If procrastination wasn’t so frustrating and disastrous to productivity it would almost be funny.
Some of the things we do just to avoid doing the things we should be doing… when it comes to procrastination there should be awards for how creative we can be in our excuses.
I’ve been known in the past to clear out my medicine cabinet instead of sitting down to work.
Some people do ironing to put off going for a run.
Others go for a run to put off doing the ironing.
We can put off making big decisions and we can put off taking small actions.
Wherever it shows up in our lives, procrastination can severely hamper our progress towards important goals.
4 reasons for procrastination
I believe there are 4 main reasons for procrastination, and I’d like to share them with you now.
Maybe you can identify with some (or all) of them.
When you’re not completely certain about what you need to do, it’s hard to get started.
This lack of clarity often comes when we’re faced with big overwhelming tasks or projects where the start point is unclear.
I always find it interesting that when I do manage to overcome The Resistance*, the it’s often followed by a glorious flow state where some of my most productive work is done.
It’s just getting there in the first place that’s the problem.
Some tasks or activities are just downright unpleasant.
If your get fit program tells you to that today’s activity is to ‘go for a run’, but you HATE running and it’s cold and wet outside, you can see how this might get pushed down the to-do list!
Especially when you can do something far easier and more satisfying such as checking Facebook or YouTube.
Where the reward is both instant and guaranteed, rather than delayed and uncertain.
The third cause of procrastination is when something doesn’t have a definite end point, or you’re unable to predict how much time it’s going to take.
A couple of weeks ago I started a DIY project to replace my bathroom suite.
This is very unlike me, as I normally break out into a cold sweat at the mere thought of such activities.
My experience of DIY is that even ‘small’ tasks like putting up a shelf turn into big problems, where I use the wrong drill bit or put it up wonky and have to fill in the wall, repaint it and then start again.
So instead I say that I’ll do it later when I have more time, which is the procrastinators go-to response in such situations.
When an activity has no determinable duration – especially if it’s something you’re not entirely keen on – it’s safest not to start.
This is a late addition to my list of procrastination reasons.
It relates to those times where an urgent deadline is required to spur you into action.
Stephen Covey came up with the ‘Productivity Matrix’ in his book ‘7 Habits Of Highly Effective People’.
It puts tasks into one of four categories:
i) Unimportant and non-urgent (like checking Facebook)
ii) Unimportant and urgent (like a ringing phone)
iii) Important and non-urgent (like preparing for a presentation well in advance)
iv) Important and urgent (like cramming revision in the night before a big exam)
The best place to check off tasks is when they are in the important and non-urgent box.
But it’s that ‘non-urgent’ thing that catches us out.
We won’t experience the reward until some point in the future, and there are no immediate consequences if we don’t take action now.
The thing can wait whilst we get a shot of immediate gratification from indulging in a quick check of email or social media.
Of course, the thing we need to do is important, but at the point of decision it’s importance is downgraded because of a lack of urgency.
Do any of these resonate with you?
This week I’m going to be adding to this post by unpacking each of them and giving you a few ways to overcome their productivity-slaying effects.
In the meantime, have a think about which of the 4 have held you back in the past, and what has eventually got you past The Resistance.
*The Resistance is an expression coined by Steven Pressfield in his book ‘The War Of Art’.
One of my favourite passages from the book is this:
“Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it”