Postponing tasks to the last minute can be a big problem in both your career and your personal life. Side effects include missed opportunities, excessive working hours, stress, overwhelming, bitterness and debt. This article will explore the underlying causes of procrastination and give you several handy tools and tips to overcome it.
The behavioral pattern of procrastination can be triggered in many ways and for different reasons. Sometimes you will postpone things because you have committed too much, and delaying such things becomes a way to escape your commitments. Other times, you may feel tired and lazy and just have a hard time getting started.
Delay and overload of information and ignorance are common problems for everyone. We know what we want or need to do, but we always end up (for some reason) postponing it. There is nothing wrong with getting away from work sometimes. But if you postpone too much, you will never have enough time to start, do and accomplish the most important tasks.
Let us now address these causes of procrastination and intelligent ways of dealing with them.
When you feel stressed or anxious, it is difficult to work productively. In some situations, procrastination can act as a survival mechanism to keep your stress under control. A wise solution is to reduce the amount of stress in your life and make it possible to spend more time working for what you want, not because you have to. One of the easiest ways to reduce stress is to devote more time to what you think is fun.
In his book “The Now Habit”, Dr. Neil Fiore suggests that setting aside time for fun activities can be an effective way to overcome procrastination. Set aside weekly time for family, entertainment, exercise, social activities and personal hobbies. Then schedule your working hours based on the time remaining. This can reduce the desire to delay your tasks and jobs because your working hours do not interfere with your free time, i.e. you do not have to postpone work to relax and enjoy life. However, I would like to warn against overusing this strategy as your work should normally be fun enough to stay motivated. If you are not inspired by your daily work, acknowledge that you made a mistake with your career choice and instead seek a new path that inspires you.
Benjamin Franklin stated that the optimal strategy for high productivity is to divide your days into a third of work, a third of “play”, and a third of rest. This is another proposal with the aim of guaranteeing your leisure time. See your working hours and your playing time as equally important so that one does not interfere with the other.
I am most productive when I take plenty of time for play. It helps me get rid of stress and enjoy life more. My working life is better when I’m happier. I also create a relaxed office environment that reduces stress levels, and I often listen to relaxing music while working. Despite all the technical equipment, my office has a relaxed feel. Since I enjoy being there, I can work a whole day without feeling too stressed, even when I have a lot to do.
2. Work overload
Sometimes you can have more things on your to-do list than you can reasonably complete. This can quickly lead to you being overwhelmed, and ironically, you may be most likely to procrastinate whenever you can. See it as if your brain refuses to cooperate with a schedule that it knows is unreasonable. In this case, you need to quit what you are doing, re-evaluate your priorities and, if possible, simplify or divide your work tasks.
Different options to reduce your workload may be elimination, delegation and negotiation.
- First, you go through your tasks and cut them down as much as you can. Remove everything that is not really important. People cut down on things like exercise while leaving plenty of time to watch TV, even though exercise strengthens them and TV drains them. When you cut down on your information, be honest with yourself and remove the least important information first, and retain the information that provides the greatest value.
- Step two is to delegate tasks to others to the extent possible. Ask for extra help if needed.
- The third step is to negotiate with others to free up more time for what is really important. If you happen to have a job that overloads you and involves more work than you think is reasonable, it is up to you to decide if it is worth continuing or if you should change your situation. Personally, I would not tolerate a job that drove me to overwork myself to the extent that I felt overwhelmed. It is counterproductive for both the employer and the employee.
Be aware that many top performers in different fields tend to take more vacation and less work time than workaholics. Top artists get more done in less time by staying healthy, relaxed and creative. By treating your working time as a scarce resource rather than an uncontrollable monster, which can devour all other areas of your life, you will be more balanced, focused and efficient.
The optimal working week for most people seems to be 40-45 hours. Longer working hours than this can have such a negative effect on productivity and motivation that in fact less real work is done.
Many years ago, I conducted a simple experiment to determine how efficiently I worked. I measured my efficiency in the number of hours I spent with important work divided by the number of hours I spent in my office each week. The first time I did that, I was shocked when I found out that I only got 15 hours of truly done work after spending 60 hours in my office. That’s an efficiency of 25%. Over the following weeks, I increased my productivity dramatically while spending significantly less hours in my office. By limiting my working hours, I actually got more done. I know now that working long hours can be a big mistake. Feel free to try this concept yourself!
We often postpone our work because we feel too physically and / or mentally drained to work. When we fall into this pattern it is easy to get stuck. When you feel lazy, even simple tasks may seem to mean too much work because your energy level is too low compared to the energy required to handle the task. If you find the task too difficult or tedious, you will postpone it to save energy. The longer you do this, the more your determination will be weakened, and your habit of procrastinating can start a downward spiral against depression. It is important to disrupt this pattern as soon as you become aware of it.
The solution can be simple: Exercise helps raise your energy levels. When your energy is high, tasks will seem easier, and you will be more likely to take action. A well-trained person can achieve more than one untrained person.
When I exercise regularly, my metabolism remains high throughout the day. I rarely procrastinate because of laziness, because I have the energy and mental power to handle what comes my way. Tasks seem easier than they did when my diet and exercise habits were poor. The tasks are the same, but I have become stronger.
