If you want to learn how to stop procrastinating and get the job started (and finished) don’t put off reading this article!
On this page we’ll explore the psychology of procrastination and introduce some simple but effective ways to combat delay tactics so you can get started and get the job done.
Finding out how to stop procrastinating can give you a massive boost of motivation and a sense of accomplishment. Plus you’ll feel more in control of yourself and your behaviours.
But before you slay the vampire that sucks the lifeblood out of your goals and dreams, better to understand what’s really going on…
No more excuses. No more dithering. It’s time for action!
- What is procrastination?
- Is procrastination just a form of laziness?
- The psychology of procrastination
- The typical pattern of procrastination
- Pure motivation and emotional needs
- The art of Wu Wei – effortless action
- 3 easy ways to stop procrastinating
- The benefits of mastering procrastination
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What is procrastination?
Procrastination is the subtle art of putting things off.
You might have a report to write, a project to start, the gym to attend, or a whole list of household chores to get through, but nothing happens. You find excuse after excuse and end up doing other things to avoid what you should be getting on with.
So, procrastination happens when you try to avoid the stress of getting on with what you need to be doing. Somehow, the task in hand has become associated with unpleasant feelings.
This could be linked to a kind of rebellion learned earlier in life, a refusal to do what was asked of you by your parents or school teachers, a rebellion that has now become habitual.
Rebellion or otherwise, procrastination is a breakdown of self-control. It’s like a vampire that sucks the lifeblood out of your dreams, goals, and ambitions. You end up mindlessly scrolling through social media or binge-watching TV in a sort of daydream.
And all the while, that nagging voice in the back of your head fills you with guilt: “I should really be getting on with…”
Is procrastination just a form of laziness?
You might have been deemed lazy in the past or even come to think of yourself as a ‘lazy person’ if you’ve developed the habit of putting things off. But nothing could be further from the truth…
Procrastination has nothing to do with laziness. And here’s why…
People who procrastinate work very hard at not doing what they should be doing
They come up with a whole host of reasons, excuses, and stories that justify doing something other than the task that demands their attention. And the longer the delay, the tension and stress continue to build, using up more physical and mental energy.
This is hard work – not laziness.
The psychology of procrastination
So if procrastinating is not about laziness, what is it? What other factors are involved in the psychology of procrastination?
The list below highlights some of the main aspects involved in procrastination. Which one(s) are you familiar with?
- Habit – procrastination becomes ingrained. Over time, it feels normal to put things off till the 11th hour
- Distraction and lack of focus – there are so many distractions these days it’s difficult to focus the mind on one task at a time. See my blog post about ADD and how your attention has been stolen
- Lack of self-discipline – a vital mental skill to develop to help combat procrastination. Lack of self-discipline means that we’re easily led astray by passing whims
- Disconnection with values and motives – when we lose sight of the bigger reasons why the task/job is necessary, it’s easy to put it off
- Rebellion – most of us have a rebellious streak in us and don’t like being told what to do
- Cowardice and/or avoidance – that might be linked to fear of failure (or fear of success)
- Fear of not doing the task perfectly – so we keep finding excuses to put it off or not do it at all
- Stress – some people do actually thrive on last minute pressure to get the job done. It’s like an adrenaline high. So, they’ll put off doing the task right up till deadline day
The typical pattern of procrastination
Let’s look at the typical ways that procrastination occurs. You might recognise some of these steps…
1. You know that you should be getting on with something and that it is in your best interests to get started…
2. But immediate pleasure takes precedence over working toward long-term achievement, so you delay and quickly find a ‘displacement’ activity (i.e. mowing the lawn, going on social media, watching the next episode of your favourite TV show etc.)
3. You then rationalise the displacement activity: “But the grass is so long…my friend will be upset if I don’t comment on her FB status”
4. In denial of what you should be doing, and with a deadline looming, the stress builds and builds. You get annoyed with yourself (and maybe other people too)
5. As the deadline approaches you finally force yourself to make a start, now feeling the added pressure of lack of time. (And if there is no deadline, you may never get started and you’ll come up with many arguments as to why that project/task wasn’t worth doing anyway; more self-deceit and denial)
As you work through this process you feel more and more pressured – and miserable. Any joy you felt at the start of the displacement activity was soon replaced by guilt and disappointment in yourself. Then it’s even more of an ordeal to get started on what needs to be done (unless you’re one of the lucky ones who thrives on last minute pressure).
