“There’s so much to do and I’m so overwhelmed. I can’t start now.”
We’ve all been there. We’ve all heard these statements from people we know, or we’ve said them to ourselves. If you think about it, procrastination involves a lot of creativity. It’s amusing how we can come up with so many reasons to delay a task that would’ve taken a minute to complete.
The real question is, why? Why is it easier to keep putting things off, sometimes even at the expense of our own good?
Why do we procrastinate?
We procrastinate for many reasons. In fact, procrastination is a phenomenon that is studied extensively by psychologists. More recently, Tim Urban authored an impressive article on procrastination. You can read the summary of why we procrastinate in our article on instant gratification. It is one of the key content pieces that we recommend you read.
Many times, we procrastinate because the task is complex. While it may look simple and straightforward on your to-do list, it requires thought and effort to get it right. For instance, a task like “cook dinner” seems like an ordinary chore. But if you have just recently started cooking your meals, “cook dinner” is more complex than you think. You need to ensure you know what you are cooking if you have all the ingredients at hand, what recipe are you going to use and how much prep does the dish requires. Not to mention, “cook dinner” also means “clean up” after.
Go back to your task list and look at the tasks you’ve been putting off. Are the seemingly simple tasks that are actually complex? If so, it may help to break down the task into smaller steps, instead of tackling it all at once.
It involves complex decisions
We put off certain tasks because it requires us to make an impossible decision. Some tasks, “buy a dress for a wedding” may require us to make larger budget decisions, who is going to be our date, when are we flying to the venue, does the dress go with the wedding theme, etc. When we are faced with a task that involves a complex decision, we tend to procrastinate instead of facing it head-on. Try to tackle these heavy decision-making tasks first thing in the morning when you are fresh. Our decision-making ability tends to go down as we near the end of the day.
Involves facing emotions
Many times, a task requires us to face deep and insecure parts of ourselves. It needs us to reach deep down and find the strength to make tough calls. Many C-level executives put off making tough layoff calls to avoid confrontation with colleagues they enjoy working with. When our loved ones pass away, we often put off taking care of their belongings. We are just not ready to face the difficult emotions that come with the task.
We are subconsciously wired for immediate rewards. If a task yields long-term rewards, especially those that take several years to show results, we tend to procrastinate. Something else is always urgent and important. Therefore, we put off going to the gym, saving up, investing, etc. Many times, just identifying that we are putting off a decision because we do not see the immediate results, is good enough to get us through the procrastination hurdle.
Lack of motivation
A major reason for procrastination is the lack of motivation to perform the tasks. At times because we’ve been asked to do a task against our will. Students don’t feel motivated enough to study, Professions lack the motivation to work, and often, we all suffer the lack of motivation to exercise. Because there is no solid motivating factor for us to perform a task, we keep delaying the actions by finding ways to justify the delay. It is normal to lack motivation to perform certain tasks during your day, but it becomes an issue when it is persistent.
Procrastination and perfectionism
If you are a perfectionist, you’ve likely struggled with this without truly understanding why you’ve been procrastinating. If you want all tasks done to perfection, at the right place and time, you likely put off doing the task altogether. In a way, you are putting a lot of undue pressure on yourself to get the task done perfectly. This not only leads to procrastination but also stress and a feeling of achieving nothing all day. If you struggle with procrastination due to perfection, then break your task down into stages. Give yourself the goal of getting to one stage at a time.
Fear of failure
If you’ve failed before and if you are worried that taking action will lead to another failure, you are likely to put off the task, without even acknowledging the underlying reason. In fact, you will find more important things popping up in your life, leading to a situation where you’ve not achieved a task in weeks. But not doing anything is not an option for most of us. If you’ve been avoiding a task because you are afraid of failure, talk to a friend or even a trained therapist. Figure out an action plan to get through the failure together and take it slow. Have faith in yourself. You got this.
