Let’s all be honest here, we all do it. Some more than others, some a lot more than others and that’s the issue. I am most certainly prone to procrastination, apparently those like me who live messy lives are more prone to. Not that it is an excuse for you or me, but it’s nice to know it’s not a personal flaw, strength in numbers and such. So why do we procrastinate? There are many reasons, particularly the daily stresses in life we are all bombarded by. Stress makes the brain crave happiness, so you settle to be happy now thinking it will recharge your desire to do the work you’re putting off tomorrow.
Except tomorrow is just a day like today or any other, threatening to be a repeat of the day of procrastination gone past. The only difference in tomorrow is the difference you make. So let’s make a difference. Aside from relief from stress, the other big cause of procrastination is fear. Particularly the fear of the unknown and the fear caused by perfectionism. “I’m not 100% today, if I do it now it won’t be my best”. It won’t be your best at the last minute either, but there’s no time so you settle. This is acceptable to you, it shouldn’t be. So face up to this fear.
Maybe it won’t be your best work, maybe it will. I’d bet that an early draft with corrections is closer to your best than project you’ve completed in a rush the night before. Overcoming this particular fear can be done by reinforcing yourself. You were assigned this project for a reason right? You weren’t told to correct a problem in the Mars rover (Hi Curiosity) by your boss at Company X (X stands for all except NASA) were you? You were asked to do something you are capable of doing, or you’ve set your own task on something you know you can do. So remind yourself that. You’re capable, you can do it. That is the ‘trick’ to overcoming this perfectionism fear, trust yourself to be able to do this. If you can do it at midnight the day before the deadline you can start it now.
For procrastinating unenforced deadlines the same system applies. You can put if off tomorrow, the day after or maybe next week. But if you want to do it now do not fall for your fear-induced brain’s voice telling you that you can’t do this. Get started. Tell yourself over and over that you can do it and then do it. Talking to yourself is the best thing here. Discipline comes from this, regardless of whether it’s raining outside or you don’t quite have the energy you’d like to have when breaking through the door to start is a fallacy. You can do it now just as well as you can when you are hit with the wave of motivation you wait for days for. Use self-affirmations and self-starters such as “I can do it” and “do it now” to just get your foot in the door, we all know once you start things become easier, so make the first step.
Just as it is important to shout over the voices in your head that tells you tomorrow is better it’s also vital to note that not all delay is procrastination. If you’re actually busy it is not procrastination. Procrastination is the act of doing something unproductive that gives satisfaction when other issues are pressing. It is a common practice when trying to overcome procrastination to plan when you will relax and when you will work. “I will watch TV until 3pm and then work until 6pm” etc. This can lead you astray, the possibility is that the hours you budget for work may not be enough but you will not find out until later when you are in a rush. This allows for more peace when relaxing of course, but that’s not the objective of planning your day.
Planning does have use though, as mentioned we all feel better about our projects once we get started. This is because when we think of something that needs to be done it is hard to plan in your heard the necessary steps to get everything done. Our mind wanders, fixing problems here and there, creating a confusing web with connections all over the place and causes a fog in the brain which leads to the other fear: the fear of the unknown. You’ve thought of so many possibilities (without taking notes) of where your project can go and now you don’t know where to start. Start with baby steps, plan out what needs to be done to get part A completed, then part B, C etc. Then go do it. Essentially plans of action work but plans of inaction do not work. Baby steps planning is important because it quantifies what needs to be done. It is not very useful to say “I will spend 2 hours doing X today and 3 hours doing Y tomorrow”. It’s too vague, it’s too open to the excuses your brain can make. “Well I’ve done 1 hour now I can do another hour later and it still works out”, what is an hour of work anyway?
Instead quantify what needs to be done, how much you plan to do and why. If you’re reading a book, you could say “I will read 20 pages when I get home so that I can finish my book by Friday and buy a new one Saturday”. If you know what you need to do and what you’re going to get out of it then you will be more likely to act. Fear of the unknown drives procrastination, which is why so many people stop learning to play the guitar or learning another language. It’s hard to quantify progress, so we don’t know if we’re improving well enough and we don’t know when we will get to sufficient quality. So make it known. Prepare yourself, know what you are doing and know what you want to achieve with this, once you’ve done that use your self-starter “do it now!” and get to it, tomorrow’s you will be glad you did.