Last week we successfully avoided doing any work by looking at the eight styles of procrastination. But no matter what your style, you can’t keep putting things off forever. Sooner or later, you’re going to have to get stuff done. But first you need to figure out why you’re procrastinating. So here’s another thing you can do to avoid doing the thing you need to do: dig through the excuses and find the root cause of your avoidance.
For example, if you’re a Perfectionist your attention to detail is admirable, but it’s slowing you down. Instead, reframe perfection as excellence and try to create more realistic goals. You could even practise making deliberate mistakes (the horror!).
Or if you’re a Worrier your self-doubt may be misplaced and your worst fears are unlikely to manifest. Instead, reduce your anxiety by breaking goals down into smaller steps, and try to do one thing each day that pushes you out of your comfort zone.
But if you’re Apathetic and find it hard to do anything, you might be depressed or suffering from fatigue. Instead, don’t force yourself to do things, but go outside for a walk. Get some fresh air and move around. Ask yourself what you really care about.
“I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make when they go by.”
It’s not just the Apathetic procrastinators who have trouble with low energy levels. Fatigue makes it hard to get tasks done, especially if they’re difficult or unpleasant or boring. But you can be tired for many reasons. If you have the energy to do other things, but not this particular task, then low energy isn’t the problem. It means you don’t care about that task.
For example, if every time you think about cleaning the toilet, your eyes glaze over and your mind turns to mush and you’d rather do anything than put the marigolds on, it’s because you don’t care about having a clean toilet. But give it time. When you’ve forgotten the original colour of the ceramic and there’s a tendency for you to stick to the seat, you’ll clean it. Either that, or come down with typhoid 😉 .
So if your low energy is down to not caring about what you have to do, you’ll need to rethink your approach and find a way to motivate yourself. But if you’re putting things off because you actually are knackered, then you’ll need to deal with that too. Most of us are trying to cram too much into each day and are at least partially sleep-deprived. So the first step in this case is to get more sleep, get outside and exercise, and perhaps improve your diet. Once you’ve dealt with the fatigue, your motivation to do stuff should improve.
Sometimes we procrastinate because we don’t really know what to do. We go round in circles, doing this and that and not settling on any one thing, because we’re not sure what we should be doing, or what we even want to do. In this case, the first step is to work out what you need to do. If you have a particular task in mind, brainstorm and break it down into smaller chunks, and then you’ll be able to work out what should come first on your list. When you simplify your task it makes it easier to focus on doing one step at a time, and that way, you don’t get overwhelmed.
“Think of all the years passed by in which you said to yourself ‘I’ll do it tomorrow,’ and how the gods have again and again granted you periods of grace of which you have not availed yourself. It is time to realise that you are a member of the Universe, that you are born of Nature itself, and to know that a limit has been set to your time.”
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
The Real Root of Procrastination
However, there will be times when taking a rational approach and being disciplined makes no difference. No matter how much you want to do something, you just can’t get going. This is a sign that there’s some sort of emotional blockage holding you back, and no amount of deadlines and schedules and reward systems and pep talks will break through it.
If you keep avoiding things you need to do, that in itself becomes stressful. When procrastination gets out of hand like this, it means the task in question is triggering a psychological problem tied to unexpressed emotion. In Attitude Reconstruction, Jude Bijou says that procrastination comes down to three specific emotions: fear, anger, and sadness.
To motivated yourself and get moving again, you must first deal with the emotional problem at the root of your procrastination, and this will vary depending on the task and why you’re avoiding it. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be able to think clearly again and get the task done.
So first, identify the emotions that are getting stuck. Then get those emotions moving by expressing them and letting them out. Cry, shout, stomp around, punch a pillow. Do whatever it takes to get in touch with your real feelings. It’s not enough to just think about how you feel. When you do this, you’re not really feeling your feelings, you’re just thinking about them. This will keep them stuck and won’t help you move forward. So let them come up and let them out. You’ll be amazed at how much better you feel once you’ve release them.
Next, you need to challenge your thought processes. Write down all your self-defeating thoughts – like: “I can’t write” or “I’m an idiot” or “Nobody will read my stuff anyway”. Then write statements that counter those thoughts, but keep them positive – like: “I can write” or “I’m improving everyday” and so on. The idea is to replace negative thoughts with positive statements to stop you getting stuck again.
Then you can begin to tackle your goals by breaking them down into smaller achievable steps. It helps if you make a realistic schedule for yourself and anticipate problems before they come up. Make contingency plans and get support from others if necessary. Keep your goal in mind and don’t be discouraged by negative thoughts when they come up.
“You must not procrastinate. Rather you should make preparations so that even if you die tonight, you would have no regrets.”
- Find out more about procrastination here: Procrastination and Science
- For resources and help from Jude Bijou go here: Attitude Reconstruction