4. Lack of motivation
We all experience temporary laziness at times, but if you suffer from a constant lack of motivation and get nothing done – then it’s time for you to let go of your immature thought pattern, to embrace life as a mature adult, and to discover your own meaning of life. Until you identify what really inspires you, you will never be near your potential, and your motivation will always remain low.
Base your work on an inspirational purpose, and you will greatly reduce your tendency to procrastinate automatically. Finding your purpose is a powerful way to counteract the propensity to procrastinate because you will not postpone what you love to do. Chronic procrastination is actually a big warning sign that says, “You’re heading in the wrong direction. Take another path!”
Video: How to Stay Motivated & Break Bad Habits
5. Lack of discipline
Even when motivation is high, you may encounter tasks that you do not want to perform. In these situations, your self-discipline acts as a backup system. When you feel motivated you don’t need much discipline, but it comes in handy when you need to get something done that you really don’t want to do. However, if your self-discipline is weak, the delay may be too tempting to resist. Develop your self-discipline and learn to use your willpower in a smarter way.
6. Poor planning
Do you sometimes feel that you are underperforming because you are too disorganized or because things “fall between the chairs”? Bad habits like these often lead to procrastination – mostly unintentionally.
The solution in this case is to see a bad habit as something that actually hurts you, and design a new habit to replace it with.
For data that you have postponed for a while, I recommend using “Time boxing” to get started. Here’s how it works:
- First, select a task (or sub-task) that you can work on for a period of 30 minutes.
- Then choose a reward for yourself that you will receive immediately afterwards.
- The reward you get is to simply start and set aside the time, not the performance itself.
Examples of rewards can be watching your favorite TV show, watching a movie, enjoying a meal or snack, going out with friends, going for a walk, or doing something you think is fun. Since the time you will be working on the task is so short, the impending pleasure will overshadow the difficult task. No matter how unpleasant the task is, there is almost nothing that you cannot endure for 30 minutes if you have a sufficiently large reward waiting for you.
When you “time box” your information, you may find that something very interesting is happening. You will probably find that you continue to work much longer than the planned 30 minutes. You will often get so involved in the task, even if it is difficult, so that you actually want to continue working on it. Before you know it, you have spent several hours. The certainty of your reward is still there so you know that you can enjoy it when you are ready to complete your task. As you begin to take action, the focus shifts from worry over the task’s difficulty to accomplishing the current part of the task that now has your full attention.
When you decide to quit working, you can enjoy your reward. Then schedule a new 30-minute period to work on the task with a different reward. This helps you associate more and more joy with the task as you know that you will always be rewarded for your efforts. Working towards distant and uncertain long-term rewards is not at all as motivating as immediate short-term rewards. By rewarding yourself for simply putting in the time and setting aside the time, instead of any special efforts, you will be eager to return to the job over and over again, and you will eventually be done with it.
7. Lack of skills
If you lack necessary skills to perform a task with a reasonable level of quality, you can postpone it to avoid a failure. You then have three possible options to tackle this: learn, delegate, or eliminate.
- The first option is that you acquire the level of skills you need by reading and practicing. Just because you can’t do something today doesn’t mean you will never be able to do it.
- Another option is to delegate the tasks you lack the ability to solve. There are far too many interesting skills for you to master, so you have to rely on others to get help. You may not realize it, but you are already a master at delegating. Do you grow all your own food? Do you sew your own clothes? Are you building your own house? Chances are that you depend on others for your survival. If you want a certain result, but do not want to acquire the skills required for the desired result, you can actually help others.
- A third alternative might be that you conclude that the outcome of the task is not important enough to justify the efforts required for training or delegation. In this case, of course, the smartest choice is to eliminate the task. Sometimes delay can be a sign that a task need not to be done at all.
A common form of wrong thinking that leads to procrastination is perfectionism. Thinking that you have to achieve a perfect result creates stress. You risk associating the task with stress and thus avoiding it. You postpone the task to the last possible minute when you finally have a way out of the trap – now there is not enough time to do the job perfectly, so you can now blame yourself for not being able to perform the task perfectly because you did not have enough time. If you do not have a specific deadline for a task, perfectionism can cause you to postpone it indefinitely.
The solution to perfectionism is to give yourself permission to be human. Have you ever used a computer program that you consider perfect in every way? I doubt it. Realize that an imperfect work completed today is usually better than the perfect job that is delayed indefinitely.
9. Learn how to handle information overload
This is an aspect that is often overlooked. An information overload is a pathological imbalance between the amount of information received and the one we can naturally handle. Your real burden today is all these emails, reports, calls, TV shows, chats, etc. … and they are becoming more and more every day because of accumulation.
Sometimes it is more important to talk about management rather than action. We have a more complete life because we are in the information age. At the same time, this information is often a source of great discomfort, a discomfort that can easily lead to procrastination.
You need to learn how to sort through the information you receive each day. If you do not know how to manage your information, you will never be able to define your priorities. And if you can’t, I can assure you that you will be so frustrated that procrastination becomes your greatest friend.
Some of these tips can be challenging to implement, but they are effective. If you really want to tame the procrastinator, you need something stronger than a quick fix. This problem does not go away on its own. You have to take the initiative. Addressing this problem produces a tremendous personal development. You will be stronger, braver, more disciplined, more driven, and more focused!