Procrastination is like a credit card: it’s a lot of fun until you get the bill. Christopher Parker
I’ve never been a procrastinator. I associate the trait with laziness (but I’m wrong; more on that later.) I do know many people who procrastinate things they should do, both big and small. And I know they hate the consequences of procrastination, both big and small. So here’s a guide to overcoming the habit.
I’m basing these tips on the book by Damon Zahariades: The Procrastination Cure: 21 Proven Tactics For Conquering Your Inner Procrastinator, Mastering Your Time, And Boosting Your Productivity. He writes that his life was frequently a mess because of his chronic procrastination; missed deadlines, fines for overdue bills, repeated(!) instances of his car being towed because he couldn’t be bothered to place the new tag on his car’s license plate. He speaks with authority on why fixing this habit is so urgent: less stress, less shame, and less needless inconvenience and cost.
But he’s clear on the difference between procrastination and laziness. “In truth, they’re entirely different behavioral aspects,” he writes. “While laziness often leads to procrastination, many chronic procrastinators aren’t lazy at all. Laziness is an unwillingness to perform a task. Procrastination is delaying taking action on a task.” In other word, procrastinators recognize that the task must be done. They just don’t want to do it now, because something that provides immediate gratification is more compelling than the (probably not pleasant) task that will provide future gratification. Lazy people simply don’t choose to do the task at all.
Procrastination can be caused by several factors, according to Zahariades. Some people are afraid of failure; others might be worried about what success might entail (more work, harder tasks, too much attention.) Some people are perfectionists, and would rather do nothing than risk putting out something that’s less than perfect. Sometime, people just get distracted by funny cat videos.
Whatever your reason, breaking the procrastination habit can make your life easier and less stressful. It can even save your life if you’re putting off things like medical appointments or getting new symptoms checked out by a doctor.
Here are Zahariades’ tips for getting going.
- If you’re having trouble getting started on a task, consider whether the task just isn’t inspiring. If you’re bored with the idea of writing on a certain subject or tackling cleaning a cupboard, switch to another task that does excite you. You’ll find yourself busy and engaged very quickly. Sometimes, it’s about the timing – once you get another job done, you may be very willing to come back to the original task. In other words, don’t force yourself to struggle until you feel like doing it; pick something of equal importance or urgency and work on that right now. Come back later and see if you’re ready to work on this issue.
- If you have important tasks that are repetitive or uninspiring, try making a game out of them. Can you engage other people (including young children, who make everything more fun)? Can you see how fast you can accomplish this task – set a new land speed record? Or set up a friendly competition with your spouse or coworkers? Promising yourself a prize at the end always helps: an ice cream cone or an hour at the pool.
- If you feel stuck on where to start on a big project, stop worrying about what to do first. Do anything on your list. Exercise your accomplishment muscle memory. The action of taking action can bring on a breakthrough. Cross something off the list. Like removing a small rock from the middle of a big pile, you may find that the rest of the project to-dos collapse and fall into some kind of more manageable order. That might make it easier for you to take on another task, and another, until you’re making real progress.
Want to read more about procrastination? Check out this post.