In a previous post, we examined the role of our thinking in how we see the world, especially the workplace. In this next post in the series on ‘Thinking about our thinking’, we’re going to look at a really common example of unhelpful thinking: Procrastination.
Or we could do it tomorrow…?
Tomorrow, as they say, is a very busy day. Especially if you keep putting things off until then. Things you could at least start today. It’s easier to tell yourself you’ll make a start tomorrow. Today isn’t right. You’re not in the right mood. You don’t have all the information you need. It’s sunny outside. You deserve a break. You need to clean your desk and organise all your files first.
You, my friend, are procrastinating.
What do you mean ‘procrastinating’? I’m really busy!
Busy doing what? That report won’t write itself and yet here you are, ‘researching’ on YouTube. It’s possible to do a lot of things and feel ‘busy’, and yet not do the right things. The important things.
Let’s be clear, simply rescheduling tasks doesn’t necessarily mean you’re procrastinating. Maybe you *do* need to speak to some colleagues to get a better picture of the project. And maybe something definitely more important has come up.
Procrastination occurs when we delay starting or finishing an important task, which then has negative consequences for us or others (or both). Putting off studying for an important exam. Leaving preparation for a crucial meeting until the last minute. Completing only the simplest elements of a project and leaving the tough stuff until it’s almost too late. That is procrastination.
What’s wrong with putting it off until tomorrow?
You’re the best judge of that. You know your workload, your responsibilities and understand the consequences of your actions. You’re an adult! But think rationally for a moment: how helpful is it to you to keep putting off tasks, leaving yourself less and less time to do a good job?
It might feel good in the short term, but you’re only making a problem for yourself in the longer term.
Okay. But why do I procrastinate?
That’s actually a very interesting question. There are lots of reasons we might put off something we need to (or should!) do today.
The emotions associated with the task can be a powerful factor. We might worry about our ability to do a good job. This worry translates into the urge to push it away, into the future. That way we don’t have to face issues around our own competence. Yet.
We might be guilty of a little perfectionism and believe that circumstances have to be just right for us to do a great job. Sure, the planets will align some day, but all you’re doing here is giving yourself less time to do that great job.
Some people engage in procrastination because they’re frustrated that they have to do the work in the first place. Procrastination can become an act of rebellion, but in reality only makes the work harder.
A common response I hear from coachees is that they work better under time pressure. “There’s nothing like a deadline to get me motivated. I’m a last-minute completor!”, they declare with a real sense of pride. I beg to differ. Unrealistic time pressure will only serve to increase our feelings of stress, which hampers our ability to think clearly and creatively. And have you ever tried to work without this same pressure? How do you know you wouldnt be even more successful if you gave yourself more time?
The common thread running through these examples is our thinking. If we hold on to unhelpful beliefs and thinking patterns, we’ll almost inevitably continue to procrastinate.
Fine. So what can I do about it? Change my thinking?
In a sense, yes. You can start by listening to your inner voice or ‘self talk’ when you feel the urge to procrastinate. What are you saying to yourself to convince yourself it’s okay to wait. Ask yourself how realistic you’re being and how rational your thinking is.
Will it really be easier tomorrow? Or will you simply have less time? Is it really a good idea to watch some more cat videos before responding to some of those difficult client emails?
Yes, it sucks that you have to pick up this additional workload because your colleague is ill. But putting it off will only make it harder. It’s okay to feel a sense of frustration, but you don’t have to act on it and sabotage your own success in the process.
Tackling procrastination begins with identifying the unhelpful beliefs we have about how things ‘should’ be and then replacing these with a more rational approach.
Consider the following example…
I’m asked to prepare for an important client meeting at short notice as my colleague has been moved onto another project. If I believe this is deeply unfair and “I shouldn’t have to do this”, this can translate into “I’ll leave it until last, as it’s not really my job”. Thursday night rolls by, I’ve done no work for Friday’s meeting and now I’m panicking, blaming everyone around me for my own lack of preparation. A lot of discomfort, anxiety and the possibility of real world consequences for my inaction.
Another perspective on the same scenario?
I’m asked to do the preparation and yes, I feel frustrated. But rational me says it’s better to make a start on it to minimise its impact on my other projects. It’s okay for me to feel aggrieved, but I don’t get to act on that. I could reflect on how the whole team has a lot to do. Not just me. How it’s unlikely I’m being singled out And that the sooner I start, the sooner I’ll finish.
Short-term pain for long-term gain. An inability to deal with passing discomfort means I’ll avoid the short term discomfort, yet set myself up for even more discomfort when I bomb at the client meeting.
Doesn’t make sense, does it?
What else can I do?
Here’s a checklist to help you on your way:
- Ask yourself how realistic, logical and helpful your thinking is before making a decision to delay.
- Listen out for self-talk that tells you small delays won’t have an impact (they will!).
- Acknowldege that frustration, boredom and even worry are passing – they won’t hurt you and you don’t have to act on them.
- Break daunting tasks into smaller bite-sized pieces and tick them off your list as you go.
- Make sure you have a realistic understanding of the work and ask others if you’re unsure.
- Think about how great it will feel to have finished the task.
- Just make a start, no matter how small.
Procrastination is a habit, it’s not part of who you are. It’s not easy to shake, but it can be done. If you’d like to learn more about how coaching can help you beat your procrastination challenge, get in touch!