Do you find yourself procrastinating a lot? (You might even be procrastinating right now, reading this blog post while you should be working or cleaning or ordering the groceries online.)
Procrastination can be a real problem for some of us, leading to wasted hours and days, and a lot of frustration. Often, we think that to cure ourselves of procrastination, we need to concentrate harder, focus ourselves better and become more self-disciplined.
But I don’t believe that procrastination is a disease. It’s more like a symptom. And by figuring out – and addressing – the underlying cause, you’ve got a good chance of ending your procrastination habit.
So, what might the causes be?
You’re Working Too Hard
Okay, sometimes procrastination is more like laziness than hard work. If you think back to your college days (or if you’re still in college), you’ll know what it’s like to spend a whole day faffing around instead of getting on with an essay.
Quite often, though, procrastination can be caused by working yourself too hard. If you’re taking work home every night, if you’re busy all weekend with projects around the house, if you’re always thinking about work and if you never get any time for yourself – no wonder you’re ending up on YouTube or Facebook when you should be working. You desperately need some down time.
The Cure: Set a stop time for your work each day – and stick with it. Give yourself permission to do something which you really enjoy once your work for the day is done.
Your Work Doesn’t Excite You
If you find your job tedious and boring, it’s no surprise that you’re procrastinating. You’re finding any way you can to take your mind off the tedium. Or perhaps your work is really stressful and makes you feel miserable: you’re seeking escape however you can.
However many tips you read about improving your concentration, you’re not going to fix the fact that you’re in a career which you dislike. Finding a line of work which you love and which absorbs you is not an impossible dream.
The Cure: Do some serious soul-searching about what you really want to do with your life. What gets you fired up and excited? In the short-term, look for ways to inject passion into your current work.
You Can’t See the End Point
Of course, however much you love your work, there’ll always be some tasks which you’re tempted to put off again and again. They might be tedious, or they might be high-energy ones. You’re not especially excited by them, but you know they need to get done.
The best way round this is to focus on the end point – to think about how you’ll feel once this particular task is off your plate. Relieved? Unburdened? Ready to move on?
If you feel like a task is pointless or meaningless, think about how it plays into the rest of your work. Sure, tidying your desk isn’t going to have a direct impact on your profit margins – but will it leave you feeling more relaxed about your work? That’s a great benefit, and a meaningful one.
The Cure: Don’t focus on the task itself, think about how you’ll feel after it’s done. Focus on that feeling while you make a start on work.
Procrastination can come from fear. This is often the case on big picture procrastination – when you never quite get round to looking for a new job, or handing in your notice, or moving house, or starting up your small business.
When you’re frightened, you’ll find all sorts of excuses to put something off. You might plan to spend a whole Saturday creating a website where you can sell hand-made knitwear … but somehow, you end up cleaning the kitchen instead…
You’re excited about your goals but you’re also scared. You’re hoping that the fear will eventually melt away, but it never does.
The Cure: Recognize that fear doesn’t usually vanish: you have to work through it. Break your goal into tiny steps and take just one small step, then another.
What’s the underlying cause of your procrastination – and what can you do to sort it out?