcome will benefit me.
2. How compelling are the benefits of tackling this task? If the benefits are compelling enough, commit and do it.
3. If the benefits of doing it are not compelling enough delegate it—in order to fully utilize your team and free up time.
4. Focus—interruptions and distractions have to GO.
5. Schedule a celebration or reward for keeping a commitment to yourself AFTER you have completed the task.
To break any longstanding habit the rules have to be absolute.
Like an alcoholic who can never drink again, it’s all too easy to relapse into procrastination. So whether you’re applying for the promotion of a lifetime or picking your shirt up off the floor it’s the Do It Now Because I'm Worth It principle you’re encoding as a default program. This then automatically spreads to every area of your life—career, health, relationships, family or financial freedom.