Pure motivation and emotional needs
I once had a writer visit me for hypnotherapy. His problem was – you guessed it – procrastination. He had a great story idea and was sure it could become a best-seller. But the trouble was, he couldn’t get started. He hadn’t written one single word on his computer.
As we explored the psychology of his procrastinating, he said he’d told all his friends about the ‘fantastic story’. And this turned out to be the key element. He didn’t write for the love of writing but for what it might give him, namely attention.
He’d already got the attention from his friends and no longer had the motivation to actually write the story. His emotional need for attention and recognition had already been met.
What we’re talking about here is ‘pure motivation’. If we can do a task – for the love of it – not as a means to an end but as an affirmation of life as it is in the moment, we’re more likely to knuckle down and get on with it.
This type of attitude can even lead to flow states (1), making tasks you used to put off much more manageable and even enjoyable.
The art of Wu Wei – effortless action
When my stepson was 14 I remember him entering the kitchen to be confronted by a huge pile of washing up. Even worse, it was his turn!
I didn’t tell him to get on with it but, with a wave of my arm asked him, “What is demanded of this situation?”
It wasn’t a case of him having to do the washing up, but more about what the situation – and life – needed in that moment.
The Chinese art of Wu Wei speaks about ‘effortless action’, like the optimal flow state. This is where the task in hand becomes an exercise in mindfulness, whether it’s doing the dishes, writing a dissertation, or starting that business plan.
Like peak performance in sport, music or the performing arts, the task appears to do it all by itself: the dancer becomes the dance, the musician merges with the music, the sports person gets ‘in the zone’.
3 easy ways to stop procrastinating
Learning the subtle art of Wu Wei and getting into flow states takes time and practice.
So here are 3 easy things you can implement today to start combating your tendency to procrastinate…
- Open a loop: we’re hardwired to complete things once we get started. So, start that task and set a time limit of 2 minutes. Commit to and intend to do 2 minutes. (The thing is that once you start and get in the zone, you’ll often pass the 2 minutes and continue. A flow state can develop quickly once you get going)
- Set a 1 hour alarm: commit to work slots of 60 minutes. Remove all distractions; no phone, no checking emails or social media. When the alarm sounds, ask yourself if there’s any ‘injury time’ (like at the end of a football match). Did you stay focused for the whole hour or did you sneak a look at emails/Soc Media? If so, add some more time. This idea is based on the Pomodoro technique (2)
- Align with your values: focus on the whys and wherefores and core values to strengthen your resolve. Focus on your long-term goals. Procrastination is a Trickster, tempting you like Odysseus’ Sirens (3). Tie yourself to the mast of self-discipline and sail on by
The benefits of mastering procrastination
Once you’ve applied some of the methods I’ve mentioned in this article and start overcoming your tendency to put things off, you can expect the following benefits and rewards…
- You more easily remember why you need to do what you need to do (you reconnect with your reasons, motivations, long-term goals and life values)
- You feel generally more relaxed about doing what’s needed (a more positive feeling is associated with the task, rather than stress and overwhelm)
- You are managing your time more effectively (giving you a sense of control in your life)
- By ditching the excuses you are more honest with yourself and other people (which goes a long way to improving personal and professional relationships)
- You notice yourself just getting on with things that before would have been a ‘big deal’ (and by getting on with things you feel a real sense of accomplishment)
- You feel more present and alive in the moment (rather than dreading what you have to do later, you just get on with what’s needed in the here and now)
I hope you’ve found this info helpful and feel that there are some good ideas here that you can act on straight away. Don’t delay any longer!
If you feel you’d like professional help to beat procrastination find out about a Free Discovery Session with me.
Or to banish procrastination straight away check out this hypnosis download and get ready for action.
Notes and further info:
(1) For more on ‘flow states’ see the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
(2) Find out more about the Pomodoro technique
(3) Listen to me tell the story of Odysseus and the Sirens to help you stave off distractions and get on with the task at hand