When we struggle with low self-esteem, we believe that we are not capable to complete the task. As a result, we avoid it. Because we believe that we are unlikely to complete it or complete it effectively. Try working on yourself in building your self-esteem and develop self-love.
We procrastinate on everything we don’t like. We are trained to do only things that we like doing. While our definition of a likable task differs, many of us just don’t enjoy certain tasks. While tasks can be unlikable, it is important to note that they need to be done. For instance, there is no point in delaying tx payment. Even if you don’t like doing your taxes, you just gotta do it.
Most people cite laziness as their reason for not completing their tasks or procrastinating their work. It is likely that the real reason for procrastination is something deeper and something that requires some self-work.
While all of us express bouts of not wanting to do anything, and we eventually get to the important tasks anyway. However, if you are postponing something for some time now, try talking to someone about the task and your approach to it. It increases your chances of completing it.
How to Beat Procrastination
Understanding why you are procrastinating in the first place will go a long way in overcoming it. We all know that getting things done will make us more productive, successful, healthy, and happy.
Motivation is like a caffeine shot. It can give you an instant rush of energy a few minutes after consumption which lasts for a few hours. But its effects wear down after some time. Motivation is sort of like that. It helps us get in the momentum, it gives us that kick start we need, but it’s up to us to keep it going. That’s where habits come in. When we do the same task at the same time over and over again, we build a solid foundation of habits. Once formed, they put certain activities on autopilot. Like getting up at a certain time in the morning. After a point, you don’t even need an alarm to wake you up.
Not just your daily planner or your calendar. While an updated task list and calendar are quintessential, keeping parts of your life organized will also go a long way. For instance, if your employment paperwork is filed and all documents are in one place, it will take less effort to file your taxes each year. If your grocery list is up to date and you already have the ingredients for a meal in the house, it will be faster to whip it up.
Organization often requires us to “clean up” after a task is done. Saving the files in the right folder once the project is complete, keeping the duct tape back in its place after you are done, etc. Will save time and effort when you have to perform a task next time.
Do it together
If you want to start a healthy habit like working out, do it with a friend. You are more likely to do it when you know that your friend will be waiting for you in the morning. You can also motivate each other and check on each other's progress.
Break it down
Breaking down complex tasks into small actionable steps can make the task more approachable. For instance, instead of a 1-hour workout 3 times a day, try to break it down. Plan to do just 2 pushups every morning. Only do a 5-minute warm-up for the first few days, and nothing else. It is easier to give 5 minutes to a new activity, to begin with than 60 minutes. As you get comfortable with 5 minutes, you can add more time to your workout.
If you are a manager or an executive, it is likely that you are overwhelmed because you are trying to do a lot yourself. Even if you are not a manager if you can delegate certain tasks like hiring a professional to do your taxes, or even a financial planner to help you with your savings. Of course, delegation comes at a cost, but sometimes, the cost of not doing the task is much higher. It may help to reevaluate your task list and see what tasks you can delegate.
Eat the Frog
Sometimes, tackling the biggest chunk of your task first thing in the morning can give you a jumpstart. When we tackle the hardest part of our day early on, it gives us a sense of accomplishment and energizes us to complete the rest of the tasks on our list. Try doing the toughest task first when you are fresh and energetic.
Take a break
It is quite possible that you are taking on more than you can handle. We all have a breaking point, beyond which we become unproductive. Occasional breaks are important so that we don’t burn out. If you've been working a lot lately, you deserve a break. When you come back from your break, you will be more refreshed, ready to take on the task with an added gusto.
You are a beautiful person who has so much to offer to the world. You are more capable than you can imagine and more skillful than you know.
Subconsciously, we tend to lower our self-esteem when we talk to ourselves negatively. This often happens when we fail to do a task after multiple attempts. For instance, when we fail to get up in the morning after trying to for years. Or when the habit of working out just does not stick with us.
Understand that these are common struggles we’ve all faced. Berating yourself for it is not helping the problem. It increases the anxiety and fear of failure.