The reason we procrastinate
Pain. Specifically, the avoidance of pain. This pain comes in a range of forms, from boredom to fear, shame and vulnerability, and we delay unpleasant or arduous tasks to avoid feeling these emotions.
The fear is rooted in leaving the comfort zone and results in indulging avoidant behaviours. We often wait and attempt to satisfy all our insecurities before trying to start a task. This often leads us to the point where it is too late to do anything. Fear is usually an indicator of how vital the task we need to complete is. The surer we are of having to call the client or do the work, the more fearful we become of starting and the eventual consequences.
The steps you can take to tackle procrastination
Preparing to do the task isn’t doing the task. Setting up your computer, checking your email, looking at Facebook, making sure there is nothing on TV, finishing a game on your phone, or having something to eat, are distractions and not things that need to be completed before the task can be attempted.
Schedule your time
Having a defined goal with a clear deadline removes the possibility of putting it off indefinitely. To-do lists often become tomorrow lists, so create a schedule for your day and stick to it. Be realistic about the time frames, but if a task should take an hour then ensure you write it down as such. Tell your boss you will have the work to them on a certain date, or tell the client that you will call them at a certain time. This accountability can be a powerful motivator to avoid the embarrassment of explaining why the task wasn’t completed, which is often much worse than avoiding the task to begin with.
Break the tasks into digestible chunks – reward yourself for the small parts rather than wait to reward yourself at the end of the whole thing. Instigate a three-minute rule that dictates taking small action is better than no action. Dedicate the next three minutes to tackling a part of the task and moving it forward incrementally. By completing small parts continually, you will build momentum and keep your project moving forward.
The world is built to distract you from your task. Social media, television, video game consoles, smartphones, and more, all enable your procrastination. Even the internet, a powerful tool for business and productivity, is crammed with distractions and click bait headlines infect even the most academic article. While reading for this post, I was bombarded with unrelated stories, each designed to take me away from the task at hand and put money in the pocket of their advertisers. “This Is How You Become Unattractive and You’re Not Aware of It”, “5 Star Wars Quotes You Should Stick On Your Office Desk”, “16 Everyday Habits of Highly Productive People”. I bet not one of those habits involves clicking that link.
Close your internet browser and deactivate your phone’s ringer and notifications for the duration of your work. If you work from home, don’t sit in the same room as the television, or if this is unavoidable, put the remote in a different room to remove temptation, and eat during your designated lunch and break times.
Some people may deactivate their social media accounts or disconnect themselves from the internet entirely, but this not a long term solution. While taking drastic action may seem like an effective way to eliminate a distraction, it is more sustainable to exercise willpower. Working in short bursts that get longer develops your ability to work outside your comfort zone and confront your fear across more projects than just the one at hand. What if your next task requires using Facebook or relies on you being online at all times?
Change your workspace
Sometimes improving your concentration can be as simple as changing the scenery. After all, certain rooms become associated with certain behaviours. Office desks become comfortable, safe spaces that feel like a home rather than a workplace, with the accumulation of paper and knick-knacks making it hard to think clearly. Either clear your desk and cut back on all the little things that you think makes your desk comfortable and homely, or try an entirely new space. If you are struggling to start a project, set up on an empty desk elsewhere in office, or move temporarily to a meeting room. A clear space can help put your mind on the task at hand.
If you work from a home office, then try moving to the dining room or kitchen bench. Better still, head to the library and take advantage of both the free internet and the quiet.
Getting started is more important than succeeding
Procrastination elimination requires a change in mindset. Understand that any result is better than no result and having something to work on and improve won’t happen if you never get started. Give yourself something to develop and the great work will come, but if you never start then it is always doomed to fail.