Making Procrastination Work FOR US and NOT Against US

At one point or another, I am sure that we have all procrastinated about something – deciding to go out on our own as entrepreneurs, preparing for our exams, having that difficult conversation or exercising. I know and see procrastination as a constant companion and a part of our lives, whether we like it or not.  As I am writing this, I am procrastinating on creating an online course that I have been wanted to create since the start of the year. Now, is it good that I have procrastinated about this particular project? I don’t know. Time will tell.

That is a negative stigma attached to procrastination. As with everything else in life, there are three aspects to procrastination – The good, the bad and the ugly.

The Good:

There could be many reasons why procrastination is good.

>> Procrastination can be an indication of something that our subconscious knows but the conscious mind doesn’t know yet. It works as a great danger sign or an alarm to beware of. For example, if you have been procrastinating about doing a specific task on a project for a long time, maybe it is time for you to think if this project or task is really that important. If we still think that the task or project is important, what comes after procrastination can help us finish the task quickly and decisively.

>> Studies have shown the over-estimate how much you can accomplish in the short-term and under-estimate how much we can accomplish over the long-term. What this means is that in the shot-term, we take on many things and tasks hoping to accomplish them all. Our procrastination helps us in prioritising the most important tasks automatically.  

>> In his book Originals, Adam grant goes on  to show how procrastination leads to increased creativity. He shares many examples, the most famous of which is the “I have a dream speech”. He goes on to claim that many of the highly creative people were active procrastinators. 

The Bad:

There are a lot of reasons why procrastination can be bad for us.

>> Putting things off even though we consider them to be important is something can lead us to a position of  frustration and anger.

>> It could lead to missed deadlines and opportunities.

>> If we think of procrastination in her team context, it can have an adverse effect on the productivity of the team and interpersonal challenges.

The Ugly:

In certain situations procrastination can have a really adverse impact.

If the procrastinating on a certain task or project by wasting our time and not doing anything else that is important or urgent, the run the risk of not achieving anything that we set out to do.

We all know people who had tremendous potential but never realised their potential. We do not want to be one of them. If we procrastinate on every task or project that we Want to do, it could be a sign of deeper psychological issues like depression or anxiety. This needs to be taken care of immediately.

Now, the question is the following:

What can we do to make procrastination work for us. 

Self-awareness:

The first step is to understand when and why we procrastinate. Once we know this, we can design our lives in a way that we use procrastination as a strength that can help us get a lot more done and done with a lot more creativity. We need to look for potential reasons why are procrastinating. Some times we don’t even know or realise that we are procrastinating. We also need to look out for signs or behaviour patterns that can shed light on tasks or projects that we consistently procrastinate about. Once we find these tasks or activities, we need to find a way to either make them fun to do or delegate them to our bosses or some one in our team.

Seeking Help:

Some times it is important to seek help from our teams to find out if there are certain tasks that we seem to consistently procrastinate about. Sometimes, we need someone to help us identify and go to the root of our procrastinating behaviour to alleviate ourselves of the underlying issue, so we don’t procrastinate on that specific task. Sometimes, it’s just that we are not fully trained to complete the task comprehensively and so we end up procrastination. In that case, it is obvious that we need to seek help so we can get trained to complete the work.

When good-enough is good enough:

One other reason why we procrastinate, is because we want to do the task or project perfectly. This quest for perfection is something that can keep us from finishing what we started. This could be a source of procrastination. We need to learn that perfection is an ever-moving target and it is ok to stop our pursuit for perfection and instead settle for good enough.

We need to understand that good enough is mostly good enough, until it is not. We need to know the difference between when it is enough and when it is not. We would do well to find some external help to help us answer this question, as we will be biased (if we are the kind who wants or likes perfection in everything).

Break down projects or tasks:

At times, we procrastinate because we don’t know where to start and how to start. So, when we decide to do take on a task or a project, if we can decide what the next steps are, right at the start of the project, it can be a big help. The same way, we need to breakdown complex tasks or projects into something that is simple enough to be handled simply and quickly.

Deadlines & Commitment devices:

What motivates and gets a procrastinator a shot and gets us to do our best work is deadlines. If we have clear deadlines for the project and the associated tasks (broken down into manageable chunks), we will get back into action and complete the tasks. Put in commitment devices to force you to do certain tasks which we are sure that we will procrastinate on.

For example, if we know that exercising is really important and we don’t really like exercising, we can create commitment devices to ensure that we do exercise daily. One such device could be hiring a personal trainer for a year and ask them to come home every single day or commit to exercising with someone every day or donate 10 USD to a charity or a politician that you don’t really like for every day that we don’t exercise. Make this automatic, so that you can’t reverse it. There are technological tools available for you to get these kinds of devices set up. 

Getting Started:

Sometimes we procrastinate when the task that we want to get done is not fun and is plain boring. If that is the root cause of our procrastination, there are two simple ways we tackle this.

>> Introduce an element of fun into the task. For example, if we dont like doing grocery shopping in the nearby mall, we can instigate a game out of it – challenge ourselves to complete the entire activity in half the time that it usually takes us or something similar.

>> One other way is that we set ourselves a specific time limit for us to do this task. Once the time is up, we stop doing until it is time to do it again. This tells our brain that it is only for a small duration of time that we need to do this is task and we give ourselves the permission to stop at that time. We can use the pomodoro technique here for this purpose.

Either ways, getting started is the key to beat procrastination.

Fear of Failure:

The most important reason why we procrastinate is our fear of failure. We dont want to be found short of. We are fine to tell ourselves that if we wanted to do something, we we can do it, if only we tried. We don’t like to try and find out that we were not as good as we thought we were. This fear of failure or the need to tell ourselves that we can do whatever we want to, if only we put ourselves to it.

Dealing with the fear of failure is a blog in and of itself. However, the most basic and fundamental way to deal with this is to get philosophical. We need to understand that failure is not a person, its an event. Just like any event, it will come and go. Also, we need to tell ourselves is that we can only control what we do. The result of what we do is not in our control. Once, we accept this reality, it becomes much easier to handle this fear and get started.

In conclusion:

As I said at the start of this post, procrastination is an inherently human trait, but we can use it to our advantage rather than suffering due to its presence. We need to become self-aware of what, where and why we procrastinate. Once we have done that, we can put in place strategies, structures and processes to ensure that our procrastinator works for us rather than against us.

This post is inspired by this post on the Strategic Coach.

PS: Here are some videos that you will enjoy on this topic:

Inside the mind of a master procrastinator – A hilarious TED Talk by Tim Urban 

Procrastination: The Hidden Benefits of Putting Things Off

PROCRASTINATION – The Musical

HSBC – Procrastination 60 from Cartel on Vimeo.

Procrastination from Johnny Kelly on Vimeo.

How To Overcome Procrastination from Stuart Langfield on Vimeo.

The Day Before. A Film about Procrastination. from David Weigert on Vimeo.

 

 

 

Do share your thoughts and continue the discussion